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ASCM Insights

The Power of Positivity


Over the past few decades, I’ve held a variety of roles in operations, and I’ve worked for and with many different types of leaders. Many were quite effective. Others? Not so much.

Some leaders react rather poorly when things don’t go as planned. They say something to the effect of, “I guess I’m going to have to go downstairs and get to the bottom of things,” followed by, “Heads are going to roll!”

When a problem occurs, leaders absolutely need to investigate, determine the root cause and take steps to ensure it does not happen again. But a “heads are going to roll” approach is never a good one.

And what about when things go right? Do these leaders demonstrate the same fervor? Do they run downstairs to ask who or what contributed to the success and offer their praise?

I first started thinking about these questions when I came across an article about the U.S. Airways plane that crashed into the Hudson River in 2009. I held onto it because the headline caught my eye: “Plane in Hudson tells story of what went right, NTSB says.”

When a plane crashes, it’s only natural that people point out the problems. Thankfully, in this incident, no lives were lost. And I found it interesting that the NTSB was focused on finding out what contributed to that positive outcome, first and foremost.

Which brings us back to operations at our facilities: Do we put the same amount of resources and energy into investigating what goes well as we do into what goes wrong? If we’re unintentionally only focusing on what went wrong, we will create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. This stifles energy and enthusiasm.

Alternatively, what if we lead by example and strengthen the teams we work with? Think of the benefits. We will create an environment in which people are empowered to improve. Employee retention will increase, motivated staff will be looking for ways to advance processes, and quality will be achieved.

For instance, I once noticed that a shift had been substantially more efficient than usual. Of course, I wanted to know why. So, the following day, I ordered pizza and had it delivered to the lunchroom. While we ate together, I eventually steered the conversation toward the previous days’ shift. I commended them, then asked what they thought contributed to the efficiency. They said they had adjusted how a particular product ran on the line. They had investigated the material being run and were able to tighten up specifications and offer savings. I think you’ll agree this is valuable information — especially for the price of a pizza!

We live in a society where we tend to react to the negative. When things go wrong, we do something. When things go well, too often we do not. Do you only follow up with vendors when they’re late or they deliver an incorrect product or if paperwork is missing? Do you only reach out to your IT colleagues when your system crashes? Does your inventory team only hear from you when the count is off?

What would the effect be if we all said thank you just a little — or a lot — more often? There’s no doubt that this would lead to even higher levels of service and performance. That’s the power of positivity.

About the Author

Brett Mewett, CPIM-F Master Instructor, British Columbia Institute of Technology

Brett Mewett, CPIM-F is a CPIM master instructor and teaches the APICS body of knowledge at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. He may be contacted at

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