By Shani Calvo, MHI Solutions
Being resilient is almost a given if you are a woman who has achieved success and a leadership position in the supply chain industry. So, who better to ask about achieving resiliency, especially when it comes to personal challenges, but also how they have applied those lessons to organizational resilience factors, as well?
For the April 15 keynote, moderator Sheila Benny, president at Optricity Corporation, was joined by panelists Megan Smith, CEO, Symbia Logistics; Erin Donnelly, director, supply chain development, The Home Depot; and Chaneta Sullivan, Esq, director, safety, quality and compliance, Chick-fil-A Supply. Each one shared career experiences and how they successfully implemented, measured and showcased operational success and sometimes challenged the status quo, even though the route was not an easy (or short) one, such as the journey Smith embarked on in 2009 that took five years to complete.
“For five years I was struggling to get to this place but once I got there, it was all worth it,” said Smith. She was tasked with acquiring a women business enterprise certification. Some of the challenges she faced were harder than she anticipated and others were unexpected, such as owners, partners and internal teams that didn’t see the value of it or were afraid to give up control or thought I was too young or were afraid for me to take over, she said. “They were all reasons why I shouldn’t, why I couldn’t.”
Resiliently continuing down her certification path, despite these obstacles, was the turning point of her business and her career. What it all boiled down to was 1% of control, she said. “It was amazing how such a small fraction of control can mean so much in business. That was a learning lesson for me…. The 1% meant everything!”
The big goal of certification was comprised of a bunch of small goals that made the large dream a reality. But, it wasn’t just the certification that was a success, it was how Smith defined success afterward. Success didn’t stop with the certification, it started there, she said.
The idea of compartmentalizing and breaking down larger goals into smaller, achievable goals is a practice that Donnelly has experienced as well when prioritizing. She said that you should put things into as small as increments as possible. While the tendency is to look at huge investments that will have huge payouts, “some of the smaller ones are lot easier to cross over the finish line than the big, massive ones.” Also, the smaller ones can all add up over time. “You need a balance of both,” said Donnelly about this piece-by-piece strategy.
Donnelly also talked about balance when she talked about the key skills and technologies The Home Depot used to address the ups and downs of the seasonal busy times. They looked into automating a lot of the tasks that were happening during the busy season, tasks that could free up their talent for other things. “You should be using your talent for the problem-solving you need when you are in season and things are hot and you need people making decisions and not just people executing,” said Donnelly.
Also, they noticed a lot of problems in season were happening way up in the supply chain. So they looked into how they could give themselves more visibility and be more proactive with their alerting, so they weren’t finding out about them and reacting during the busy season. “Then you are dealing with things that were unexpected instead of dealing with problems that maybe you could have had the foresight to see,” said Donnelly. “Those two key strategies were extremely successful.” Plus, they equated to better results, less time and a better work-life balance for employees.
It isn’t always about finding the right balance, however, especially when it comes to being a leader and how you mentor and influence those around you. For Sullivan, “I don’t think of it as balancing, I think of it as marrying up the two sides.” She said you can’t be a good leader if you don’t have the skill or trait of mentoring others and influencing people and getting them to realize they can be more than they ever thought about. “I focus a lot on syncing that up. As a leader, that is very personal for me and very intentional.”
One way she does that is by setting high standards and making it “very personal with that team that I’m on and the team that I lead.” Having that distinction as a leader is very important. “I’m big on making it personal…. I want them to know that I care about them and I trust them,” said Sullivan, who is also big on making sure her team members get credit and are given appreciation for their accomplishments. “When your team wins, you win.”
When it comes to finding winning strategies for your team, sometimes that inspiration can come from outside the industry, said Donnelly, who shared a really neat story about paired programming. This is where two people will be involved in coding, with one person doing the work and the other person just watching. This practice works because, in coding, the person who is physically doing the coding in the moment isn’t able to think strategically as they are so focused on what they are doing, she explained. “You need that second set of eyes to make sure work is going in the right direction.” Plus, if you make a mistake because you aren’t collaborating, that it is going to cost you more than completely doubling your workforce, she explained. Take extra care to ensure you are making the right decisions up front because fixing and making the wrong decision is so impactful, she added.
Collaboration is also important when it comes to integration, such as the integration needed between the systems and the people that drive them. “That is even more of a critical factor than it ever has been,” said Smith. It boils down to making sure the systems are communicating properly, from the complicated to the simple ones. Make sure there is transparency and honesty between the entire chain, she said. “It’s not just the team, the internal supply chain, that you should be looking at. It is all the stakeholders involved, the clients, the suppliers and the community at-large. Communicating all of these things in a very transparent, open and honest way, for me, is how you orchestrate success.” She said that if you don’t have a strategy that really makes the customer and the team and all stakeholders feel like they are on the same path—that they are integrated in the same system and understand the system—you are not going to be successful.
Sullivan also had some tips for being successful as a leader and for being an inspiration for others in the industry:
1. Make sure you are clear on your brand and make sure it is authentic.
2. Make sure you’ve mastered your craft.
3. You should always be open to taking feedback. Ask for it, don’t just wait for it to be given.
4. It is OK to be uncomfortable. It can be very empowering. It shows others you are willing to take a little risk.
5. Be known as a person who finds great talent and surrounds yourself with great talent. “As a leader, it is not just about what you can contribute, but being known as a person who can bring in great talent, retain, recruit and develop.”
6. As a leader, have inner confidence and be fearless. Offer perspective. “Sometimes we are afraid to say something. If you are in that room, you are in that room for a reason. What can I do to add value, not just to my team but to my organization?”
Sullivan also said that, if you really want to experience pivotal moments in your leadership position, you should make sure you are really clear and honest in your communication; ask yourself if what you are asking makes sense; and don’t be afraid to take on new challenges.
If you’d like to see more of the genuine, open and authentic responses shared by these three panelists during the Thursday keynote, the recorded video is available here.