Why can’t we all just get along? Creating the conditions for (non) collaboration

I went to lunch this week with a former CPO from a large industrial firm and a purchasing director from an automotive firm. Over lunch I was asked the question: “why do we find collaboration so difficult in supply chains?” My response was that there are a number of reasons behind this and nearly all of them can be addressed. I believe the reasons that apply to collaboration between firms also apply to collaboration within the firm, so, in no particular order:

1) Mutuality. Collaboration is mutual and has common goals. I have often heard a firm use the term ‘strategic partner’ then fail to apply strategic thinking (“we’ll put you on the approved supplier list”) or partnership behaviour (“can we see your accounts”). Collaboration has to be about both sides putting something in, to both get something out. It requires common, agreed upon (i.e. mutual) goals. After all, you both have to have skin in the game.

2) Intent. You must have intent to do it. Collaboration is about adaptation between partners, it’s about joint working. While there can be lots of intentions towards doing it, one party has to move first otherwise we end up with this:


3) Social bonds. Good collaboration needs lots of rich information sharing and deep social bonds. This can be achieved by putting people into cross-functional teams, co-locating staff in a supplier or customer, or structuring working spaces to encourage social connections. One European car manufacturer structures its design offices in a ‘hub and spoke’ where the design teams work in the spokes and the hub contained shared services (photocopiers, coffee, water etc.). People mingle in the hub, informal information flows, collaboration occurs and (hopefully) better design occurs. If it’s not possible to create these interactions structurally, for example your customer or supplier is eight time zones away, then social bonds must be created differently. Frequent visits is one way to do this but the relationship needs to be kept ‘live’ in between visits so pick the phone up and ask them how they are, share information and knowledge to demonstrate your goodwill and intent.

4) Incentivisation. In a previous post I discussed the need for metrics and incentives to be aligned to what the organization wished to achieve. Well, the same thing holds here. If collaboration is to be nurtured, then incentive mechanisms need to be established that foster a win-win environment. They need to be jointly agreed and adhered to. It’s no good looking for “price down”, when the resources of your collaborator are complementary and are tricky to substitute. After all. Collaboration is about leveraging synergies between organisations, not maximizing gains within companies.

5) Trustworthiness NOT trust. This old chestnut, but with a twist. Too many times have I heard that ‘trust’ is key, but the reality is, trust is a pretty difficult thing to grab hold off and influence. That’s why I always say that trustworthiness is more critical (so, are you a person of your word?). It’s then up to the other person to determine whether they trust you (and are they therefore trustworthy?). So, in the end, it’s just about doing what you said you would (and having a person that understands that on the other side)…

So, there we have it. Possibly simplistic, possibly naïve, some simple prescriptions for getting along.






Get your house in order. Why effective Supply Chain Management starts inside…

Good SCM is about effectively configuring and coordinating supply to meet customer demand. Sounds pretty simple, but why do organisations find it so difficult? I believe much of this has to do to with their structures, methods for incentivisation, differing functional goals and radically different views as to who the customer actually is.

Let’s look at the simple example of the procurement and sales functions. Procurement’s goal as a function is typically focussed on negotiating the best price (let’s leave the thorny debate on whether the cost is actually clear to another time) and they might be looking for surety of supply. They will be incentivised to achieve these. Who’s their customer? That’s probably operations who have different goals. If we then turn to the sales function, what’s their goal? Typically to sell ‘stuff’ to the customer. Their customer is the customer. The sales function will be incentivised to sell ‘stuff’ I would suggest that this creates something of a paradox. Procurement focused on cost, Sales on sales and Ops doing their own thing in between. So, what are the chances of matching supply and demand inside a single organization, let alone the numerous organizations that make up today’s supply chains?

Some organisations I have worked with attempt to create a supply chain function. They attempt to address the structural challenges of effective SCM. All of those I have seen forget to include some functions – typically sales (making the SC function wholly upstream focussed), or operations (meaning a critical component of the supply chain is not integrated). So trying to address this through structural means looks difficult. An alternative option is to consider more integrated goals and incentivisation mechanisms that guide functions towards considering that while they all have different internal customers, together they have one end customer. Once this is in place, intra-functional integration becomes easier and working together becomes part of the day-to-day. Only after learning how to do it can organisations begin to drive real value from their supply chains. So, first get your own house in order.