Why change is essential during a supply chain digital transformation

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Global change, business evolution, technology disruption, digital transformation – all terms with which we have become very familiar. We thought we fully understood the implications of these terms prior to Covid-19. However, now we understand them at entirely new levels as most of what we know and have come to expect in business and in our lives has been altered to some extent – and fast.

While studies will tell you most humans are not generally disposed to radical departures from their daily routines, during the pandemic we have learned that we are more agile, flexible and resilient than anyone ever expected. We didn’t have to undergo rigorous change management processes in order to adapt to our new environments. We just did what was right, embraced what was in front of us and moved quickly to acclimate to our own “next normal.”

Of course, we aren’t out of the woods just yet, and more change is inevitable. But over the past year we have been able to see, in many areas, that crisis moments can also present opportunities: more sophisticated use of technology, the creation of innovative business models in support of working from home, and new delivery and entertainment services that cater to people staying inside, to name but a few examples.

Rethinking the approach to change adoption

The pandemic has forced most businesses to rethink their operating models to ensure they can survive and thrive in a new economy. Global supply chain operations are no exception.

In the supply chain world, change has already been coming fast and furiously as work processes, customer demand, new regulations and economic shifts disrupt planning and operations. Now, with more uncertainty than ever about which demand patterns may skyrocket or tumble without warning, operational and organizational planning are critical to ensure agility and resiliency to meet what’s next, which means working to unify forecasting, planning and execution. But, without buy-in from your key constituents, those terms become merely buzzwords with little meaning. A new approach to change management that takes into account speed of adoption is a necessity.

Historically, change management models indicated that effectively implementing changes within an organization would take anywhere from 12 to 18 months. And the majority of employees would need at least this long to embrace new working models.

Today, we don’t have the luxury of this investment in time. Instead, we are truly building the car’s engine while driving it down the road. This means we need a braver and more thoughtful approach to change management in the supply chain to keep it in pristine condition to drive sustained success. For example, we need to remove bottlenecks, improve end-to-end transparency and synchronize disparate business siloes.

Building a change-ready culture

Change plans should start with ensuring a pervasive understanding of the strategic need for the shift. Why is it crucial for your business? What are the expected outcomes? How will it impact your employees, partners and customers? What are the possible barriers to adoption? Do you have the right tools in place to ensure proper execution? And, how quickly will it need to be implemented to be successful?

Once you’re in agreement on the need for the change, it should be closely followed with an executable, measurable, timed project plan that goes through all of the steps that will take place and all of the ingredients needed to make it work. Because, just like baking a souffle, one missed ingredient can mean failure.

Apart from the planning itself, working to ensure you have strong management, leadership and direction, coupled with a workforce that is well informed, trained and agile during the change, can lead to better chances of meeting your goals.

Rely on your workforce to lead the change

According to a study by Gartner, currently, over 80 percent of organizations manage change from the top down. However, this strategy is fundamentally disconnected from today’s workflow and is actually slowing organizations down. That same study found that the best organizations rely on their workforce, not executives, to be the change agents leading the shift.

These findings are extremely important as you develop your change management plans, work to achieve stakeholder buy-in and streamline implementation. Communication and inclusivity are critical in this equation.

Vetting your plans with a core set of employees and other stakeholders before beginning implementation will go a long way toward ensuring your approach will resonate with their peers as well. Then making sure you have clear, concise and informative communications throughout the process will help to bring employees along and ease any anxiety they may be feeling about the change. Providing proof points along the way that show them that the changes are working will also instill greater confidence and trust. Offering training and reference guides and any other enablement tools they may need will help them adapt more quickly.

Once you have buy-in from staff — because they know how they stand to benefit from your supply chain enhancements — it will be much easier to implement and encourage widespread adoption.

Set realistic expectations

Despite the fact we need to move at a much faster pace today than in the past, significant changes to supply chain operations don’t happen overnight. Many of these projects are more complex with a number of moving parts, so being realistic about your timeline is key.
Celebrate milestones along the way to make the transition more exciting and tangible. Continually seek feedback from those impacted by the change to ensure they’re still on the journey with you. And, work to remain excited about the work you’re doing to innovate and continually transform your business.

Constant change across the supply chain is a given and an ongoing phenomenon. These changes are driving the need for digital transformation, but it’s how we manage that change and bring people along the transformation path that will make the difference in your organization reaching new heights and capture the value from the investments.

To learn more about the practice of change management — and why it is table stakes for any digital transformation — join Deloitte leader and one of my personal change management sherpas, Hilary Horn and myself in our new podcast episode, “Death, taxes and change management.” Hilary and I discuss how the approach and science of change management have shifted.

You can subscribe to our podcast and listen to past episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your preferred podcast provider. Catch up on some past change management and digital transformation episodes of the Big Ideas in Supply Chain podcast using the links below:

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Digital transformation services
- April 08, 2021 at 4:59am
.Growing customer demands and expectations always add more pressure on logistics companies as their staffs have to ensure the warehouse and inventory are properly stocked and managed. With fewer tools and technology, their staffs have to strain a lot to live up to the customer expectations. However, it is very possible today with the help of partnering with reputed digital transformation services.
Inna Schimmel
- April 25, 2022 at 5:21pm
Good Afternoon , Anne

I had a pleasure to attend a panel discussion with you about the role of Analytics in Supply Chain during the pandemic at the recent INFORMS BA conference in Houston. You also spoke about a different topic at the Supply Chain track that I didn't get a chance to attend - AI/ML and OR: A complimentary couple to power Supply Chain with Intelligent Agility.
I would love to see the presentation but I couldn't find it on the INFORMS app. Would you ne willing to send it to me?

Best Regards
Inna Schimmel,
Data Science and Engineering at Schneider.
- April 26, 2022 at 8:28am
Thanks, Inna! We've passed your note along to Anne. She will get back to you soon.

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