In our current era of advanced robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and more, it’s tempting to think that we can just sit back and rely on these exciting innovations to make decisions for us. Technologies are getting smarter and dominating the headlines, but the fact is, AI can’t replace the value of talking with partners and establishing a human connection. Supply chains demand high-quality communication among all stakeholders that enables these people to control costs, better predict revenue streams, maximize the workforce and improve overall business processes.
Achieving these goals starts with creating a culture of sharing among your team members. Be transparent about your need for open communication and your desire to understand what’s happening within your supply chain. By making team members feel comfortable about informing you of bottlenecks or mistakes, you will be able to catch small errors before they become serious issues. Your team culture also must include respect and honesty — particularly because this courtesy trickles down to your customers, suppliers and other partners, which reflects positively on your company.
Next, when having important business discussions, ensure these communications focus on metrics. Discuss what is most relevant to your business and the products moving through your supply chain. Make sure you are on the same page with regards to the definitions of quality, acceptable costs and lead times, and other pressing concerns.
Connect with your partners regularly. Set up calls or meetings at least once a quarter to talk about what is and isn’t working. Seek to understand how they gauge success. Are they concerned about inventory counts? Do they want to know about cross-dock options or times when your warehouse isn’t as busy? Are they trying to run lean and need you to shift a process to support that?
Following are some additional communication best practices:
- Be succinct. Express yourself clearly and concisely when making a point or asking a question. This also keeps conversations and meetings short and sweet, which shows that you respect everyone’s time.
- Communication is a two-way street. Listen more than you speak, and you’ll discover what your partners need and also avoid unnecessary calls, emails or meetings to circle back on issues that didn’t get resolved the first time.
- Tailor your message to your audience. Each of your stakeholders has a different need. Focus on the particular person you’re speaking with, and be specific. Always aim to employ the same language that they are using.
- Make it personal. In a world of texts and emails, we sometimes forget that we are communicating with actual human beings. Whether it’s a face-to-face visit or picking up the phone, the personal touch goes a long way.
- Be proactive. Reach out early and often. This makes you seem more approachable and establishes a culture of starting conversations before things go wrong.
Communication has never been more important in supply chain than it is right now. Be open and willing to connect, and people will want to work with you. These kinds of relationships bolster the entire network — something we can all appreciate.