Supply Chain Professionals: Have You Sharpened Your Saw Recently?

Join the supply chain conversation at Think Supply ChainThis year, I made it a priority to attend more conferences. Since I started working with APICS in 2007, I skipped my own industry conferences to immerse myself in the world of supply chain. I needed to learn about supply chain and why it is critical to business success. I needed to meet supply chain professionals. I needed to understand the various organizations that serve you in the APICS community. Additionally, I still spend a lot of time on the road meeting with APICS partners and customers to understand their perspectives and needs. In the office, my days are packed with managing planning, budgets, people, and more. I have a busy work and personal life, and I know many of you relate.

I rationalized my nonattendance by telling myself that APICS is my best teacher—that what I was learning on-the-job is better than any education I could receive at a conference. Personally, I am travel weary. I didn’t want to be away from home to attend a conference. Plus, I am 54 years old, and I have been working in associations for 27 years. I thought: How much more could I get from a conference?

Then, in January, I became executive director of the APICS Foundation. My new role required me to stretch as an association professional in ways I had not before. I want to be able to meet the new expectations now that I serve the Foundation’s board. I want to lead my staff into new areas and take advantage of the new opportunities that the Foundation is bringing APICS.

Conferences are a unique opportunity for supply chain professionals

So, earlier this year, I signed up for a one-day seminar on governance. Surprisingly, I loved it! I learned not only from the presenter, but from the others in the room. It was a unique event where association executives and association board members interacted with each other and shared ideas. Now, I am doing some things differently because of that experience. I relate to people differently as well because I gained perspective. I am traveling to another association industry conference in November, and, now, I am really looking forward to it.

Initially, attending the association seminar wasn’t entirely my idea. I was talking to APICS CEO Abe Eshkenazi, and he advised me to network with my association peers. He suggested that I needed to be exposed to other association leaders and organizations outside of supply chain. He was right. Now, I see the value in his suggestion.

When I first read Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I thought the seventh habit, sharpening the saw, was listed last because it was the weakest. It seemed to be there because seven habits is more aesthetically pleasing than six. I was young, and I didn’t need to focus on balance and renewal. Now, I recognize the value in that seventh habit.

There are many things in our busy work lives that drain energy, weaken our cognitive abilities, and cause us to develop unproductive routines. Taking time away enables us to learn from people in different companies and industries, test ideas, and widen our networks of people—especially those whom we meet in person.

For the last four months, I have spent a lot of time talking about the benefits of attending APICS 2013 from a content perspective. I want to urge you also to consider the professional development arc that includes leaving the office, hearing fresh ideas, meeting new people, and having time to think about applying this knowledge at work and in life. The development arc ends when you return to work, excited by what you have learned and whom you have met, and eager to try something different at work.

That’s my story. What’s yours? Are you taking the time you need to renew and refresh yourself professionally? It’s not too late. Sign up for APICS 2013 today. And, don’t forget to budget the conference experience for next year.

Building Stronger Supply Chain Teams

Building Stronger Supply Chain Teams by Elizabeth RennieAPICS 2013 General Session Speaker Explains the Value of Maximizing Your Authentic Self

From the time our first report cards are sent home to Mom and Dad, we’re taught to focus on overcoming weaknesses. Our grades are lined up in a nice, neat column, and—unless they’re straight A’s—we wonder what we can improve on to become good students next semester. We graduate, get jobs, and soon are striving to be good employees. If only the business world had advanced past the “needs improvement” mentality—but professionals still burn up untold hours attempting to fill gaps, change our fellow employees, and address shortfalls in ourselves and our teams.

Tom Rath, best-selling author of StrengthsFinder 2.0, warns that much of this is simply a waste of time. He believes that, if you spend your life attempting to be good at everything, there’s no chance you’ll be great at anything. “Part of it is just math,” he recently told me. “If you’re trying to be perfectly well-rounded, you just don’t have the time to dedicate to something and become truly great.”

I had the opportunity to interview Rath for APICS magazine in anticipation of him presenting the Monday morning general session at APICS 2013. Truthfully, I was first offered a different assignment, but I requested a swap. After taking the StrengthsFinder assessment back in 2009, I was—yes, I admit it—geeking out at the idea of speaking to Rath. The fact is, StrengthsFinder 2.0 was not just a useful tool for both my team and me, but it also was the permission I needed to fully embrace my inner editor.

One of my strength themes is “Maximizer.” Natural maximizers feel that taking something from poor to acceptable requires a great deal of energy and is not very satisfying; however, transforming something strong into something superb takes just as much work but is significantly more rewarding. As managing editor of APICS magazine, this strength is what makes me effective at identifying diamond-in-the-rough articles that have the potential to be excellent—after the ol’ red pen treatment, of course. And when evaluating APICS 2013 educational session speaker materials for my work with the APICS Foundation, maximization is what drives my commitment to producing content that is truly meaningful for our conference attendees.

The assessment helped me channel my maximizer quality—along with my other strengths at communication and activation. The result was actually feeling happier and more engaged at my job. And when you consider the clear relationship between employee engagement and performance levels, this outcome is also a big positive for my team. Rath is enthusiastic about the benefits of employee engagement through talent development, noting that StrengthsFinder was designed to help teams excel.

StrengthsFinder helps teams identify who should do what tasks, communicate with each other, overcome difficulties, and make sure there is a good balance of expertise. The assessment sets these benefits in motion via an online tool that presents pairs of statements and asks each team member to identify the one with which he or she most agrees. It is rarely a simple choice. The test will even time out if you spend too long on a certain statement—but, interestingly, it takes into account your inability to choose when revealing your top strengths.

Some people enjoy the reveal; others are surprised or disappointed. But Rath notes that it’s not necessary to embrace all five strengths. In fact, he’s seen people build highly successful organizations by just owning and focusing on a single skill. “What matters most is that people identify with even one or two of their themes and find ways to build upon that,” he told me. “That’s the essence of it.”

Have you discovered your top five strengths? How can you apply them to enhance your role as a supply chain and operations management professional? How can revealing strengths advance your teams and your organization as a whole?