How to Shore Up the “People” Part of Supply-Chain Performance

The success formula includes crystal-clear processes, input from the right people to drive engagement in following those processes, and ongoing lea...
Shawn CasemoreAugust 8, 2012

Recently, two American Airlines flights came close to colliding over Reagan Washington International Airport. The distance between them was a mere 800 vertical feet (200 less than the regulated allowable distance). Although the cause is under investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration says it is believed to be poor communication in conjunction with a failure to follow standard procedures.

What might seem surprising relative to air travel is that despite the significant training and resources positioned to ensure safe and successful flight departures and returns, human error remains the most significant hurdle to ensuring safe and effective daily operations.

Not surprisingly, similar challenges exist in attempting to engage and manage human performance across the supply chain. Ensuring timely and effective delivery of goods and services while managing a unique blend of internal staff, external customers, and various other stakeholders can pose significant challenges, all of which rely on the ability to effectively manage human performance.

From our studies and work with numerous high-performing operations globally, we have identified several weaknesses that lead to human error; following are the top three.

The Right People at the Right Time
In even the smallest of organizations, actions are guided by written documentation or guidelines, be they in a formal ISO document or on a scrap of paper. Many process guidelines or procedures today contain little input from all necessary stakeholders. To develop a process that is both effective and efficient requires input from all stakeholders, including end users, supporting work groups, and customers.

In larger organizations, the number-one issue with regard to human performance is lack of engagement in following processes. Not surprisingly, these same organizations often have a procedure-writing department that works in seclusion from the other departments. The right solution takes input from the right people. Even if the end result takes longer to deliver, the outcomes will be of higher value.

It Wasn’t Me
Rap artist Shaggy said it best, didn’t he? “It wasn’t me,” or more aptly put in the corporate world, “I wasn’t aware” or “No one told me.” If responsibilities are not crystal clear, accountability will be soft at best, nonexistent at worst. Rather than spending time determining who is responsible (as the FAA will be in the case of the near collision), time can be invested in directing, coaching, and mentoring staff for improved performance and outcomes. Clarity denotes purpose, and purpose drives engagement and accountability.

Practice Makes Almost Perfect
In the corporate world, training is often seen as a one-time event, the formula being: show up + participate in training = improved performance. Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it. The most effective training includes actions plans, accountability, review of material, coaching, and continued demonstration of the new desired behaviors. If you have procedures and practices that you want engrained in employees, you need to continually review them in a variety of situations and scenarios, and at different times. Therefore, the actual formula is: if we are human = make mistakes, continued demonstration = reduced errors.

Recognizing that we have drawn parallels between two significantly different circumstances, there remains some commonality relative to ensuring human performance has a productive and valuable outcome. Engaging the right people, providing clear responsibilities, and ensuring continued application and feedback relative to the desired behavior will deliver optimum levels of human performance. Give this some thought the next time you are awaiting departure. I know I will.

Shawn Casemore is president of Casemore & Co., a consulting firm specializing in supply-chain management.