When The Strategy Consultants Leave……


Nothing against the strategy consulting firms and we do our fair share of that kind of work but it is intriguing to find bewildered client after bewildered client – once the strategy firms have left.  Leaving behind  a client Executive Team convinced of the tremendous value that is lying untapped inside their organization only if their organizational leaders could get their act together and Transform their organization.  No mention is made of the various elements of any Transformation Roadmap that must be put in place (Governance, Competencies, Change Management etc. etc. etc.).  The effort required from the Executive Team is especially absent and especially critical.

Large numbers are thrown around (red herrings) that generate lots of excitement at the Executive level and dread at the leadership level.  There is no mention of the “investment” that will be needed for the Transformation – investment of resources, political capital, executive and leadership attention, churn, funding for training and external help, etc.  In the absence of all of these things, the timelines and expected results become unrealistic and the Transformation is doomed for failure before it even begins.

While nothing that the strategy firms have said is ever wrong, it’s what’s not said that causes the problem.  If their strategies are not Adopted, the value from their work diminishes significantly and leads to frustration at the leadership level – who wait with dread for the next strategic engagement with their Executives.  How many times have you been at the receiving end of what I’m describing?  There is no discussion of where the resources are going to come from and whether the active and visible political support will be delivered by the Executive team.  Expecting different results from the same group of people without enhancing or changing their competencies seems illogical but far too many Transformation plans don’t address that.  Not having an active Change Management competency to help manage the inevitable churn is just adding significant risk yet it is often ignored.  Implementing governance structures to help resolve issues and accelerate decision making seems obvious but very often missing.  Yet no mention is made of most of these – and these are all, ALL – Predictable and Inevitable – for ANY Transformation. 

The poor leaders of the organization feel like they’ve been through the wringer after a year or so when hardly any progress is being made on the Transformation and the executives keep asking for progress updates against the promised results that the consultants presented.  Funding requests are viewed skeptically because the results are not there.  The organization has been through churn and people are losing trust in their leaders – yet more and more is expected from them.  As they say – the height of folly is to keep doing the same thing over and over again yet expect different results.  The executives make a change in the leadership and wait for the next strategy consultant to come in – and the cycle starts all over again.


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Culture Eats Strategy . . . . or Does It?

Puzzle 2Transformation is HARD!  If you don’t believe that then you have never gone through one.  Often, when a transformation fails or an organization does not achieve its’ desired business results, “culture” is identified as the culprit or perhaps the scapegoat so says two Supply Chain Management professors in “Culture Eats Strategy . . . and how to deal with it”. Professors Hanson and Melnyk believe that blaming culture is often misguided and wrong.  “To understand and work with culture in times of change, it is necessary to break with conventional wisdom in many areas and dispel several management myths.”   The article, while written by two Supply Chain brains, focuses mostly on the challenges of making change happen within an organization and how important it is to “manage” that change and deal with / embrace corporate culture.

What is corporate culture?   Here are a few definitions:

  • the collective values, beliefs, principles and PURPOSE of an organization
  • “what people do when the boss is not around”
  • consists of group norms of behavior and the underlying shared values that help keep those norms in place

Culture develops over time, gradually, and in ways that are sometimes difficult to see.  As an employee, it is often hard to articulate the elements of corporate culture because you are living it every day.  But if you simply think about it as behaviors that are accepted and or rewarded then it becomes clearer.  For example, is it accepted for meetings to start late?  Do most people show up to work at 7:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m.?  Might you get run over at 4:30 p.m. if you are too close to the exit?  Is it common or unusual to see a tie or a jacket or even hosiery?  Do employees offer suggestions freely or do they sit quietly and simply take direction from the boss?  Culture is also taught, in that it is passed on from current members to new members (very much like a family . .).    

Make no mistake that culture is a very powerful force  – particularly in a time of change.  So, how do you deal with culture?  You have two choices – 1. Work within the corporate culture – find parts of your change strategy that are consistent with your PURPOSE (culture) and exploit them or 2. Work to change the culture – it is doable BUT it is also HARD.  Culture takes time to emerge and it also takes time to change.

In either case, it will be necessary to dispel a few important Management Myths:

  • Show them a better way and they will embrace it – here employees must not only understand the “how” but also the “what” (the PURPOSE or the desired outcome). The “what” is often not communicated which is a problem. In addition, the “what” should also include “what’s in it for them”.  This requires frequent and ongoing  communication. Also, showing them a better way means that un-learning the old ways will be necessary and this is not easy. 
  •  Culture and strategy are natural enemiesthis is only true if management believes there is an inherent conflict.  Here, you need to understand the characteristics of the strategy / change and how to work with elements of the corporate culture where the purpose is aligned.   Where there is no alignment in purpose, creating a “crisis” ( I prefer “a burning platform”)  may be required.   This is  a compelling reason why the strategy / change is critical to “survival” and that the status quo is no longer acceptable.  This can provide motivation for the organization to abandon current practices and to adopt new ones.
  •  Don’t tell people how to do their jobs – tell them what you want done and get out of their way – conventional wisdom tell us that this is normally a very strong management practice. Unfortunately it relies heavily on organizational culture which drives behavior and decision making.  So in times of change, it will be necessary to tell people exactly what to do and how to do it – even executives.  This is hard for everyone involved but it is necessary until the culture can be brought  into alignment with the change strategy.

In summary, corporate culture is often blamed when a transformation fails.  Understanding the culture and how it aligns with your change strategy is critical to success.  Culture can eat a change strategy for breakfast – but with the appropriate “management” it can support it as well. 

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Why Are Females More Murderous Than Males? Or, What’s In a Name Can Kill Ya!

menvswomenAnd no, I’m not about to go on a sexist rant and label myself a misogynist…quite the opposite in fact.  Here is the conundrum – more people die in hurricanes with female names.  There are a number of explanations for this:

God is a female and when she is mad – she is really mad. No comment.

The hurricane center names the stronger storms with a female name – except that the names are decided in advance of the hurricane season and they alternate between male and female names so it’s purely random.

But then how to explain this: “social psychologist Sharon Shavitt at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign analyzed the destruction caused by Atlantic hurricanes between 1950 and 2012. Even after eliminating storms like Katrina, which caused unusual amounts of damage, they find that hurricanes with female names cause more deaths than hurricanes with male names”.  In fact, they extrapolate that if storms named after males had been female names, the average death toll would have risen from 15 to 45 – a 300% increase.

It turns out that the death toll difference has nothing to do with the name of the storm but rather how people react to the names.  Male names sound a lot scarier to people and they start reacting and preparing much sooner – they take the warnings more seriously.  Our inherent sexism biases actually are quite harmful and can and do literally kill us – go figure!!  To prove that this was no random fluke, Shavitt actually ran some controlled experiments where she presented subjects with the hurricanes with different names but the same exact characteristics (e.g. category 4) and invariably the male named hurricanes were deemed to be more dangerous than the female ones.  In fact, within the female named hurricanes there was a difference between more feminine names (Cindy vs. Bertha) where Bertha was deemed to be more destructive.


Before we jump to the obvious conclusions and name all hurricanes with a male name, keep in mind that people will lose all credibility when most of the hurricanes turn out to be not that destructive.  The obvious lesson here is that names do matter and they drive social behavior and may actually have life and death consequences.  This becomes critical when you are dealing with change management initiatives and trying to change behaviors.  What you name your initiative and the language used to frame it has a large impact on how people react and more importantly behave.  If you are looking to change people’s behavior, what you call your initiative and the language you use will actually determine how people react and the choices they make.  Some would argue that those things have a more powerful impact than all the spreadsheets and analyses you put together.

There is a lot to be learnt from the social sciences in terms of how to shape and change behaviors inside our organizations.  And what we call things and the language we use has a lot to do with it.  That’s why we actually spend some time in working with clients around these issues – what are you naming your initiative, what is the language you are using to frame the discussion, what logo or mascot are you using to represent your initiative because we know that in subtle yet very powerful ways, these things actually do impact the outcomes.  So stay safe out there and prepare yourself equally for all storms – not just the male named ones.  Otherwise, it could kill ya!

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Mind the Gap – Training vs Competencies

In our previous posts we talked about designing your talent management program and implementing a recruiting plan. However, these are only parts of a larger Competency Based Talent Management (CBTM) program. You have hired the people you needed. So what? How can you make sure they are integrated into your organization and are able to hit the ground running, creating the optimum amount of impact? Not only do you need to look at training your existing team, you need to create a training program for new recruits as well.

This sounds well and good (and perhaps a bit easy). However, it is not as easy as it sounds. We have heard from many of our Sourcing / Supply Chain peers, particularly at our last NPX, that they are struggling with their training efforts. Training is completed, but the learning is never adopted. So what can they do to change the results?

Adoption brings us back to our vowels (AEIOU). In the past we have talked about the importance of Adoption, Execution, Implementation, Optimization and Utilization in any organizational effort. However, training is just not about the act of learning (a consonant); it is about adopting and implementing that learning to drive business results. Using the vowels ensures that the people being trained start applying what they learned. Implementing the vowels is the key difference between training people and developing competency.

To effectively turn a training program into competency development, you must have a good understanding of your desired needs. This requires that you start with the strategic direction and objectives of the company and what role your organization will play. This will show you which organizational competencies you need and will give you an understanding of the gaps you have within your organization. Now, the closure of those gaps can be tied directly to the company’s strategic direction and the role your organization will play, adding value not just for individuals, but for the company as a whole. Sending 2-3 people at a time to some public seminar designed for the masses may develop individual competency but it is never going to develop organizational competency.

Your gap closure strategies must follow a multi-faceted approach (coaching / mentoring etc.). Make sure your entire approach is rooted in Adult Learning Theory and has experiential learning as its basic tenet. Making people sit through day long lectures with no ability to actually practice the new behaviors and competencies in a safe learning environment is of little value. In addition, the curriculum must include the strategic competencies found during the initial gap assessment. A program consisting of functional or process skills alone is doomed. The strategic competencies must also be integrated into the core process modules so that people know how to actually deploy the new process.

Your training strategies must look beyond the technical skills and focus on the strategic skills needed to be successful like change management, communication, collaboration, and decision making. Oftentimes these skills are overlooked when training, although they are the most important to organizational success. Anyone can learn to use any process and those are the skills most organizations worry about when hiring and training. However, developing strategic skills can take your team to the next level and have more lasting effects on the group. It takes your group from Best Practices to Next Practices.

Developing the right competencies within your organization is not easy. It takes a lot of thought and energy to train and develop your team. Sometimes closing the gap can make you feel like you are trying to build a bridge across the Grand Canyon. If you start by looking at competency development in terms of AEIOU and strategic alignment, you will no longer need to build a bridge across the gap. You will find that your organization will soar.

In our upcoming posts we will continue to address Next Practices associated with the Competency Based Talent Management lifecycle.

If you are interested in getting involved or would like to follow this topic further, here are a series of critical activities coming up:

  • Release of the results of the Executive Forum we just facilitated at the IACCM Global Forum for Contracting & Commercial Excellence on Talent Management.
  • A major research project to not identify the problem one more time but to identify Next Practices to solve the problems.
  • A webinar with IACCM on CBTM.
  • A White Paper to focus on Next Practices in CBTM.



Reposted on Sourcing Innovation.

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The Difficulty of Finding Qualified Supply Management Candidates

Welcome to the first of six in our series on Competency Based Talent Management (CBTM). Check back weekly as we discuss the challenges associated with CBTM and explore solutions.

Difficulty of Finding Qualified Supply Management Candidates  is the headline of a major research project by CAPS Research.  I am glad that they are bringing renewed attention to this issue.  My problem is that if you go back in the history of our profession, this issue has been in the top three issues of EVERY poll, research, think tank pronouncement, conference, etc. for close to two decades!   My history goes back over three decades in the world of Supply Chain and I can remember in the early 90’s when this started to become a critical issue.  And yet, here we are gathering insight yet again. We started this conversation by first defining who YOU are. Clearly not a scientific analysis but close enough for government work.  We then drew some insights from the profile that was created.

Let me take the liberty of using the title to develop my call to action.  Let’s start with DIFFICULTY. The question we need to ask ourselves is why are we dealing with difficulty? Clearly we are facing difficulty as a result of whatever we did or more importantly did not do in the past.  We have never identified talent as a top priority in our organizations.  And before you quickly pull out your strategic presentation to point to the slides, my first question will be to ask for a history of your training investment over the last five years.  In fact, take a look at your total investment over the last five years in supporting your Talent strategy and compare it to other investments that your corporation has made.  I bet it is nowhere close!!!    How does your new hire program fare under that scrutiny?  Has it been increasing over the last five years?  Is the leadership in your Supply Chain organization specifically measured AND incented on the maximization of Talent?  Are your people specifically measured AND incented on acquiring new competencies (not skills, not training . . . . . more on that later)?  These are but some of the things that would explain the inclusion of the word DIFFICULTY in the research.  At our last NPX conference and a recent Gartner event, numbers like 50, 100, 200, and 400 were being tossed as the current need of some major Global corporations in their Supply Chain organizations.  I will let you digest those numbers for now and we will come back to them later.  By the way, once you decide to invest in your Talent, there is an incredible amount of lead time that is required to make that happen.  Those companies that are looking to hire 50 – 400 new people should have started 12 -18 months ago.

If you are still defining FINDING  as developing a job description and handing it off to your HR rep and waiting for the candidates to roll in…good luck!  You need to step back and understand what your real needs are in terms of competencies for the roles that you are looking to fill.  Because FINDING is also a function of what you define as QUALIFIED. You then need to develop an aggressive, comprehensive approach to attract and retain the right candidates.  And unless you have thought your way through that entire life cycle, you will never resolve the issue.  Let me illustrate with an actual case study.  We were asked by the CFO of a major bank to help figure out why they were not able to attract any candidates to even show up at the campus job fairs for their New Hire program.  We helped them realize that their brand name was not enough to attract candidates anymore.  The real issues were that the prospects did not know what they wanted to do in banking yet and did not want to commit so early in their life.  We redesigned the entire New Hire program to include structured six month rotations for the 1st two years (and their selections would be considered), a leadership member assigned as a formal mentor (and feedback provided by mentee to CFO on mentoring), internal job fairs by senior executives of various organizations in the bank, a “friend” assigned from the previous rotation “class”, formal group meetings where the entire “class” would get together to provide feedback, etc.  And then we redesigned their marketing strategy (yes, you need to have a marketing strategy!).  They had lines forming up at the campus job fairs!

As I mentioned in the last paragraph, ALL of these issues are intertwined and tied together (but I’m jumping ahead of myself).  For example, if your definition of QUALIFIED does not really match your needs, you will always have DIFFICULTY FINDING candidates. The definition of QUALIFIED has to be based on the real needs of your “clients”.  One of the constructs that has proven very powerful as an image that we use with our clients is to think of your organization as a consulting company.  You would quickly realize that your ONLY asset that delivers value to your clients is your organizational competency and talent.  Therefore, you must match your competencies to the needs of your clients, both for today and tomorrow.  Otherwise, you will always be FINDING because developing organizational competency has a significant lead time.  Case in point:  We just had a conversation with the CIO of a Fortune 20 client leading to the conclusion that his organizational competency was geared towards new solutions and his group had been rolling out very successfully. His problem was that his clients had not yet “adopted” the solutions yet…meaning that they had not been fully deployed.  The Intended Consequences of the clients had not yet been realized.  What he quickly realized was that he needed to immediately develop significant deployment competencies.  Think of it as surveying your market to understand what their needs are going to be so that you can ensure that you have the right organizational competencies to deliver the value when your clients need it.  Ideally, you should be a step ahead.

Finally, what do you define as a SUPPLY MANAGEMENT CANDIDATE?   I guess we first need to decide what is Supply Management?  Because if your definition is focused on the Supply Base and managing costs and lead times and someone else is looking at the entire value conversion process, then your SUPPLY MANAGEMENT CANDIDATE is going to look rather different from your competitor.  If you think the role of Supply Management is to run an efficient process to ensure lowest cost, then you are probably not looking for candidates who can look upstream and downstream and start maximizing the entire system as opposed to the tail of the dog (supply base).  If you think that Supply Management is all about the process of defining requirements and negotiating contracts, then you are probably don’t want  candidates with all those so called soft skills (collaboration, teams, problem solving, etc.).   Now you can see why we seem to have DIFFICULTY FINDING QUALIFIED SUPPLY MANAGEMENT CANDIDATES.

Stay tuned for our next post where we discuss Competency Based Talent Management as a platform for solving some of the issues we have raised here.   If you are interested in getting involved or would like to follow this topic further, here are a series of critical activities coming up:

  • Major research project geared towards not just identifying the problem but to identifying Next Practices to solve the problems
  • White Paper to focus on Next Practices in Competency Based Talent Management
  • A webinar discussing our findings in detail

Please share your thoughts and challenges regarding Talent Management below. We would love to hear your insights.



Reposted on Sourcing Innovation.

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