When we get a job in an enterprise, we generally assume it’s for work the company advertised and interviewed us for. We would find it kind of funny if the company assigns us to do something we didn’t get hired for.
But it happens. We sometimes are given work that are not on our original job descriptions.
Some organisations include “any additional jobs the company may assign” to the list of things to the position we are employed in, but we would push back if the “things” our bosses tell us to do are far from the kind of work we are supposed to be doing. One does not assign advertising work to an accountant, for instance.
But it happens. Like a bookkeeper who the boss treats as a secretary. Like a plumber who ends up repairing electrical circuits. Or an engineer who doesn’t do any engineering work at all but becomes a supervisor of an assembly line.
We also hesitate when an enterprise gives us work in another department or to a “sister company.” In the Philippines, some firms set up “sister companies” or “subsidiaries” that are totally different legal entities but have almost identical ownership. The owners would ask their best-performing personnel working in one enterprise to do jobs in another. An accountant would end up bookkeeping for several different firms or a technician would find himself repairing machines at several different workplaces. Each would, however, be earning just one pay-check from just one company.
And it does happen. And often. Especially in corporations that have diversified holdings in various enterprises.
We of course want to do just the jobs we are hired and paid for. “It’s not my job” and “I don’t care” have become favourite mantras in most workplaces. But just as much as our peers avoid asking us to do things we’re not supposed to do, we find it difficult when our bosses tell us otherwise.
Our bosses, however, also do get their share of extra work. Their superiors as well as executives of other departments at times ask them to do things that’s not on the scope of the departments they run. As much as they resent the additional assignments, many have a hard time saying no.
And it happens again and again. Despite what bosses have on their plates, superiors would pile on more. And we employees get more work too as a result.
So, we build walls. What some so-called experts would call “silos.”
Silos literally are those large towers we find mostly at farms. They’re storehouses farmers typically put their bulk harvests in before sending them off to markets. They are usually built with strong materials such as steel or cement. Silos are designed to isolate stock they store from the outside world, to keep out pests, provide protection from the weather, and preserve freshness.
Silos have become the best figures of speech for departments in an enterprise who don’t interact with other functions. And they apply to individual enterprises as well.
Many enterprises have a culture of looking more towards within than without. The entrepreneurs that start them have a tendency focus a lot on the activities of their enterprises as they make the effort to boost sales and control costs. Organisations are conditioned from day one to look inward. How do we sustain cashflow? How do we improve our products? How many sales people do we need? How much training is enough?
They ask less about: how did my customer do with my product? Did he or she like it? How has my vendor reacted to my purchase order? Is she making the effort to ensure the best quality of the items we asked for?
These latter questions don’t address the interests of our enterprises, so why ask? Why should we care?
We should care because the world is changing. And supply chain management has become more applicable if not more essential in this changing world.
It’s not only because of the pandemic.
When the coronavirus (CoVID-19) pandemic hit in 2020, enterprises saw their supply lines fall apart. Merchandise didn’t arrive or orders were cancelled. Hospitals didn’t receive needed personal protective equipment (PPEs). Ocean transport stalled, tying up containers at ports. Factory production stopped; food deliveries were disrupted. It was chaos.
And it didn’t end there.
Governments have lifted restrictions only to repeatedly put them back again as the virus returned in second, third, and even fourth waves. Ocean-going vessels ran short of shipping containers for clients and the clients scrambled to build inventories as their customers rushed orders. Factories stopped and started due to uneven deliveries of critical materials ranging from semiconductor chips, coffee beans, cotton, and chemicals.
Some politicians trumpeted recovery but realities on the ground were that supply chains have buckled under the stress of whipped up demand and limited supply and capacities.
Supply chains aren’t in a crisis because of the pandemic. The pandemic just aggravated what has been holding back supply chains.
Many businesses had built walls and had focused only on what’s happening within; they ended up at the mercy of outside forces. They faltered from disruptions that became more frequent this past decade, culminating with the global coronavirus pandemic.
The concept of the supply chain, since its introduction in the 1970’s, requires managers and executives to not only interact with each other’s functions but also relate with parties along the supply chains they link to.
A butcher must take into account the origin of the meat he procures.
Chemical companies must assure the lasting efficacies of its products from deliveries to customer to succeeding tiers of trade to the final consumer.
We cannot not care. We need to realise we are participants in a supply chain that runs through enterprises, not just within enterprises. The bottlenecks our vendors face whether it be in material shortages or traffic gridlocks are our business as well as theirs. The effects of how our deliveries cascade down from buyers to consumers are for our best interests to know and even be involved.
We should mind the business of others, as we no longer can mind our own alone.
This is what supply chain management teaches us. A supply chain’s greatest strength lies in its links, in the connections we make with others.
It’s a hell of a change in mindset.
The good news is that many if not most enterprises we compete with are still stuck in the mindset of silos.
The bad news is that they’re getting the picture too and they will soon be change to become better themselves.