Archives for January 2016

Child Labor In The First World

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/31/2016 | 9:57 AM

The socially conscious Kid lost it a few weeks back when news broke about an elevator breakdown in a New York salt mine.  "Children, trapped like rats!"  Their parents must be worried sick!  Stuck underground since ten at night - wait, is this a school night?!  And, why are little kids working in a salt mine?  Isn't that a Russia thing?"

It took us some time to settle him down, and explain that there is a big difference between miners and minors.  I'm not sure he's totally convinced yet.

All this by way of introducing a fundamental in effective communications.  That is, we cannot assume a common cultural, experiential, or values frame of reference for words, phrases, idioms, or concepts when we inform, direct, educate, or instruct others.  The audience (including singular listeners) does not have to be from other lands, from different socio-economic strata, or worship in formats other than our own to provide gaping opportunities for misunderstanding and conflict.

In much the same way that we usually know enough to take care to use standard international business terminology in  multi-national settings, we need to take great care with language for diverse groups and individuals - and checkpoint periodically to make sure that our messages are being understood reasonably consistent with their intent.

G'day for now, mates.



It's Time To Turn Over The Turnovers

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/27/2016 | 9:43 AM

A recent and respected workforce survey has disclosed that fully a third of employees are planning to change jobs in the next six months. Chew on that for a moment. A 67% annualized turnover! What do you suppose the costs and risks of that level of churn might be, especially in a time of vulnerable customer relationships?

If this volcano does, in fact, erupt, as workplacetrends.com thinks it will, you've got some serious thinking to do.

For openers, we may be especially vulnerable in supply chain management, given: the emergence of Millennials in the workforce, the propensity of the industry to avoid competitive pay with other sectors like an incurable STD, pressures for radical change in minimum wages, and continuing talent shortages.

To a few immediate points, how deep is your bench? Do you have as many capable quarterbacks as Ohio State does to maintain performance levels? If not, what are you doing about it? Is your boss hotfooting it to greener pastures? How tight are you with a likely replacement - or with the senior management you'll need to work with in the interim?

If a colleague is shuffling off for a 15% bump plus a signing bonus, how strong, deep, and diverse is your network of project and program collaborators? Are they allies - or competitors? Is/was the departee a key confederate or trusted advisor? Who's left to lean on?

If its you jumping on the opportunity train, how competitive, talented, experienced, unique, and determined are you? Can you hold your own in an open market, or even stand out as a no-brainer first-round draft pick? Do you have a strategy? A plan? And, if you're not one of those taking advantage of a changing market and possibilities for making a difference and achieving personal gratification, why not? Should you be thinking about a positive change? Will staying be a chance to star - or to go down with the ship?

Whichever, this is not the time to be held back by inertia. Staying or leaving - either needs to result from thorough analysis, a weighing of risk and reward, and a balance of daring with commitment.

The Tyranny Of Purpose

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/24/2016 | 9:14 AM

We've all been driven nearly nuts by the "purpose-driven" craze. The purpose-driven life and all that. But, to no one's surprise, the purpose-driven mantra has been hijacked by zealots, creating glassy-eyed throngs of followers (think Night of the Living Dead) in pursuit of purpose.

But what purpose, and whose, asks thindifference.com? Do we really own the purposes we are chasing? In life, in leadership, in the workplace? Have manipulative bosses made pretzels of purposes for their self-aggrandizement? And, are we expected to subjugate our purposes in favor of someone else's?

Has money corrupted the power of purpose? Ask Volkswagen about software trickeration. Then, consider REI, which closed on Black Friday to encourage people to get out and do something. Volkswagen crossed a line in a purpose-driven financial performance objective. REI made a purpose-activated move by simply closing stores for one day, reflecting a core value.

And REI is also in the business of making money. It might be time to re-evaluate how we reflect, energize, and actuate purpose in our personal and business lives. Especially with the emergence of Millennials as a dominant component in the workforce.

They want, even demand, purpose in their work. Not hollow driven purpose, but genuine activated purpose that capitalizes on their skills for both enterprise success but also a greater good.

In short, purpose is vital, but only when it is for real. We need to re-invent the role of purpose in our endeavors, creating high ability/high freedom working models. In this effort, we will discover that not every person is right for an organization, and that not every organization is right for a person. And that's OK.

Purpose activation requires a three-legged foundation: freedom and responsibility, ability and talent, and clarity for alignment around commitments to performance, group success, and a greater good. There's more, and it is not easy, but the possibilities for purpose activation in place of being driven by purpose are worth serious consideration.

Who's Your Daddy Now?

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/20/2016 | 12:59 PM

The Kid came home from school puzzled and needing explanations. Let's see, he asked, if Sven (his bio-Dad and Mama's second spouse) is Bobby's (his older brother) stepfather, is Hector (Bobby's bio-Dad and Mama's #1) my stepfather? No, said Mama. Then, The Kid wondered, who is my stepfather?

There is a societal issue that deserves further attention on another day. In The Kid's world, his friends are watching and worrying about their parents' impending divorces - or are terrified of the behaviors of their stepfathers, picked up in the resilient recovery from earlier divorces.

The issues are, in fact, complicated. The answers to questions are difficult and awkward. And, the impact on young offspring, and its pull on them away from what should be the golden years of youth. Chipping away at their attention to what it will take to build successful relationships and succeed in life.

We see parallel situations in the workplace. Staff seem to lose focus, slide into error proclivity, and can't maintain consistent performance.

It is a leadership responsibility to understand the factors at work in the lives of their people, and how outside conditions might be contributing to a situation that seems to cry out for coaching and counseling. That leadership responsibility extends to team leads, shift supervisors, managers, directors, even to motivated colleagues who will be leaders on some future day.

You cannot begin too early to connect at a human level with those around, above, and under you. There's a lot at stake: unit performance, peoples' jobs, and your future as a long-term leader.

Is The Karma Bus Running Late—Again?

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/17/2016 | 6:53 AM

Maybe; maybe not. The Karma Bus runs on karma time, which is not comprehensible to human beings. Especially not North Americans. We are into instant gratification, same-day shipment, and swift justice; we have the attention span of fleas, and cannot wrap our heads around today's events having impact on an unknown tomorrow.

For those not initiated, karma is often over-simplified to mean "What goes around, comes around." That is close enough for the moment, and for this discussion.

We often talk about actions having consequences, and opine that no action is a kind of action (with consequences) in and of itself. Karma is more subtle, and is immediate only when swiftness might come as a shocking surprise. It is generally longer-term—and often more devastating. I dare not speculate around the extent to which karma might wreak justice in an afterlife, not wiping the slate clean at the moment of slipping off this mortal coil.

The Karma Bus is a perverse version, perhaps, of Harry Potter's Knight Bus, memorably crewed by driver Ernie Prang and conductor Stan Shunpike. One difference is that wizards, witches, and warlocks would need to flag down the bus when needing transport. The Karma Bus comes for you—and me, and all the others—unbidden, and at times that could be inconvenient. We have no choice in boarding or not; when it arrives, we are on it.

The Karma Bus comes for saints and sinners alike. Where and how it takes us depends on what we have earned. Yet, we cannot get our tickets automatically punched by doing good, and we are probably blind to accumulating demerits when we fall short of goodness.

Opportunites for both bad and good karma abound—in supply chain managment, in all business operations, and throughout personal lives. When a boss takes credit for an analyst's clever maneuvers to reduce inventories, or presents a staff associate's report as his or her own. When a faux leader fails to develop the talent on hand to reach higher levels of achievement, or gives the axe to someone who has intelligence and talent but needs training. When anyone blames another—internal or external—for his or her own failure.

It's too easy and tempting to lay a botched fulfillment on the 3PL, or claim that the problem could be solved if only we had the right systems. Too few cringe at the prospect of "negotiating" a supplier into financial failure. It is SOP in many places to fudge volumes in order to secure favorable pricing. And, it is ridiculously simple—and believable at the moment—to claim that the goods are still somewhere on a slow-moving boat from China.

Of course, when times are tight, one can always pretend that no one can get paid because a customer has not yet ponied up for the last shipment. And on and on—openings to do right, be accountable, take the hit, and get cracking on making root causes go away. Or, point fingers, make excuses, lay blame, and duck and cover.

A hint: The Karma Bus runs 24/7/365 on a timetable of its own. Your choice is either to be ready or not to be surprised.

Whatever your karmic destination, you've earned it.

Have Pole; Will Dance For You

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/13/2016 | 7:26 AM

Yeah, and your Mama named you Madison at birth, I'll bet. 

That I could use a little auditory amplification was recently brought home to me when I was startled to hear a weight loss physician recommend lap dances as a remedy for obesity.  Being only moderately overweight, I was apparently not eligible for this obviously radical and experimental breakthrough.  Nor for anything else that Madison might  think would help with the avoirdupois.

Fortuitously, Robert Mondavi was on hand to see me through the ensuing severe depression.  Only later did I learn that the good medico had said "lap band surgery", which plunged me into an even deeper blue funk.

When you have completed pointing at me and snickering, consider how often you have misinterpreted an instruction, or a desire, from a superior.  Or how many times a subordinate has mysteriously misunderstood what you thought was a clear imperative for action.  Almost every business communication merits: 1) feedback from the recipient indicating understanding (or not), and 2) a test by you to validate that the interpretation has been, in fact, on-target.

Expecting a lap dance and receiving an incision is only one set of mismatches that can derail careers, or worse.

btw, my brand-new, high-tech, Blutooth-enabled, iPhone app-controlled hearing aids have cleared up several mysteries, and avoided a couple of deal-breaking mis-translations.  It turns out that Madison was not calling me "honey", but was asking if I had any money.  Live and learn . . .

Lies And Lays That Fill Our Days

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/10/2016 | 11:07 AM

Tough language, this English. On one sense a lay might be what a minstrel offers to an audience, or a familiar crudity indicating a liaison of unknown depth. "Lay" and "lie" are verb forms that confound even the somewhat literate speakers and writers. "Lie" is also a noun.

To illustrate the challenge, a person lies down, but lays him or her self (or other object) down. So, I lie down for a nap - not frequently enough, btw. However, the children's prayer reads "now I lay me down… ." Or, in the past tense one may speak of "yesterday I laid several feet of pipe".

What Sirius Radio nostalgically calls Classic Vinyl often features grammar-poor and image-rich music of another (and better) age employing confusions of lie and lay. A maturing young Bobby Zimmerman from Duluth, imploring "Lay, lady, lay. Lay across my big brass bed" comes to mind. As does the incomparable Eric Clapton urging Sally to "lay down." In these cases of genius among us, I'll forego the correctness of "lie"–"lay" as a perfect misapplication, a tribute to the power of breaking rules laid down for us by spinster schoolmarms in a dimly lit era. Mustang Sally needs no guidance in lie/lay matters; she calls her own shots, and sets a pace that challenges would-be suitors.

All this mental wandering has been triggered by a serious publication dealing with the mission-critical topic of leadership behaviors. One otherwise on-target and respected professional included learning how to lie better in the laundry list of what leaders need to master. Her use of the word was not related to the lie/lay selection, but to truth in communications (or lack of same). I remain baffled.

Whether we are talking about leaders or sanitary engineers, physicists or mail clerks, lying well is very seldom a prized attribute in the eyes of others. Not even in politics. In supply chain management, in general business, in health care, in lawn-care services, in all aspects of human endeavor and interaction, the lie has NO place. We all MUST be truthful and accountable in everything. Failure in that dimension diminishes the worth and perception of all else we do, and casts doubt on every truth we utter.

The absolute requirement to be truthful in everything, great and small, is a foundation stone in civilized communities. This is non-negotiable.

Reality intrudes, and it is important to recognize those situations that call for a diplomatic couching of truth. And, truths that are told might, for a variety of positive reasons, not tell everything all at once, irrespective of the audience—its need to know, its ability to absorb and act responsibly (and capably), and the timing of when to tell more truths about the issue at hand.

Will people make up their own truths, absent the whole story? Probably. But, we also owe the audience, not the whole story, but the honest presentation that some issues remain to be resolved, that when the time is right, more will be told, that until some point in time, some known truths must remain confidential until they can be dealt with.

Easier said than done, to be sure. But absolute honesty, including taking the hit for a bad decision or muffed call, can build a cadre of extraordinarily loyal colleagues, champions, and followers.

Now, I need to go lay myself down.

Racism Takes Many Forms

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/06/2016 | 7:45 AM

The Kid, even when his foot is an inch or two off base, offers plenty to think about. The latest involved a schoolmate who was bullying others. That's not right, for sure, but …

It turns out that the young man falls somewhere on the autism scale. His achool's reaction has been to identify him as someone with special needs, and, in fact, to surveil all students with any degree of autistic symptoms or behaviors.

The Kid was outraged. "This is medical racism!" He went off on a rant, and it was neither incoherent nor irrelevant. That the reaction to a medical condition, not pigmentation or eye folds, might not fall into the technical province of classical racism is not important. The concerns for others and for fairness among the human population are.

I raise The Kid's issue with both trepidation and hope. In this second decade of the 21st century, our collective understanding of what constitutes bias and aggression has elevated enormously. It permeates life at large, general business, and supply chain management. And, we've got to get it right.

Have Loony Tunes academics with make-believe agendas taken political correctness to bizarre extremes? Sure. Are workforces, supervisors, and the "leaders" we are encouraged to model guilty of both rank prejudice and innocent insults? Sure.

It's up to a new generation of leaders to change behaviors toward women, people of color, the physically challenged, and others who are "different" in some form or fashion. And to insist that their minions and followers do likewise.

It's the right way to behave. It recognizes and includes many who have been excluded and denigrated for generations. It welcomes and embraces the skills and talents that are in such short supply these days.

Get your act together. If you are not sure what your act ought to be in this dimension, get help in understanding and overcoming the aggression and bias factors that can cost millions, in direct costs and in lost opportunities.

The Pot Calling The Kettle Dude

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/03/2016 | 2:50 PM

It's apparently only a matter of time for Ohio to join Colorado and Washington, among others, as a pot and pothead-friendly venue. Kettle might, I suppose, also refer to the snack foods brand.

In an age of both talent shortages in the job market and a rather stunning inability of applicants to survive drug screening, employers are assuming a trembling fetal position - in the supply chain and in other industries. Putting aside the indifference, and occasional enthusiasm, in Washington, DC for national acceptance of legalizing the illegal, senior excutives really want to know how they are going to maintain quality and performance in their workforces.

The short answer, at least for the near term, is that nothing changes to diminish their rights. Good news.

Even if and when smokin' weed is recreationally legal, employers may still prohibit off-duty usage. And, on-duty use will remain grounds for uncontestable termination. Even approved medical use will not demand employer accommodation. So a drug-free environment will still be both reasonable and a benefit for the cost involved in workers' comp premiums.

We are still some distance from Big Brother's PC Police enforcing requirements for employers to hire stoners and sit back while the befogged try once again to go one toke over the line.


Apologia:  Last Sunday's blog may have confused some.  I do know that Purple Rain is Prince, and Purple Haze is Jimi Hendrix.  But, I suffered a transient bout of musical dyslexia.  Perhaps I was purpled out.  I'd been contemplating using Deep Purple by either Artie Shaw or Screamin' Jay Hawkins, when my mind wandered to the era in which there was huge popular sentiment in Evanston, Illinois to rename Northwestern's athletic teams the Purple Haze.  Oh, well.  Early onset, I suppose.

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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