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Leading Change in Logistics

By Dr. Robert L. Gordon | 12/15/2014 | 7:40 AM

Guest Post by Dr. Ernest Hughes, faculty member at American Public University

Internet retailer Amazon could soon change a couplet in the popular holiday poem, Twas the Night Before Christmas, to:

Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,
On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Drone and Blitzen”

Amazon has been experimenting with small unmanned aircraft for package delivery and they are not alone in evaluating drones as a means to improve its transportation and logistics. The German Deutsche Post is also currently conducting tests. 

Time will tell whether or not drones will join other successful inventions in the history of transportation and logistics like the wheeled cart, the steam powered railroad locomotive, the automobile powered by an internal combustion engine, the airplane, as well as Santa’s sled. Regardless, successful adoption of a new innovation requires leadership and change management within the organization and across the supply chain. 

Dr. John Kotter, noted leadership scholar and Harvard professor, believes that leading change has three essential ingredients. These are:

  1. Creating a vision of the future and strategies for producing the changes needed to achieve that vision;
  2. Aligning people around that vision; and
  3. Motivating them to overcome barriers and produce the changes needed to achieve the vision. 

I’d like to explore each of these ingredients further. Let’s look at motivation first, a key ingredient.

Last August, I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was hot and muggy, as Philly can be in the summer.  While I was standing outside the museum, a sedan pulled up to the curb and four men in suits and dress shoes jumped out.  Just like in the movie, they sprinted to the top of the “Rocky steps” and did a victory dance before jogging back down the steps, hopping into their car, and driving off. What motivated them to do that? They motivated themselves.

In his comprehensive 2012 study of how motivation works, Dr. E. Tory Higgins, Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, defines motivation as “directing choices in order to be effective.”  I think this is a practical and useful definition for organizational leaders to build upon.

Let’s now look at creating a shared vision and aligning people around that vision.  Kouzes and Posner, coauthors of The Leadership Challenge and over a dozen books on leadership, concur with Dr. Kotter about the importance of shared vision and the expectation followers have of their leaders to create one with them. They assert that “being forward-looking – envisioning exciting possibilities and enlisting others in a shared view of the future” is the single most important attribute that most distinguishes leaders from followers (Kouzes & Posner, 2009). 

How might this be accomplished?  In my work, I use small and large group methods and toolkits like Ketso for hands-on planning and creative engagement.  People support what they help create.   

Lastly, let’s look at the strategies to produce the changes needed. In the Handbook of Global Supply Chain Management, Mentzer, Myers & Stank (2006)provide a straightforward recipe:

  1. Explain why the change is needed.
  2. Communicate clearly what is in it for the organization and the employees.
  3. Explain what is needed from each individual.

Supply Chain innovation, whether it is implementing a new business process,  drone transport, or an enterprise system like sales and operations planning (S&OP), requires motivation, shared leadership, and change management.  Do you have these essential ingredients?

About the Author          

Dr. Ernest L. Hughes teaches courses in transportation, logistics, and retail.  Prior to joining APU, Hughes enjoyed broad leadership responsibility in a range of organizations for more than thirty years.  He was most recently Director of Technical Services for Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI).  His research interests include leadership, strategic change, and technology adoption. 


About.com. (n.d.). The History of Transporation. Retrieved December 16, 2013, from About.com Inventors: http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bl_history_of_transportation.htm

CBS News. (2013, December 2). Amazon unveils futuristics plan: Delivery by drone. Retrieved December 16, 2013, from 60 Minutes Overdrive: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/amazon-unveils-futuristic-plan-delivery-by-drone/

Higgins, E. T. (2012). Beyond pleasure and pain: How motivation works. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Huffington Post. (2010, December 25). Twas the Night Before Christmas Poem: Original Lyrics (Text). Retrieved December 16, 2013, from The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/25/twas-the-night-before-christmas_n_801194.html

Ketso, Ltd. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2013, from Ketso: The hands-on kit for creative engagement: http://ketso.com/

Kotter, J. P. (2008). Leading Change. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2009, January 1). To lead, create a shared vision. Retrieved December 16, 2013, from Harvard Business Review: http://hbr.org/2009/01/to-lead-create-a-shared-vision/ar/1

Mentzer, J. T., Myers, M. B., & Stank, T. P. (2006). Handbook of global supply chain management. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Stallone, S. (Writer), & Avildsen, J. G. (Director). (1976). Rocky [Motion Picture]. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075148/?ref_=nv_sr_2

The Economist. (2013, December 14). Business this week. Retrieved December 16, 2013, from The Economist: http://www.economist.com/news/world-week/21591637-business-week?fsrc=rss%7Ctwt





Dr. Ernest L. Hughes (“Ernie”) is an Associate Professor of Transportation & Logistics with the American Public University System (APUS).  He teaches courses in Logistics Management & Operations, Comparative Transportation Systems, History of Transportation, Ports & Terminal Operations, and Retail Shipping & Receiving.  Dr. Hughes is also principal with Logistikos, his consulting network focused on improving supply chains through better collaboration, integration, innovation and change management. 

Prior to launching his teaching and consulting practices, Dr. Hughes enjoyed broad leadership responsibility in a range of organizations for more than thirty years. He was most recently Director of Technical Services for Recreational Equipment, Incorporated (REI). Before joining REI, Hughes was co-founder and Chief Information Officer for Cascadia Community College after a fifteen-year technology career with Boeing in a range of technology and management positions.

Dr. Hughes earned an MS in Global Supply Chain Management from the University of Alaska Anchorage, a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership and a Masters in Software Engineering from Seattle University, an MBA in Organizational Behavior at California State University, Bakersfield, and an undergraduate degree in Computer Science from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo.   He is a senior member of the American Society of Quality (ASQ), vice president of the Pacific Northwest chapter of INFORMS, member of the Board of Directors for the Western Washington Chapter of the Institute of Supply Management (ISM), and a member of the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP).




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The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon is program director of the Reverse Logistics department at American Public University. Dr. Gordon has over twenty-five years of professional experience in supply chain management and human resources. He holds a Doctorate of Management and Organizational Leadership and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix, as well earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from UCLA. Dr. Gordon has spent more than 14 years teaching reverse logistics, transportation, project management, and human resources. He has published articles on reverse logistics; supply chain management; project management; human resources; education, and complexity. He has also published four books on Reverse Logistics Management; Complexity and Project Management; Virtual Project Management Organizations, and Successful Program Management..

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