Avoiding the Poison Chalice


I have spent numerous years of my life implementing change in the supply chain, changing business processes, changing toolsets, changing metrics, and changing employees’ roles. I have had success and, as comes with the territory, have experienced failure. The lessons learned along the way came flooding back to me when I came across a great white paper, Supply Chain Strategy in the Boardroom – The reality: Closing the implementation gap, which came out of a joint collaboration between Solving Efeso, a consulting firm, and Cranfield University School of Management.


The whitepaper pointed out that statistics reveal a 50/50 chance of success or failure for a supply chain strategy implementation. With the odds of failure so high combined with the associated high cost of capital expenditure for these initiatives, it is no wonder there are so many supply chain leaders hesitant to drink from the ‘poison chalice’ by embarking on ‘another futile attempt’ to move the needle. Worse still, failure in some organizations is so frequent and widespread that it should be called the ‘poisoned water cooler’.

So why is there so much failure? The paper points out that there are 2 main types of barriers to supply chain strategy implementation: Technical and People. More dramatically, people made up 80% of the challenge. Realizing this, only when organizations address the reasons why people resist change will they start to see traction toward successful supply chain strategy implementation. The following link, Resistance to Change, from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee is a great summary of the resistance drivers as well as success factors which positively affect the adoption of change.

One significant success factor is that there is greater perceived benefit than the cost. In any organization, especially large ones, this can only come through organizational alignment. All parties need to be on the same page. To that point, the whitepaper identifies a high correlation between board involvement and successful supply chain strategy implementation. The reason is that it aligns the organizational objectives and doesn’t allow them to be ‘short-circuited’ by the problem of the day or other groups within the organization. More importantly, it shows commitment in terms of resources, measurement, and rewards.

Implementing changes to supply chain strategy and the associated tools, processes, and role changes that come with it do not have to be made in vain. Organizational commitment from top to bottom, while actively engaging the people on the ground, will greatly increase the chances of a successful outcome. Once you have organizational commitment, removing the mindset of the ‘poisoned chalice’ is easy, and the road to success is much smoother.

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