A change programme in a supply chain is a critical project in an enterprise. As such, these critical projects are very dependent on leadership to succeed and it should not surprise you that failure is the result when leaders depart before the program can be completed!
It is actually one of the most dire circumstances you could experience when implementing a change programme. That is why this is one of those cases where prevention is better (and far more feasible) than a cure. Great planning, a deep knowledge of change management psychology and risk management will all play a crucial part in all of this.
However, these prevention strategies are best understood when you first fully understand why leaders are critical to managing the change programme. Remember that your supply chain leaders are the ones with the vision for how this new initiative will work, and essentially for what’s on the other side of the fear associated with change and increasing levels of uncertainty.
They are the first in line to disseminate the details of new initiatives, process changes and training modules that make up the project.
They are the ones who do the work of guiding and handling all employees, defining their specific roles for the change that is to come. It is they who help reduce the complexity of handling all the countless factors in a modern supply chain network.
So, when a leader departs from this network, there is a substantial gap left to fill.
That said, there are certainly a number of reasons for change programme leaders to suddenly abandon ship. Such circumstances cannot all be helped either. But with the right prevention strategies in place, you can at least reduce the turnover and avert the worst-case scenarios.
Strategy #1 – Plan the initiative in bite size chunks
It’s important to break the initiative up into smaller projects and ensure you have leadership for each of these smaller elements of the programme.
This supports the overall programme leader, but also makes the smaller project leaders step up, thus minimising risk associated with leadership changes.
Strategy #2 – Succession Planning
If leadership turnover is painfully high in your present state, a good way to counteract this is to start grooming more employees to become leaders and pair this with a solid succession strategy.
Now for the parts of the supply chain that are within your control, this seems doable enough. It may require a considerable degree of change in company culture. It would also require more leaders to have further responsibility to train a successor should they ever decide to leave.
Third party partners, on the other hand, don’t offer this much control. Therefore, consider creating another pool of alternative vendors should a third party’s sudden shift in leadership affect your change programme.
Naturally, this would also require you to adopt a strategy for switching vendors as well. Ideally though, the original vendor selection process would have anticipated and planned for such scenarios to be handled within the agreed values system of the organisation.
Strategy #3 – Understand a Leader as a Stakeholder
When leaders lack incentive to embrace the value in a change programme, things can get touchy. That is why it can be very effective to treat leaders, particularly functional leaders, as stakeholders who need to see the supply chain’s success immediately translate into their own.
This is so important, because this is the very incentive that makes sure that the programme continues beyond a change in leadership during and even after the completion of a change programme.
This requires more than just the usual buy-in though. You need to first understand the individual needs of each leader in your supply chain and how these will be met by this programme. For internal departments, you might need to present the change as a challenge that improves them and their respective team’s performance. For external partners, it can mean leveraging your position as a valued and long-term customer.
Strategy #4 – Prioritize the Leaders’ Training in New Processes
If there is one thing that will demotivate your supply chain leaders, it is starting a change programme that only aims to train everyone broadly on new processes instead of coaching them specifically on the role they have to play.
Remember, that your leaders still have a very intimate knowledge of current processes. Trying to force something entirely new without helping them transition from those processes first (before anyone else) makes it harder for their own team members because they look to their leaders for guidance.
Prioritizing the training of leaders should be the next step after the buy-in. That way, the new knowledge they’ve gained will naturally pass on to their teams.
To conclude, one need only common sense to see why change programmes fail because of high leadership turnover. They represent a vital part of allowing the transformation to flow down the hierarchy and help manage the complex task of getting everyone on board. Before initiating your next change programme include leadership retention as a critical success factor!
Addendum: To stop a team reverting back to their old ways, once a programme has been completed and a leader leaves, make absolutely sure that your critical programme KPI’s are still ‘owned’ and ‘measured’ vis a vis the new targets by the executive team as part of BAU or by the board.