Leadership Lessons: Learning From Experiences – Part 1

In supply chain analytics and in life, we learn best through experiences, both positive and negative.  The hardest lessons to learn are not the quantitative ones, but rather those lessons that are qualitative or behavioral – how we interact with others.

Take the real, but anonymous, case of an analyst working on process improvement for a company that sold jewelry through direct marketing.  The challenge the company faced was predicting demand across a size curve.  After the rings were promoted, the company was left with too many rings that did not sell.  These remaining rings disproportionately consisted of the less frequently ordered sizes.

The analyst proposed a solution:

Purchase assembled rings for 90% of the most frequently ordered sizes and purchase settings and stones to cover the forecast for the remaining 10% of those sizes and for the less frequently ordered sizes.  If demand exceeded 90% of the forecast for the more common sizes or if sizes were ordered from either tail of the size distribution, they would be assembled to order. 

Of course, this approach had the advantage of eliminating left over rings without materially impacting customer service.  Furthermore, the stones and settings could be salvaged for a significant portion of the procurement cost.

She thought it sounded like a slam-dunk!

However, her proposal was quickly rejected after minimal consideration – dismissed with a few objections that more or less amounted to “we haven’t ever done that and (therefore) it won’t work.”  However, after some time, when she was no longer working on that project, that very solution was eventually implemented, resulting in improved fill rates and reduced obsolescence! 

So what can she (and we) learn from her experience?  It might be convenient for her to chalk the failure of her proposal to the failings of her colleagues.  Were they threatened?  Were they in imaginative?  Were they just plain stubborn?  Are they unintelligent?

It is unlikely that any of these are the case.  Instead of blaming others, she could challenge at her own approach.  For example, she may have failed to comprehend the perspective of her audience, both as individuals and as a group.  She could have tried to understand what kind of message they were capable of receiving in terms of the following (as examples):

  • Extent of change that the rest of the team could accept
  • Her colleagues point of view (e.g. Are there real or perceived reasons why this won’t work?  Has it been tried before?)
  • What did each member of the team need to get out of this interaction

If she can forget about getting appropriate credit for the idea and deliver her message with these things in mind such that it can be received and appreciated by her teammates, then I suspect that she very well may have been successful.

Effectively interacting with others requires this kind of 360 degree thinking that you see visually on Google Earth or in the special effects replays in NFL broadcasts.

It is also critical to remember that while you may have a great idea, someone else may have a better idea, so listening must be both a skill and a habit that you continually hone.

Bear in mind that common sense is often the best sense:

  • Keep an open mind (yes, we all have blind spots)
  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes (we are all too self-centered)
  • Love your neighbor as yourself (remembering from the parable of the Good Samaritan that everyone is our neighbor)

For more thoughts on effectively interacting with teams, please take a look at these posts on Supply Chain Action:

Leadership Is Not Just Telling Other People What to Do

Leadership:  Motivation or Manipulation

Or my article in Analytics magazine:  Why the soft side of analytics is so hard to manage

I also highly recommend Dr. Jeannie Kahwajy.  Find her at her website, Effective Interactions.

Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful weekend!

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About Arnold Mark Wells
Industry, software, and consulting background. I help companies do the things about which I write. If you think it might make sense to explore one of these topics for your organization, I would be delighted to hear from you. I am employed by Opalytics.

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