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BWLOG SCF - employee engagement

Aligning people behind the vision for change.

In the 12th supplychainforesight report released by Barloworld Logistics, 'change' was identified as the major challenge for industry stakeholders.

Based on the survey - conducted by research group Frost & Sullivan - it appears that few organisations are well equipped to identify game-changing trends, and to successfully steer their employees through times of fundamental - and often unsettling - change.

The ability to guide people through change, and to inspire them to buy into an organisation's vision and strategy, is of paramount importance. Sadly, however, the survey indicates organisations are, for the most part, failing to get their people on board. This is a dangerous scenario for leaders, because ultimately, a vision and strategy have no value or support unless people fundamentally believe in it and understand how to execute it.

Inspired employees = engagement = execution

"It is interesting and important to note that seven out of the top 10 ranked supply chain challenges relate to people," explains Shirley Duma, executive Human Resources at Barloworld Logistics. "This represents a major shift in industry thinking."

Historically, physical and functional aspects of the supply chain - such as road infrastructure, inventory levels or warehousing and distribution - were seen as key challenges in the supply chain. This shift in perception of the supply chain challenges highlights the vital role that people play in executing the business strategy. Indeed, the return on investment in state-of-the-art facilities, technology, infrastructure and sophisticated systems will not be fully realised if management and staff are not truly aligned to the vision, purpose and strategy of the organisation. Furthermore, if employees do not understand the strategies and tactics required to achieve their objectives and do not have the relevant skills and capabilities to leverage the tools and opportunities at hand, every other investment will not be fully maximised.

As a result, the 'softer skills' of communication, collaboration and employee engagement are becoming powerful competitive differentiators in the new business landscape.

Creating a 'culture of change'

As the survey highlighted, the only certainty for organisations today is 'uncertainty', and the promise of change. Those that learn to embrace change and ultimately thrive on transformation will emerge as winners. Yet the ability of any organisation to embrace change invariably depends on its leadership, its people and its culture. The nature and culture of an organisation will determine whether it is proactive or reactive, whether it is innovative and far-sighted, and the extent to which it embraces all of its resources (both internally and externally) to constantly iterate and transform.

"Increasingly, the rapid pace of change is demanding a different type of organisational culture, and a new way of aligning people behind the business strategy and vision," adds Duma. "It appears, however, that most organisations are operating in silos, with little communication between leadership and the people who are ultimately in charge of execution." An organisational culture that recognises the importance of adapting to change, however, can assist employees to see new possibilities, meet emerging needs and handle stress better during times of change and uncertainty.

Lack of alignment

The survey revealed only 27% of respondents believe their management and staff are completely aligned with the company's vision. This is a very low score and could be increased by better vertical and horizontal communication and engagement.

The alignment of employees to the company goal, and an employee's understanding of his or her own roles and responsibilities, shows significant room for improvement - with over 50% of respondents indicating only partial understanding or alignment being prevalent in their organisations.

While 78% of respondents say a vision for change has been created and communicated, this does not appear to be fully supported in other sections of the survey where a clear vision and the involvement, understanding and support of employees remains inadequate.

The automotive industry ranked the highest and the ICT and public sectors ranked the lowest for creating and communicating a vision for change. Communicating the vision for change is identified as a key element of the change process, together with the necessity of involving people in the process.

Embracing 'social business'

In what has been termed a new era of 'social business', collaboration and knowledge sharing have become essential characteristics of successful businesses. Yet, only 32% of survey respondents said there is a culture of upward and downward communication of sharing knowledge, intelligence and ideas within their organisations. This does not bode well for stakeholders, because without an effective mechanism to harvest and share ideas, organisations do not know what skills and knowledge exist within the organisation - and run the risk of losing valuable contributions and ideas.

In today's increasingly social business environment, the inclusion of employees is viewed as an essential strategy to innovate and sustain growth and success, while simultaneously identifying key talent and skills. Despite this recognition, most organisations are still bound to archaic structures and systems that prevent them from embracing a new, more collaborative way of approaching business.

"Ultimately, if organisations are to succeed in an environment that is constantly evolving and transforming, they will have to learn to inspire and fully harness their greatest resource: people," concludes Duma.

More about the supplychainforesight programme:

Since its inception in 2003, the supplychainforesight survey has grown annually in size and stature, achieving a thought-provoking mechanism that has found favour with businesses, academia and public enterprises. It has also provided a measure of performance and identification of trends and opportunities for South African businesses and their supply chains. It has grown to include specialised studies on issues such as Africa, and more recently the Middle East, exploring the changes taking place in supply chain management in the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) states.