Part 1: Developing Skills to Support Bottom-up Ownership of Supply Chain Risk


A core challenge in managing a secure and responsible supply chain is, and will always be, scalability. Any risk or challenge that an organization faces inherently becomes all the more weighty, fragmented and complex as it is multiplied by hundreds or thousands of supplier sites.

It follows that, for any supply chain risk management program to be effective, many tasks and responsibilities must be distributed across this network of business partners and stakeholders. Any small – or large team for that matter- will always be less capable of understanding and improving upon the entire upstream supply chain, if they try to own the entirety of that task themselves. Effective risk management of this sort requires that the individuals carrying out these improvements be distributed throughout the network of impacted stakeholders, and that they possess the behavioral skills to enable positive change in order for these programs to scale.

Behavioral skills are different than technical skills. Technical skills are things like:

  • Understanding how to transport, segregate, handle and dispose of hazardous chemicals.
  • Understanding how to calculate the overtime premium for piece rate workers.
  •  Understanding how to manage entry/exit practices to prevent security breaches.    

Behavioral skills, which are not emphasized or taught as much as they should be (in my humble opinion), are less focused on following a pre-determined procedure, and more around how an individual prepares for and responds to dynamic, ambiguous situations as they arise.

An example that resonates for me is from an essay in which the author watched one of these events unfold on CNN. A military officer led his unit through the streets of Najaf to engage a local imam during the Iraq conflict. Suddenly, hundreds of Iraqi men emerged from the surrounding neighborhood, shouting at the soldiers and shaking their fists. The author assumed that he was about to witness a massacre of one party or the other on live television. Instead, the officer ordered his men to lower themselves to a knee and point their weapons at the ground. The move, which was neither overtly aggressive nor submissive, caught the riotous crowd by enough surprise that the unit was able to safely withdraw. When asked how he knew to do that, the officer stated that it wasn’t in the field manual nor had he been taught to do it – it was a behavioral skill he had learned. Because he had developed the skills to successfully navigate a highly-charged, quickly unfolding event, he didn’t need to wait for a top-down instruction that would not be as informed or as timely as needed.

This likely feels analogous to most supply chain risk management practitioners and their suppliers. 

In my next post, I will describe various behavioral skills in more detail, including things like root cause analysis, understanding how to leverage management systems, empathy, influence, and change management. I’ll also talk through how these various skills and methods can come together to consistently and effectively enable improvement at scale.

To learn more about teaching behavioral skills to your employees and suppliers, and the benefits, contact me using link below.