Chain of Thought

Supply Chain Awards: Country Music Style

I like country music, but not so much for the music. I like it for the relationship that has grown between its artists and its fans. It's a great model for any industrial supply chain. Whereas in Hollywood, movie and music stars are separated from their customers by agents, producers, and their own entourage of assistants, in Nashville, country music artists have developed a direct connection with many of their customers. They know what their fans like and what they don't like because these fans tell them directly.

The fans reward their music suppliers for excellent service, too. At the annual Country Music Awards, it's these customers who judge the quality of their suppliers. Greatness isn't determined by an academy of middlemen that separate suppliers from their customers. The customers are trusted to set that quality standard.

Two recent press releases announcing industry awards inspired me to wax poetic about the beauty of the country music supply chain. These were awards that lauded trust, both within and between supply chain links.

The first was an announcement from Applied Industrial Technologies that it received two awards from a customer-- Eastman Chemical Company —as part of the Eastman Supplier Excellence Program for 2010. Applied was recognized for supplying quality materials and on-time shipping performance, but more importantly, it merited Eastman's Innovation Award for “assisting numerous customers throughout the facility with value-added projects and helping to proactively manage inventory levels for optimum efficiency.”

In accepting these awards, Applied's vice president of marketing and strategic accounts cited the mutual trust that made the award possible.

“Eastman Chemical … allows us to work closely with several departments throughout their organization, which gives us the opportunity to be successful in helping them reduce costs.”

This customer trusted its supplier enough to give it insights into its operations and its people—the very soul of any company.

The other announcement I found inspiring came from Automated Packaging Systems, suppliers of bag packaging systems. It was recognized as one of the Top Work Places in Northeast Ohio, coming in 5th among large companies with more than 500 employees in the area. This time it was employees—who can be an employer's most underappreciated customers—doing the judging, via a 22-question survey. Once again trust was a major criterion.

Automated Packaging Systems scored highest for the following employee appraisals:

• I believe this company is going in the right direction.

• I feel genuinely appreciated at this company.

• I am confident about my future at this company.

In accepting the award, the company's CEO, Bernie Lerner, said his employees “worked hard to make this company a leader in our industry.” He added: “We believe clear and open communications in a great working environment allows great minds to perform at their best.”

It was good communication that made these employees confident in the direction their company was taking in serving their external customers. No middle managers filtered or censored that information flow between the CEO and his employees. As for Lerner, he knew exactly who helped make his supply chain successful—his people.

All winning supply chains share experiences within and among their links. I hope your supply chain is enjoying the rewards of such harmony.

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