Pass it on

by Tracy Clayson

Good communication is serious business for Peter Weiss, head of worldwide logistics and Customs for Chrysler.

Weiss was the keynote speaker at a recent meeting of the Detroit Transportation Club. He discussed several issues on Chrysler’s radar, including the advantages of having shifted from a push system to the new ‘order-to-delivery’ supply approach.

The meeting was attended by carriers and 3PLs whose livelihoods rest on automakers’ decisions. Naturally, the crowd knew it’s tough going for vehicle manufacturers these days. They must do more with less—and do it faster and more efficiently. All players know that keying into the intricacies of streamlining a complex job takes concentration and creativity on the part of supply chain professionals. Everyone there was eager to find out what to expect from one of the titans of the industry.

Weiss rounded out his report with Chrysler’s promising recent results and a dynamic presentation that cleverly marketed the company’s newest production process. He is a masterful speaker. He gave a clear outline of what Chrysler has done to bring itself back from near-disaster. The delivery was upbeat, comprehensive and engaging. He worked the crowd.

We can learn a lot about communication styles from Weiss. It takes skill to distill all the necessary information, convey changes to procedures and break down each item while ensuring all stakeholders understand the message. And Weiss is not a professional speaker, but rather a supply chain professional responsible for carrying out a huge vision with global reach.

Also impressive about Weiss’s message was what he said about the importance of sharing information. Folks who are responsible for making radical changes to avert corporate demise are also expected to communicate what they are doing to suppliers, customers and other business partners.

This is why it’s so important for supply chain managers to learn effective communication. Not traditionally considered a core competency of the profession, it is now a crucial component of day-to-day business.

Inside a company, nothing gets done well unless there is a strong, clear message of goals, tactics, processes and responsibilities coming from the top.

The same is true of relationships with external partners. As part of improving working relationships between manufacturers and supply chain service providers, a better dialogue is needed between all parties—suppliers, distributors, manufacturers, carriers and 3PLs—around visions, expectations and results. This can address most potential risks and help people identify important opportunities.

A timely issue

Weiss’s presentation underscored the timeliness of good communication in the current context.

For many in the automotive sector, order-to-delivery is the new supply chain way of life. This method brings new meaning to just-in-time, starting with a drastic reduction in inventory across the board. Weiss said that by running a leaner operation with more consolidation, Chrysler will be able to reduce inventory from 150 to 53 days.

Making this happen in a supply chain as broad as Chrysler’s will depend on better co-ordination of and communication between production and delivery processes. The challenges of reduced inventory and tighter delivery timelines demand clear lines of communication if the many parties involved are to identify potential bottlenecks and develop strategies to offset delays. There is a much smaller margin of error, so there is a greater need to increase communication between suppliers, assemblers and carriers.

So Chrysler has started dialogues with its stakeholders.

Companies can truly benefit from having supply chain managers who clearly communicate process improvement plans. Doing so engages stakeholders to participate collectively, exchange ideas, present enhancements and share results.

Thanks to technology, shippers do have the tools to give partners access to information, but shoveling over data does not give the full picture. Those responsible for managing the information have to learn how to clearly discuss processes and provide the big picture. They also have to explain why each step is taken and what the results should be.

And they must increase their interpersonal skills if they hope to improve dialogue and get a receptive audience. It’s true that the job gets done better when the whole team is engaged. When leaders believe in fostering lively discussions, open lines of communication and a transparent approach to problem-solving, it produces more positive working relationships. Trust and open discussion translate to genuine collaboration.

Good communication isn’t just the job of the C-suite spokespeople. Supply chain managers have an obligation to convey pertinent information clearly and concisely to all affected stakeholders.

They would do well to follow the example of Weiss. Part supply chain expert, part brand spokesperson, he is a complete communicator and an example of what the professional of the future will look like.

Tracy Clayson (tracy@in-transit.com) is managing partner, business development, of Mississauga, Ontario-based In Transit Personnel.