How Good Are Your Collaboration Competencies?

collaborationIn a recent discussion with a client who is the Global VP of Services, the question of Collaboration came up from a unique perspective.  In his industry, they often partner with competitors and suppliers to respond to and deliver solutions to their customers.  And while they feel pretty good about their negotiating competencies, he was very concerned about the lack of collaboration competencies,  especially where you are faced with multi-faceted relationship structures (competitors and suppliers).  And when he layered on the fact that they were projecting a very healthy growth trajectory over the next 3-5 years, I had to point out that their ability to respond to that kind of demand  was totally dependent on their ability to develop those collaboration competencies as quickly as possible.  Now before you think that this may not apply to you, I would ask you to think about all those critical supplier relationships you have that for whatever reason you will never be able to break and therefore the only way to enhance the value of those relationships is through Collaboration? Or the amount of Collaboration you need internally to be successful in your role?

As our discussion continued, these points became quite apparent to him.  For his organization to meet those growth targets (and their order book over the next 2-3 years already supports those growth targets), they were at risk because the critical competency that was needed was Collaboration and as we all know, developing a competency has a lead time associated with it,especially one that typically doesn’t get a lot of attention.  The Collaboration competency requires a totally different way of thinking and traditional competencies around negotiations can get in the way.  For our client, this critical competency  was sorely needed within his organization when  dealing with those external relationship structures.

Developing these competencies can actually be a competitive edge for every organization.  Let’s take the example where you have a supplier who has a near monopoly.  Your ability to mine more value through Collaboration with that supplier gives you an edge or  your ability to create a new supplier (as a credible threat) might require collaborating with some of their other customers in the same predicament. Where there are long standing supplier relationships that your stakeholders will never let you change, you can still generate significant value with those suppliers through Collaboration.  Your sales organization may be contemplating entering a new market and the only way you can provide them with a Supply Chain to support that new market is through Collaboration.  How about when you might have to Collaborate with competitors to create a new Supply Base because it’s a regulatory requirement.

In our experience in dealing with this issue with clients, we have often found that the attitudes held by senior leaders around collaboration are the most challenging.  And unfortunately, those attitudes are allowed to permeate through their organizations.  Your organization may be totally different :-) ?  Organizations are designed with competing goals which add to the complexity.  Our basic attitudes have long been developed (as early as school) in a competitive environment, not a collaborative one.  I still remember the biggest challenge my kids had when they went to college was with team assignments that had  no active intervention from the professor.

We think that this will soon be recognized as one of the Next Practice competencies that create an explicit competitive advantage for organizations.  And if your goal is to stay ahead of the curve and Best Practices that others are pursuing, then Collaboration should be your clarion call for 2015.  

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Why Adoption Fails….

A piece of a puzzle

It is hard, it can be painful and most companies give up too soon.    I have a challenge for any organization that has brought consultants in over the last ten years?  Or five years?  Are you still using (or did you ever use) the solutions they provided to you?  Did you ensure that the recommendations that you paid millions of dollars for were not only implemented but ADOPTED?  I suspect it would make you sick to discover how much Value walked out the door with the consultants simply because there was no process or DISCIPLINE in place to ensure the VALUE was captured and sustained.

We tell clients everyday NOT to bother building new processes or tools or providing training unless you have a strategy in place, up front, to ensure Adoption.  Now, you may ask, how do you do this?  How do you ensure that adoption takes place:

  • Leadership commitment
  • Selling the Value
  • Time
  • Effort
  • Investment
  • Staying the Course

Leadership commitment means up and down the ranks and at the highest levels of the organization.  Everyone needs to be aligned, which is no small task.   Even where you think there may be alignment – test it!  Words are easy, actions are not.  Sometimes leaders want to help but they don’t know what you need them to do – tell them!

Selling the Value to everyone that is impacted – without this you will not achieve adoption.  I know for me personally if I do not see the benefit, I will not adopt something new – it simply is not worth my time or attention.  Selling needs to be part of adoption plan and must be tailored at an individual level to ensure that you are hitting the right Value drivers.  If you can convince someone of “what’s in it for them” you have a better chance of adoption.

Time is where adoption most often breaks down.  Most organizations are impatient.  They want the results NOW and think that if they throw enough money at a problem or opportunity it will happen faster – maybe, maybe not.  You can’t move from transactional to strategic overnight no matter how many resources you throw at it or how much money you spend.   It takes time for an organization to absorb change particularly if it requires bumping up against the current culture.  Be prepared for a journey – not an event.

Effort especially estimating the effort to ensure adoption, is almost ALWAYS underestimated.  Whatever amount of effort you thing a change is going to require, triple it, and you may still be way off.

Investment   in money and resources is a given.  Where you believe the payoff is big, calculate the ROI and then sell it.  Failing to do that, will leave you holding the bag from a resource perspective and you will be hard pressed to make adoption happen.  Not ensuring you have the appropriate budget to get to adoption will leave everyone frustrated.  A significant part of your budget (40%?) should be allocated  up front to adoption activities.

Staying the Course is easy to say but hard to do.  If you understand up front that getting to adoption will take time then remind yourself and your organization of that every time you start to think about abandoning ship.    Remember that any investment or change that is NOT adopted by the organization is a wasted effort.

If what you read above makes sense – think change management.  Engaging stakeholders and leaders, getting commitment, selling the value through communication, etc. are all part of a change management toolkit that can be applied to any change (any project) and really does work.   So when you think about why Adoption fails recognize that it is most likely because there was not enough time, attention or investment in managing the change  . . .. . .

Let us know what you think and join in the conversation . . . . . . .

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Closing The Skills Gap By Borrowing From Germany!!


While there are a number of reasons, the biggest seems to be that not going to college is considered a failure while the same is not true in Germany.  Called the TVET, Germany has had an apprenticeship program in place that encourages students to apply for 2-3 year training contract that allows the public and private sector to partner and provide both additional education and practical on the job training – Germany has the lowest unemployment rate amongst the young.

On the other hand, you have companies that are severely constrained in their growth in the US because they cannot find people.  Here is one frustrated CEO:I wish that we could go to the school system and be able to hire machinists, tool and die makers…these 12 people that we’re trying to hire are keeping us from growing”.  At the same time, “Most companies (American) don’t see technical and vocational training as one of its key responsibilities” according to Andreas Koening.

South Carolina has taken a totally different approach and launched a very aggressive apprenticeship program (thanks to the influence of a number of German companies there) and gone from 800 to 11,000 in a short time.  This has helped them close critical skills shortages in manufacturing.  In addition to the German influence, they also have public sector support in terms of tax credits. They have also gone beyond the traditional building trades and included nursing, pharmacy, IT etc., to expand the scope and interest.  Brandon started during high school and is now working and going to college-“I get paid for my hours at work…and I get paid when I’m in class”.  While not for everyone, this is clearly a path to middle class that has been missing for quite a few years.

Many other economies are starting to take notice and Germany is helping launch many localized versions of their TVET.  Manufacturing work is much more sophisticated today than it ever was and the skills gap will continue unless companies figure out more creative ways of acquiring those skills (build them) instead of posting want ads and waiting and waiting and waiting.  As Tom Perez (Labor Secretary) says, apprenticeships can be a sleeping giant for the US economy – if we can just convert the parents who keep thinking that a college degree is the only way for their kids.  And they can always get a degree and have their employer pay for it – while they work.  And we don’t need to restrict this approach only for manufacturing?                   

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The Best Advice I Ever Received . . . . .

Advice Help Support And Tips Signpost Showing Information And GuIn a few weeks I will be facilitating a panel discussion for the Illinois CPA Society “Women to Watch Awards” recipients.  To get prepared for the event, I spend some time with the winners to get a sense of how they think and what will be of interest to the audience during the panel discussion.  One question that I will be asking is “what is the best advice you ever received?”   I always love to hear the responses because more times than not I draw inspiration from the answers.

This exercise got me to reflect on “the best advice I ever received”  and to explore what others would consider good advice as well.   To start, I thought I would do some internet research to see what “successful” people had to say.  But I quickly realized that the definition of “success”  for many is defined by making a lot of money. This lead me down the path of the  advice my husband gives to my children, “remember, success is how YOU define it and cannot be defined by others”.   I will admit, though, I did find some advice in my search that is worth sharing, so I will.  For me, I have several different answers to this question depending on the various roles I find myself in.  I will share a few of mine, those of my close confidants (family, friends, and colleagues) and those of some “successful”  people as well.   

Here goes:

  • “pray often – what is the downside?” (from my Mom J)
  • “never forget, family is EVERYTHING (from my Dad J)
  • “if you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” (recently from my husband to our son – I know, he stole it J)
  • “be kind to everyone, always”  (my advice to my children)
  • “when your head hurts, stop banging it against the wall” (thanks Julie)
  • “to be a good consultant, you need to listen more and talk less” (my advice, based on my experience)
  • “there is no substitute for being prepared”  (my advice to all my colleagues)
  • “ leaders are not assigned, they emerge” (thanks Dalip)
  • “always ask yourself and answer “what’s the question?” before jumping to the solution” (Thanks Chris!)
  • “don’t make me change how I do things unless it’s meaningfully better” (the CEO of PayPal received this from a customer when he was a cocky 23 year old)
  • “Don’t waste your time by continuing to look back and worrying about the past.  Keep looking forward and proceed.” (Thanks Rick!  Advice from his Mom – a very smart lady J)
  • “control your own destiny or someone else will” (Jack Welch)
  •  “don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition” (Abraham Lincoln)
  • “The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change, so change”  (Bill Clinton)
  • “we can’t help everyone but everyone can help someone”  (Ronald Regan)
  • “If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway” (Mother Theresa)

We would love to hear the best advice you ever received . . . please join in the conversation . . . . . . .

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Ebola, Halloween and Supply Chain Risks

chococalteWhile there is no comparison to the human suffering and tragedy, the Ebola crisis does have some lessons to be learned from a Supply Chain Risk Management perspective.  We discussed some of them as they relate to the “Ebola response” Supply Chain here and here but there is also the risk associated with Supply Chains that are supported in West Africa – a prime example being Cocoa.

 If you have not noticed, your favorite chocolate bar is already more expensive and cocoa contracts are at a three year high.  According to Jack Scoville, the spike is largely related to Ebola fears.  While cocoa is largely grown in the Ivory Coast and Ghana and the Ebola epidemic is in the neighboring countries of Liberia and Guinea, the fear is  that it will spread to the cocoa fields. Even just the perception that it might, had that perception taken hold, would have been enough to start driving farmers away from their crops.  The way that risk was mitigated was by closing the borders to human traffic.

 The resulting risk created though was that the entire migrant labor for cocoa harvesting comes from Liberia and Guinea.  The impact of this is totally un-predictable as the harvesting season is currently underway.  While the hope is that labor will be available from other sources, the potential impact of this will be significant on the cocoa crop and therefore chocolate prices.  Which is probably why the futures contracts on cocoa are baking that risk into their pricing.  And  by the way, the agronomists and economists, who would be visiting the cocoa fields to project this year’s crop, yield, quality etc. to price out cocoa futures cannot do so as they have not been willing to travel because of Ebola fears.  The level of uncertainty surrounding cocoa is probably unprecedented.

Now place yourself in the shoes of your peers who are in the Chocolate industry or just substitute cocoa with your critical commodities, and Ebola with any significant major disruption (another Ebola like event, terrorist event, natural disaster, etc.) for your suppliers or their suppliers.  Does your Supply Chain Risk Management process incorporate such events and know what to do when they occur?  Or, does it ignore the existence of such risks?  Have you checked with your key suppliers and asked them to share their risk process with you so you know how much “pass through” risk you have.  What if 75% of your key suppliers are dependent on a small region in China or India – is that too much portfolio risk for you to assume? And this risk is prevalent whether we are discussing products or services.  What if the risk (Ebola) was able to contaminate your supply chain and cross borders as an intrinsic part of your supply chain?

For living proof of this, all you have to do is to look at McDonald’s (and KFC, Burger King etc.) and the impact it has had on them – and they are a vaunted Supply Chain organization.  Tainted meat from a Chinese supplier has had a significant impact on their sales, market share, brand, earnings, stock price etc. and  they all are still a long way from recovering from.

Halloween is coming and while no one is predicting any impact on demand because of any connections between Ebola and chocolate, high prices will definitely mean a lot less chocolate for the kids in their bags.  And that also means a lot less chocolate for me to steal from those bags the next morning.

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