This is the second in a series of vignettes about supply chain that I will be sharing as part of my experience as an Executive Supply Chain Partner for Gartner. Since I spend so much time traveling to and working with clients, I’m calling it “Sojourns of a Supply Chain Road Warrior.” The stories will all be real but will never identify the actual companies or individuals involved. In every story there will be a message about the challenges and successes of supply chain teams and leaders.
This piece is about the impact of the linguistics supply chain professionals use to discuss what they work on and what they need to change or fix. Language matters! If we cannot communicate effectively with our constituents in or outside of our company, we will fail miserably.
We were discussing metrics during recent supply chain assessment interviews with a client. I measure alignment of the CSCO’s top 3 metrics with his or her team’s view to gauge organizational consistency. When the question about forecast accuracy came up, the client said, “Their forecast accuracy is terrible, no wonder they don’t like when we measure it!”
Is It What You Say or How You Say It?
As I flew back home from the day of interviews, the forecast accuracy comment reverberated loudly in my mind. I’d seen that movie before and remembered how difficult it was to separate the intent from the personal attack implied in the wording.
I routinely share communications effectiveness advice with my clients. All too often, supply chain initiatives fail due to the inability of the team and its executives to influence constituents to buy-in and engage on great supply chain ideas, like S&OP improvements.
What causes some initiatives to never take hold? One contributing factor is what and how the messages are conveyed. If the supply chain team walks around telling everyone how much their asset utilization will improve or how excess inventory will be reduced or how factory efficiency will increase they are likely to get a significant amount of eye rolls by those who they corner to discuss the stuff. The listener can’t get out of there fast enough.
If you cannot speak the language of the business, your supply chain initiative will go over like a heavy rain during a picnic.
What they are saying makes sense. How they are saying it makes no sense … to the listeners. Language matters!
Are You Talking to Me?
In a prior role I witnessed an excessive use of personal pronouns during our supply and demand matching meetings. While the teams had worked together for a number of years, they were talking at each other and not with each other. The constant “you, your, yours, and I, me, mines” had slowly and steadily built a wall between the groups.
Who wants to work on an initiative when it starts with “Your forecast accuracy is why our inventory is too high!”? Not me, that’s for sure.
What they were saying is that forecast error was high and that it led to higher inventory in too many cases – even excess material that had to be written-off and discarded.
How they said it implied that the individual was performing poorly and was affecting their work. The conversation should have opened up a discussion about what drove the accuracy issues and how the teams could work better together to resolve it. Instead, there was a stalemate as both sides acted defensively – meaning nothing got discussed or resolved.
If you are going to make a point about change or improvement, keep the other person out of it. Say something akin to “The forecast error is high.” Or, “The data show that excess inventory levels have increased as the forecasts have been above actual demand consistently.”
No-one is offended when there is no mention of I, me, you, your, they, theirs, and so on. That said, using “we” more often is definitely a way to build engagement and alignment.
Getting the Message Across
Something is definitely lost when the message comes across as a personal affront, even if it is not meant to be one.
During the assessment interviews I typically look for common themes or differences between what the various participants tell me. It’s rare I give advice directly at this juncture of the relationship. After the client made the comment above, I could not let it go.
“Do you speak to the demand planning or sales team like that? You call it ‘their forecast’?”
I got one of those “why are you asking me that question” looks.
I told him that asking it in a manner that the receiver will hear as personal, he’d never be able to drive resolution. He made it sound like the person was doing a poor job. It’s imperative that one separates the message from the recipient (or sender).
Whatever you do to ensure clarity and understanding of your messages, be sure to keep the focus on what is wrong or what needs to get addressed, not who’s part of it.
Does your supply chain clearly understand how to communicate issues and opportunities? Don’t let it get lost due to pesky personal pronouns!