A bottom-up approach to supply management

30 April 2013
headshot photograph of Matthew Smith, head or procurement, Office Depot UK and Ireland with pink backgroundWithin modern businesses, it is essential that creativity and employee engagement are fostered through an inclusive decision-making process for major business decisions within supply management. This however, is easier said than done, so how should companies go about keeping employees included in decision-making without losing the ability to act decisively? One proven method is the implementation of a 'culture of ideas sharing'.  Essentially, this is a system of communication designed to give a voice to all employees within the business from bottom to top. Given chance to take effect, these open communication channels add value to a business because it ensures the customer receives the best possible service from everyone involved. To ensure that this culture is successful and is embedded in the thinking of the business, however, there are a number of areas to consider. Firstly, it is vital to have clarity of vision from the outset. Given that all areas of the business are invited to offer their views, it is essential that a clear statement of intent for the future is outlined from the very beginning. This prevents the teams from inadvertently pulling in different directions, and having a framework to engage with allows the free flow of relevant ideas to begin. The system also requires a regular forum for the discussion of proposed ideas so that progress can be tracked and, where required, compromises can be reached.  Therefore, weekly meetings with representatives from across the business putting forward their departmental perspective are an essential component of the decision making process.  Including functional experts, such as those in procurement, warehousing and logistics, means ideas can be rationalised and sense-checked, vastly increasing the chances of developing ideas that will improve supply management. Finally, external vendors also need to be engaged in the process. Setting out your vision and intention at the start of a working partnership is an ideal way to achieve this and also allows you the opportunity to outline what you require in commitment terms from those vendors. Having vendors on board from the very beginning gives rise to a more collaborative overall thought process and a smoother transition once a contract is put in place, as potential obstacles have already been discussed and resolved. This bottom-up flow of ideas can contribute to a more efficient and better-understood business offering and, as a consequence, an improved service for customers. Alongside this, employees are made to feel a much more integral part of the business and empowered to offer ideas for improvements where they see the potential for it. Its inclusive nature means that no one is left feeling that they lack a voice because they have an available outlet for their creativity. This directly impacts upon the whole supply management process not only from within, but for new and prospective customers. ☛ Matthew Smith is head of procurement at Office Depot UK & Ireland
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