Supply Chain Collaboration: Welcome to the Culture Club

Contributor: Alan Kennedy
Posted: 01/05/2017
Alan Kennedy
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When it comes to pharma-logistics real supply chain collaboration is about a lot more than box-ticking and endless rounds of meetings and workshops. True collaboration requires cultural change and this is where things get tricky.

There is much talk about the benefits of supply chains that enjoy end-to-end integration; ones where all stakeholders are able to reap the benefits of working in unison,  efficiently and collaboratively, towards shared goals. It’s a formation that is increasingly the norm in many industries but one that remains doggedly atypical of most of the pharma-logistics sector. This is because being part of an integrated supply network that is based around the principles of common vision, mutual trust, reciprocal transparency and a willingness to share, involves much more than putting a signature on a framed certificate. In addition to the necessary changes in structure and process, a commitment to strategic collaboration requires a wholesale cultural shift throughout an organisation and beyond.

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Vital Asset

Intangible though it might be, an organisation's culture is one of its most important assets. Business values and ethics, customer focus, management style, internal communications, market position and relationships, staff attitudes, pride and empowerment; these and a lot more, shape the culture within a business.

This makes changing an organisation's culture a large-scale undertaking, and the real, sustainable
change needed requires time, commitment, consistent leadership from the top and a lot of
long, hard continuous work. Nevertheless, when it comes to supply chain integration, cultural shift cannot be ignored or neglected since a harmonised culture is the very bedrock on which any integrated logistics network must be founded. Without cross-party cultural harmony there is no possibility of enduring end-to-end relationships flourishing.

No Shortcuts

Nor are there any shortcuts. Silver bullets are in short supply when it comes to instilling a culture of collaboration in an organisation and within a supply chain. A new cultural direction has to be clear to understand and easy to embrace. It must be supported by everyone in the organisation and senior management must lead by example. It is entirely a waste of time to attempt to superimpose a culture of ‘win-win’ on top of a culture of ‘win-lose’. It simply does not work.

A ‘zero-sum collaborative culture’ within an organisation must be eradicated at source through a planned process of education, through leadership by example, and by closely aligning the commercial interests of all network partners. Senior management must continuously articulate and communicate, to the point of tedium, the company's collaborative vision and values. Integration must not be, or be perceived as, just another managerial 'flavour of the month' solution. The strategic objectives of an integrated supply network must be translated into meaningful departmental goals, responsibilities, action plans, SOPs, projects and cultural programmes for absorption and implementation by the organisation's internal staff.

Equally, it is important that a company’s collaborative culture is outward facing as well as inward facing. The company needs to demonstrate and broadcast its collaborative belief system on a broad scale and at every opportunity. Most importantly, it needs to influence its supply chain partners to adopt a similar pattern of behaviour and principles. A single company cannot unilaterally change its culture and expect it to make a huge difference. Indeed it might disadvantage itself.

Teaming Up

Getting all stakeholders in a supply chain onto the same cultural page is the most intractable of supply-chain problems and a failure to do this is the principal reason why most attempts at comprehensive supply chain integration either come to nothing or limp along at grossly sub-optimal levels. It is to address these failings that TEAM-UP, the not-for-profit pharma-logistics integration initiative, has been set up.

The Cultural Bottom Line

The fact is that we are generations away from a wholesale reform of pharma-logistics supply chain unless a meaningful proportion of the sector is prepared to change its habits in a coordinated way.

Only by moving towards an enlightened culture based around common goals and joint problem resolution will shippers, forwarders, carriers, logistics providers, transportation hubs, product suppliers and others start to see the benefit of collaborative working where it really matters - on their bottom line results.

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Alan Kennedy
Contributor: Alan Kennedy