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The secret to engaging employees in your supply chain’s digital transformation.

The path to the digital transformation of a business supply chain is dotted with obstacles, some of which are the very people charged with implementing it.

This should come as no surprise. After all, you are asking them to set aside their traditional understanding of a supply chain as a linear flow of goods, and reimagine it instead as a highly integrated, data-driven network of systems that require real-time visibility. This is bound to raise concerns among some about how they might fit into this new world order.

This new kind of supply chain can also be difficult to envision, given that most logistics leaders currently don’t have clear visibility across their supply chain, according to a 2020 digital transformation survey conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services.

To fill information gaps and create that visibility, employees may be required to change their relationships with suppliers, customers and others up and down the supply chain. Manual processes will likely need to be replaced with automated ones, which can be made even more robust — and more personally threatening — with the addition of robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. All these activities are disruptive. They demand change. And for most of us, change is hard — even change for the better.

If your company’s employees resist, they may not necessarily be the ones to blame. Look first at your company itself. According to the Harvard survey, the biggest barrier to digital transformation is often a company’s own work culture.

The employees most likely to stay engaged and embrace a digital transformation are those who are adaptable, innovative and resilient. The easiest way to develop these traits is by working in a culture that champions adaptability, celebrates innovation and fosters resilience. One begets the other. It’s that simple.

Creating these cultures, however, is much harder. Here are a few best practices to get you started:

1. Take a fresh look at your talent recruitment and development practices.

Who you recruit to your company and how you support their career development matters — especially if your goal is to create a workplace where employees are engaged, deliver high performance and are continuously learning. In fact, 79% of those responding to the Harvard digital transformation survey said that attracting new talent and enhancing their skills are higher priorities now that their digital transformation is underway.

By sharing information about talent development programs with prospects, you can also appeal to those who aspire to learn and innovate. Once employees are on board, provide learning opportunities and tools that both support your transformational efforts and help them advance in their careers. Mentoring programs are another great way to transfer skills and knowledge while also building esprit de corps.

2. Make sure your corporate values align with your business goals and practices.

To earn the trust of your workforce, the corporate values your company espouses should match the actions it takes in day-to-day business. A company’s values, after all, are meant to serve as the guiding principles all employees follow as they work toward common business goals. If the digital transformation of your supply chain is an important goal, your company’s values should align with the effort it will take to achieve it.

For example, consider a company whose operations are siloed — an approach that encourages entrepreneurial, independent-thinking, rather than information-sharing. To digitally transform its supply chain, that company would likely fare better by creating a workplace culture that breaks down silos and values collaboration over independence. Innovation, agility and efficiency are among the other values that are a good match with companies seeking to transform their supply chains. That is, so long as these values are practiced daily. Actions speak louder than words.

3. Solicit diverse perspectives from both inside and outside your organization.

Supply chain and logistics leaders sometimes struggle to create a “big picture” strategy that can be implemented across their entire supply chain, from beginning to end. The reason, at least in some cases, is that the make-up of their teams is too limited.

Often that is because the leaders of innovative companies often share similar points-of-view. To develop truly transformative supply chain strategies, they need to venture outside their own walls. They may need to listen to the voices of suppliers, customers — perhaps even competitors — who are willing to collaborate across disciplines and build bridges between functions. Diverse perspectives can broaden the discussion and encourage employee engagement, making it possible to develop holistic supply chain strategies that put the customer at the center.

4. Implement agile processes.

Agile companies are designed to adapt quickly to changing conditions and continuously modify their processes and supply chains to meet current demands. But a company does not become agile overnight. In addition to cultural shifts, it often requires organizational changes. For example, agile companies tend to have flat, transparent organizational structures where roles are clearly defined and employees understand how their jobs directly support business goals.

Agile methods also call for a “practice makes perfect” approach to improvement. The attitude adjustment this mindset requires can positively impact your employees’ relationships to their work and each other. Engagement becomes second-nature when employees have the authority to respond to changing conditions by making small tweaks in an evolving supply chain. They are often in the best position to streamline processes and identify digital opportunities. However, an agile approach may also require retraining employees to work with virtual reality, machine learning and other technologies in radically news ways.

5. Allow corporate values to guide communication and decision-making.

Companies that rely solely on top-down directives may find it more difficult to engage employees — especially if they also champion efficiency and agility. It’s much easier for employees to support decisions when they’ve been involved in making them. Organizations also tend to develop better ideas and reach quicker decisions when they mobilize the expertise of people closest to supply chain issues.

The challenge for many leaders is letting go and empowering engaged employees to apply the company’s values in their decision-making. One way to build trust is through personal interactions. A one-on-one approach can help break down cultural barriers and make corporate goals and values more tangible to employees than traditional corporate communication systems.

Yes, one-on-one communication takes time. But it is time well-spent. Managers who shift decision-making to staff will have more time to engage with them. In short, the secret to engaging employees is creating a workplace culture that sparks their imaginations, values their contributions and encourages them to try something new — which is exactly what good leaders do. All are also ingredients in supply chains that are efficient, customer-centered and resilient.

Accelerating transformation for a post-COVID-19 world (

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