The difference between a productive supply chain worker and an unproductive one is staggering in today’s knowledge economy. As per this recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly on boosting the productivity of knowledge workers, raising the productivity of these workers, who constitute a large and growing share of the workforce in developed economies, represents a major opportunity for companies, as well as for countries with low birthrates that hope to maintain GDP growth. However, those companies that fail to keep up with their competitors will soon be swept aside in the battle for supremacy in the knowledge economy.
But knowledge work involves more diverse and amorphous tasks than do production or clerical positions and is thus hard to automate or streamline. Plus, the real returns are often the result of creativity and ingenuity that spark a new innovation — how do you boost that with a system or process? Typically, you don’t. So how do you increase the productivity of your knowledge workers? Simple, you increase the amount of time they have to spend on creativity, ingenuity, and innovation. And you do that by identifying their time-drains and taking them away.
According to McKinsey Research, knowledge workers spend half their time on interactions. Half their time! If they’re not getting what they need from these interactions, that’s up to half of their time wasted. So what can you do? You identify the productivity barriers — which can be physical, technical, social, cultural, contextual, and/or temporal — and you remove them.
If distance is a problem, you get people together when needed. If the technology isn’t sufficient for the types of global collaboration required by your team, you upgrade it. If the organizational modus operandi isn’t appropriate to the locale, you change it. If your people are having trouble understanding their counterparts across the globe, you give them some cultural training. If marketing can’t understand engineering and vice versa, you upgrade their technical skills. And if there truly isn’t enough time, you admit that fact and adjust the project scope and timelines to be more reasonable.
In other words, Tina Turner was right. If you want to succeed, you have to break through the barrier.
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No, this isn’t a post about my favourite topic of outsourcing. Or even about international buying or selling. It’s a post about operations, and it’s for the vendors. Really.
Those who do global business follow the sun. That way they can offer 24/7 customer service, and do it during normal business hours. Most people don’t want to work twelve hour shifts or work all night, and most companies don’t want to pay overtime or the higher wages that workers in many markets would want for the privilege.
However, the leaders have realized that if you want to stand out from the crowd, that’s not enough. You also have to support your suppliers 24/7 and be ready to take action as soon as something goes wrong — even if that’s 2 am Friday morning. As a result, many companies have started putting people on the ground in a local time zone near their suppliers. And it’s these local people on the ground who are doing most of the work. And they themselves want to be supported.
As a result, today’s leading customers care a lot more about where your support team is than where your headquarters is, where you account managers are, or whether or not you’re best in class (because many of them only need good-enough solutions most of the time, as long as these solutions are there when they need them). So if you’re planning to expand your operations as a supply management software or services provider, forget the global sales offices. Smart customers don’t care. They care about whether or not you’re there to support them when they need it. And putting someone on the ground there with them goes along way towards negating that worry — as more and more vendors in the space are realizing, and doing. (In fact, I recently talked with one CXO who said “I’m not hiring anyone else local. I’m here, and since most of my customers aren’t, why would I need anyone else here? I can support the few customers I have here by myself. I’m going to hire the people where they are needed.”)
In other words, if you think you’re the next vendor to cross the ocean, or the continental divide and you aren’t planning on establishing a local presence, think again. You’ll just be wasting your time and money. Customers don’t just want differentiating technology anymore (as they have enough of that), they want differentiating service — and if you can’t provide it in this increasingly crowded space, you won’t survive. Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s just the way it is. Have a nice day.
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