Getting in Tune Print E-mail
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Written by Peter Bigelow   
Tuesday, 04 October 2011 00:15

Challenges never change, but our approaches to tackling them must evolve.

Here we are, a decade-plus into the new millennium in an industry built on cutting-edge (if not bleeding-edge) technology, and yet day in and day out, it is amazing how so many things on the surface appear the same!

In the big picture, it sure appears the supply chain operates remarkably similar as it did, say, a decade ago. Some probably would cite the fewer number of suppliers – and far fewer numbers of buyers. Are they right? Perhaps, if one considers only the “old neighborhood.” Globally, however, suppliers and manufacturers have grown in numbers and sophistication at the same explosive rate as the applications designers are cranking out. It’s just they live in the new neighborhood – a few time zones away.

But the bumper sticker reads “think locally,” right? Then let’s narrow the focus a bit and, using the current descriptive phrase, “niche in” on employees, staff – people. A decade back, in the halcyon full employment days, everyone from the smallest company to the largest conglomerate groused it was impossible to find “good” employees. Today, in one of the worst global economies in a generation, the refrain is the same. Is that so? Funny thing: Many companies that survived – and thrived – in the past decade have had no difficulties locating, hiring and retaining excellent employees, regardless of where they are geographically located. But they have approached the labor market a tad differently.

As for those not “looking at the big picture” or “getting granular in vision,” but just trying to make a buck, let’s take a look at that safe middle ground. Wait! There is no safe middle ground. Nor was there a decade or, for that matter, a generation ago.

We have all been in countless conversations where someone observes “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” That person usually also waxes poetic about “the good old days.” Memories are wonderful (if not dangerous at times); however, “things” have not changed all that much. What has changed is how we must think to best deal with those challenging “things.”

The supply chain is remarkably similar today to the way it has always been: dynamic. Contrary to what some might want to believe, the number of suppliers has not changed – other than maybe to expand in number and offering. What has changed is where those suppliers are located and the language(s) they may speak. New ideas and relationships don’t just drop into your lap. Locating new suppliers and technologies requires research, resourcefulness and appropriate due diligence. Isn’t that the same fundamental process that has always been? When a new idea emerges, some try it, others refine it and eventually all adopt it as the industry norm.
The same is true for every company’s most valuable resource: people. Finding good staff has never been easy. Successful companies have never relied simply on “finding good people.” The businesses that excel are those that successfully develop – transform – average workers into great ones.

Negotiating an ever-changing supply chain to add capability and capacity, while managing costs and improving yield, is as important today as ever. Ditto for the need for – and challenges of – attracting, developing and retaining quality employees. So if supply chain and talent are so important, why do so many companies keep doing the same things the same way? Possibly because taking off blinders is never easy.

Those would be the blinders that too often keep OEM engineers from considering how their supply chains might improve a design, while forcing procurement to just look at piece price vs. the total value add derived from the entire relationship. Those blinders too often prevent equipment and materials suppliers from initiating relationships in new parts of the world that could turn an also-ran brand into a standard. Those blinders prevent fabricators and assemblers from taking risks with new processes, tolerances or capabilities that could catapult the business to a new level. And those blinders too often keep potential workers who, with just a little training, could be valued long-term employees from being interviewed for long-sought openings. When things appear to be the same, maybe it’s the blinders.

Anytime I find myself saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” I get a cold sweat because I fear I may have those blinders on! This happens when I find myself addressing a dynamic and exciting situation with a static old approach that most likely will not work any better this time than in the past. And it is true when I observe things that look the same since I last examined them. Whether supply-chain relationships or employee relationships, maybe they look the same because I haven’t removed my blinders!

As I reflect on all that has changed (and not changed) over the past decade and beyond and consider the successful companies as well as those now vanished, I realize that the one constant is the varied complexity of our many challenges. What must constantly change is how we adjust our approach to dealing with those challenges. We must be in tune with the way it is, not the way it was.

Peter Bigelow is president and CEO of IMI (; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . His column appears monthly.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 October 2011 12:18


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