Archives for April 2015

Make Money At Home: Blogging For Fun And Profit

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/29/2015 | 8:31 AM

Sound like a familiar on-line pitch that's really a scam? Time to adjust thinking a bit . . . First, forget the profit part. Forget the revenue part, too - the proposition is a stone loser, not remotely close to solving the retirement income conundrum. Concentrate on the fun part, and let 'er rip!

Herewith, a few tips to make the blogging endeavour worthwhile for your mental health and the readers' well-being. An important initial step is to find a publishing/hosting platform that makes sense for your intentions. Do you want to be a unique, but lonely, voice somewhere out there in the cosmos, lost in the blogosphere? Or, do you want the cocoon of residing on an established site with a built-in readership base to target? Then, to work. . .

First, have a sense of your story. Yes, story. Whether 200 or 2,000 words, a blog is a little story with a beginning, middle, and end. You need a trigger event, condition, concept, or insight to wrap the story around. Without that, a blog is just babbling.

Second, craft a title that will, if not lure the reader in, at least not turn him or her away. It needs a twist, a hook, some sizzle - something more exciting than a chapter heading in a chemistry textbook. Vary the style from one posting to another. The same style, no matter how clever, will begin to look old and trite with repetition.

Third, make sure your story flows - is a story. A pile of paragraphs is not a story. While you're at it, think through your intention(s). Are you informing, educating, challenging, provoking, amusing, or exposing? Or some combination of these? Again, vary the approach to keep lookng fresh and contemporary.

Fourth, attack a spectrum of subjects. A one-trick pony gets few rides after a while. No matter how great your passion on a given topic, give it a rest. Constant repetition wear thin and diminishes the power of the message, even, in the end, making readers tune out - or fail to read the story at all.

Fifth, use our wonderful language as a powerful tool. It's scope, range, variation, and color are unmatched on the planet. Don't be afraid to be a little outrageous, or irreverent, or sardonic. Again, don't forget to mix it up.

Sixth, write the blog as it occurs to you, and schedule it for future publication. You can do it the hard way, and start anew each time a fresh posting is due, making a deadline by a whisker. But, as a great songwriter observed, "Some days you write the song; some days the song writes you." It should come as no surprise that the better songs are the ones that write themselves. So, get them down when they come calling, and your life will be much improved.

Seventh, publish regularly. Pick a date and a frequency. And be consistent. Faithful readers will eagerly await the next piece, and stop looking if your schedule gets erratic and undependable.

Eighth, use SpellCheck religiously, and also triple-check grammar and usage. Nothing will erode your credibility faster than - even in the Twitter Age - spelling errors (or the wrong word spelled right), or grammatical gaffes.

Ninth, make the language, the structure, and the message authentic, as if you were talking, speaking directly to an acquaintance. Pretentious language, big words for the sake of lookng smarter than the reader are deadly turn-offs.  For those who might be offended by references to Lady Gaga or twerking, forget them; they are not your audience. 

Finally, tenth. Do not be selling stuff from the blog. There is a place for social media as part of business communications, no question. Well done, to-the-point product and service information is a win-win arena for both buyer and seller.  But, the fake blogs that pose an intriguing question or proposition, then promote a product or service as the obvious solution to the issue are the kiss of the Spider Woman. You will annoy the reader, at minimum. If done repeatedly, readers will recognize your name and skip over the "blog" without reading it. And, I don't blame them.  They are internet infomercials, good mostly for inducing sleep in the wee hours.

There you have them, The Ten Commandments of genuine blogging. By the way, don't expect to get tons of written responses; people seem reluctant to join the dialogue in great numbers (except in discussion fora, with one-line commentaries). But, you will be amazed at the people who want to talk, discuss, debate or just converse at meetings and conferences because of something you have written.

Now, go out and share what is on your mind with the rest of us.

Dr. Accountant And Mr. Chartered - A Study In Evil

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/25/2015 | 8:41 AM

The CFO, having been positioned as the confidant and counselor to the CEO, has at last revealed the truth about him-or-herself.  A week ago, an eblast from CFO magazine trumpeted a white paper that was chilling in its baseline premises.  Thanks to that inadvertent revelation we now know the truth: where we stand and how we are perceived by the leading luminaries of the financial profession; what little that Napoleonic cohort understands about supply chain management; and, how little it cares.

The rumors may be true.  The principal responsibility of accountants is to swarm the battlefield after the fighting has ended, and bayonet the wounded to ensure that: 1) someone pays the price for things gone wrong, even if nothing did; and, 2) there are no survivors to contradict the ultimate scorekeepers.

The electronic advert was, in truth, disheartening.  It opened with the identification of supply chain management as "a tremendous cost of doing business" and a "drain on profitability".  It promised those who downloaded the (apparently Rosicrucian) secrets contained inn the white paper that they would learn how to "cut costs" and "grow revenue".

Can they possibly really think that cutting costs is the same as growing revenue?  If so, we are doomed - as a profession, as an economy, and as a nation.  And, the antediluvian concept that all we are is a pile of cost to be whittled down, or shoveled out, speaks volumes about the baseline ignorance involved.

Clueless, careless, callous, calculating.  It is no great surprise that we don't trust this gang, and are wary from the get-go. 

Until they mature in their understanding of business context, and accept  -however grudgingly - that supply chain management represents an investment, with payback, in profitability, customer retention, sales volume growth, and appropriate balance in asset performance, the enterprises in which their voices are disproportionately heard will suffer.

We owe them, like all of our organizational peers, a shot at understanding, and communicating what we are about in terms that they can relate to - and embrace.  But, if the students are not ready, the appearance of a teacher is an empty symbol.

The Right Mans

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/22/2015 | 11:47 AM

If you are not watching, or have not seen, The Wrong Mans, your enjoyment of life is about a quart low. The understated gem, available for binge watching on Hulu+, is the funniest work on television since Christopher Guest's Family Tree. The second season is as fall on the floor brilliant as the first.

I raise the point because the work is wonderful, and a welcome respite in our action-packed work world, and because Season Two opens with our intrepid anti-heroes working in logistics as a feature of their witness protection status.

As you will not be surprised to learn, the skills acquired in their new profession become vitally important as the plot advances. Now, there's a sobering notion, that the demands of our world, the imperatives created by bosses and customers (not always in alignment), either allow or force us to develop capabilities that are broadly useful in a number of scenarios.

This makes us vulnerable to poaching from other functions or organizations, at a time when we are already perilously short of talent. In the TV show, the wrong mans (yes, that's the correct title) are ultimately found to be the right mans. So it is with us, as we grow out of awkward and marginally useful rookie status into capable and talented resources, driven by circumstance, experience, some luck, and necessity.

Of course, moving out and up into broader responsibilities is not at all a bad thing when progress is part of our personal plans.  But, we - and our organizations - need to guard against prematurely taking us out of roles in which we are both needed and growing. 

To Thine Own Self Be True

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/15/2015 | 11:17 AM

Lucinda Williams is a blues/rock/folk/alternative icon, and it makes my day to hear her raw and honest work. She has been an iconic, but under-recognized, force in music for over 35 years, and she is as true to her vision today as she was in the beginning.

It's a bit inexplicable and frustrating. She is a multiple Grammy winner, but only some devotees of the obscure know who she is. Her albums have done generally well, but she poses no threat to the dominance of Taylor Swift or Katy Perry. But, Lucinda is what and who she has always been. Her peers admire her beyond reason, and her fans adore everything she has always stood for.

Okay, she ain't purty in any conventional sense. And, she does not exactly sing sweetly like birds in Spring - or like a refugee from an angel choir. Her music comes raw, and from the gut. It is proud of mean streets and flawed real people living life as best they can. In the end, ahe is acclaimed by the people she counts as important, is true to her vision - of the now and for the future, and never wavers, whatever the cost or what some might think is material opportunity lost.

We, in supply chain management, have constant opportunities to live our personal and professional lives in much the same way. We can choose to do right by people, even when the boss might want us to do otherwise. We can, when things go all pear-shaped, take a hit for the team, or look for a nearby bus to throw the innocent under. We can elect to invest in developing those with long-term potential, even though it might be easier to axe them now because they aren't fully formed as the next Einsteins on Day One.

Every new day offers up to us a parade of chances to walk in sunlight - or creep among the shadows. The rewards? The acclaim? Those might be some time in coming. For a while, you may be the only one who gets what you are about. The boss may never stop flogging you, 'cause that's the only way he or she knows how to be a boss. The customer whose bacon you have saved - again - may believe that superhuman excellence is merely the minimum expectation. You might not learn until post-retirement that the schlump you exhaustingly mentored saw - and still sees - you as a hero.

Only in your latter days will someone confess that you were protected during a vicious round of terminations because of your character. Then, it will slip out long after the fact that the only reason a key customer has stayed with your company is that you always came through, while competitors floundered.

All in all, it is okay to not be, whether in supply chain management or music, the diva du jour. Just maybe, being Lucinda Williams is even way better than good enough.

Groundhog Day In The Supply Chain

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/11/2015 | 7:14 AM

In a recent report, WalMart announced plans to reduce costs, and subsequently prices, to the benefit of its customers. All heart, those Barons of Bentonville. The magic bullet, as revealed in a burst of full disclosure, will be to have suppliers reduce their prices to WalMart. Whether they can comparably reduce costs or not, one presumes.

Suppliers, some already trembling in apprehension and others, stronger, considerably annoyed, are not taking the news well. Putting aside the likelihood of shrinking or disappearing margins, suppliers see the move as diminishing their competitive strengths in vying with other suppliers for share and WalMart business.

Look, continuous improvement is a must in today's world, and managing costs is a priority (so long as efforts do not injure quality, reputation, aervice, or brand cachet). But, WalMart, either fairly or unfairly, has become a legend for continually extracting blood from the supplier turnip and applying gentle pressure with the equivalent of an industrial strength vise.

Will the focus on tomorrow as a long-term perspective never change in that universe? At what point will strong suppliers decide that the juice ain't worth the squeeze, and abandon the WalMart book of business? At what point will not-so-strong suppliers risk business failure by falling short, by meeting the price but missing the cost reductions (which may no longer be there after years of squeezing)?

Are there examples from the past of retail behemoths that have either gone under or stagnated after wounding and maiming their suppliers? Think about it.

I'm Trying To Judge The Book, But All I've Got Is The Cover

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/08/2015 | 10:46 AM

We are deluged with tools, techniques, and solutions that appear to have great promise. Robots, software, concepts, methodologies, breakthrough technology - all promote new heights of performance, accuracy, customer delight, cost reduction, time savings, sustainability, and enabling next-level achievement.

The world around us provides plenty of examples outside the realm of supply chain management. But time, skepticism, deeper examination, and application in a variety of scenarios, and more, are all needed to get beyond hype, enthusiasm, and high hopes to lasting reality.

For example, we have the case of new next-big-things in popular music. Phox, if you do not already know, is a product of Baraboo, Wisconsin (the Muscle Shoals of the American Tundra). They have been recognized by Time magazine, which could be a kiss of death, much like a cover picture on Sports Illustrated. In person, Phox looks like the high school nerd band it used to be. They have added a most talented writer and vocalist with a sweet voice and terrific range - and still look like a clutch of dweebs overcome with awe at what they have been able to score. Indie folk/rock stardom could be theirs - or not.

Sturgill Simpson (yes, his real name) is another case. Unabashedly country, his themes are a contemporary take, but his voice is a welcome throwback to the classic era. Comforting, provocative, and the real deal. Sustainable? We shall see.

Then, there is The Lone Bellow. Full-tilt country, tight harmonies. From Brooklyn (say what?!?!) by way of Georgia. Multi-talented, singing, writing, playing, they all uncork it and go, vocally, all out, all the time. Where will they be in ten years? Who knows? Running a bakery, hustling tips at a car wash, playing county fairs?

There are surprises all around us. Take the case of the good-looking, stylishly-coiffed,classily-dressed, well-traveled journalist. Under no pressure whatever, he is revealed as a compulsive serial liar, a prolific, if incompetent embroiderer of facts. If he winds up shot dead in an alley, the Numero Uno suspect is Tom Brokaw, whose legacy has been defiled by Brian Williams.

Back to music, I made a horrible call in imagining that Jessica Frech (People of Wal-Mart) would be the next big thing.  She is touring, but in tiny, even remote, venues.  Her albums are not burning up the charts, and she does not have a deal with any label of consequence.  Gifted - talented, intelligent, endearingly quirky, and musically true - but magic has not been performed; lightning has yet to strike and the sands are trickling through the hourglass.

It's tough to judge, to foretell the future, based on initial impressions and appearances (even though all research tells us that the first impression is made in the initial seven seconds of an encounter. Disovering reality can take, seven minutes, or seven weeks, or seven years. But, we in our fast-moving work lives have to make decisions - maybe not in seven seconds, but certainly before seven years have passed.

All this demands that we, even if having only the book's cover to work with, must dig as deeply as possible to make reasonably safe calls - and are morally required to have contingency plans in the event that reality does not square up with promise. None if us should entertain the notion of blindly betting the business based on assurances, fresh shoeshines, and firm handshakes.

If Wishes Were Horses . . .

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/04/2015 | 12:56 PM

"Then beggars would ride" goes the rest of the cautionary adage. The YRC turnaround, as reported in CFO Magazine, has been a bit if a marvel, at least in the (pun intended) short haul. Kudos are in order. But, it is way too early to declare victory and bring the troops home.

In a classic set of turnaround moves (and I have been part of a number of radical surgeries designed to either save dying companies, or kill them in the process), new leadership downsized people and operations, restructured debt, attracted some equity investment, and slashed emoloyee pensions and wages.

Even the CFO-friendly magazine, though, admitted that two additional factors were the unexpected timing of some level of national economic recovery and "plain luck". That dark cloud moving in from the West, though, might be a tornado.  Keep your eyes peeled for a mighty wind carrying a Kansas farmhouse and a wicked spinster on a bicycle.

You might imagine (and the union shop status is irrelevant) how demoralized the workforce is with a 15% pay cut and reduced pension contributions that will never be restored. What will that do to talent attraction and retention in an age of often-vicious competition for resources, and how will a runoff of experience affect performance and productivity?

While YRC executes a process to raise prices, over time, across the board, that will be meaningless without the bodies needed to keep trucks on the road. And, non-driver resources are not likely to be able to remain cheerful in an environment that has already cut pay, and will be demanding higher performance levels. The possibilities of sabotage are worth considering.

On top of that, the company still faces a significant pension burden, a bit like the albatross that is sucking some governmental operations into bankruptcy. And, the fleet is not aging; it is already aged. The capital requirements to keep up will be staggering.

And, ultimately, the linchpin operational strategy is to raise prices. There is a real limit to how that move might pay off - or not. Competitors will not idly sit by; they will, even with all the cost pressures faced by all carriers, undercut price increases made necessary by past mistakes, and take great care to deliver impeccable service.

Stay tuned; this could get interesting.

Analyze This!

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/01/2015 | 7:42 AM

It is sometimes amazing, and often baffling, what people will say or do in the interest of getting a little press. A genuine, and apparently credentialed, shrink was recently quoted in a New York Times piece (further cited in CSCMP's daily SmartBrief) with an admonition that too many managers are spending too much time "psychoanalyzing" employees.

Staking out turf? Jealous that common folk might be practicing without a license? Trolling for clients? Ingesting magic mushrooms? Who knows? But whatever the case, she was and is dead wrong

Her essential premise is that people are doing the best they can, with the implication that we should accept whatever the outcome might be as a reality and the only reasonable expectation. In the patois of my youth, "Bush-wah". Of course, she went on to illustrate how she hires based on an assessment of what people are good at - that is, how their brains are wired for predisposed strengths. Sounds like rudimentary psychological evaluation to me, but, as one of the common folk, I am not qualified to say.

What I do know is that is it is a mission-critical skill for executives and managers to understand what makes people tick - how their brains work, what their preferences and strengths are - if one is to communicate, reward, motivate, develop, and engage them for the win-win working relationships that benefit emoloyees, leaders, and enterprises. If that constitutes psychoanalysis, so be it.

News flash! It is not nuclear engineering. It is a fundamental component of the successful manager's tool kit. More late-breaking and radical discoveries! And, unsettling rumblings for the would-be guru.

We are not saddled with the limitations of random employees doing the best they can, and they are not condemned to frustration, dissatisfaction, and mediocrity on account of how their cerebral cortexes are pre-wired. We can't rewire their brains - that would be brain surgery.

But, we can use our understanding of who, what, and why they are to make them more efeective and more comfortable with their roles and approaches. We can begin by better matching them with jobs and assignments. We can - and should - coach them to leverage their strengths and smooth the rough edges of some of their behaviors. We owe them clear explanations of where the organization needs to go, and how they can help - in their terms and in their contexts.

We can lead them to become better than they were, and still be true to themselves. We can allow them to contribute and be recognized and benefit ourselves, as leaders and as employeers. We and they do not need to settle for accepting the status quo as being as good as it gets.

Bottom line? As things stand, we already have armies of people who are not living up to needs in supply chain management, and we are losing the struggle to find talent and resources in numbers that will get us over the hump. Why would we encourage more of the same? Why would we not invest in making everyone - including ourselves - better? It's not psychoanalysis; it's common-sense leadership. Maybe it's just not sophisticated enough for the New York Times.

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 Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven (1939 - 2017) was Managing Principal of the van Bodegraven Associates consultancy and Founding Principal of Discovery Executive Services, which develops and delivers supply chain educational programs. He was formerly Chair of the Supply Chain Group AG, Partner at The Progress Group LLC, Development Executive at CSCMP, Practice Leader with S4 Consulting, and a Managing Director in Coopers & Lybrand's consulting practice. Concentrating in supply chain management and logistics for over 20 years in his 50+ year business career, he has led ground-breaking strategic, operational, and educational projects for leading US and global clients. Art was principal co-author of DC Velocity's Basic Training monthly column for a decade, and was the principal co-author, with Ken Ackerman, of Fundamentals of Supply Chain Management, the definitive primer in the field. His popular blog, The Art of Art, has been a staple of DC Velocity's web site since its inception.


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