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  • Ed Lawson

It's time to stop underestimating the power of the supply chain function

It irks me that we still have the conversation about the influence of the supply chain function. The view that supply chain is an execution function there to take orders from the rest of the business is outdated. So why do some still feel that the voice of supply chain is suppressed below that of commercial and marketing?

As the keyholder to what can be delivered, and at what cost, the Supply chain leader can be perceived as the voice of reason, or in a negative way, the obstacle to what can delivered. But the supply chain function holds the magic answer to the ultimate question: will we make money from this deal/promotion.


So how do we move the conversation on? Here are six key behaviours I’ve picked up from my conversations with senior supply chain leaders:

  1. Shift to being an enabler of new business: try to provide quick answers to questions around new supply relationships. What will this cost, what do we need to get to to make it profitable. Position options in a positive way to ensure you’re not drowned out by commercial or marketing teams. 

  2. Stay close to the functions, be the function that regularly pulls the functions together to ensure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. An S&OP process is how most achieve this.

  3. Keep your reporting light and easy to digest (but have the detail ready on request). Keep meetings brief! The best cross functional meetings are illustrated with visual signposting - providing too much detail is proven to quickly lose the room. Create ‘traffic light’ signposting and visual dashboards to represent performance.

  4. Align proposed changes to company objectives: eg profitability, range, growth, sustainability, cost-saving. Position requested investment within the same lens. Might be an obvious one, but the CEO will constantly be offered suggestions to invest in different parts of the business. Ideas that provide step change to the whole company, that save costs and bring growth will be top priority!

  5. Get closer to customers: supply chain provides the only link to the customer. Customer collaboration and proximity to demand unlocks the ability to react / plan better, reduce costs and improve sales. Channel useful intel to the rest of the business. 

  6. Bring new ideas to the table - be the funnel of innovation into the business. If supply chain is to shed its mantle of being an execution function, it can’t always be in fire-fighting mode. Find out what others are doing around the same challenges as yours, talk to your peers from other sectors and get the inside track on what’s working and what isn’t - make sure you aren’t confined to your four walls. 

If you’d like to find out how other supply chain leaders are transforming planning, unlocking visibility, ensuring agility, automating decisions and improving sustainability, consider joining the next Intent Meeting in London on September 11th: Supercharged Supply Chain. Request your invitation and check out the details here.

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