Reviewing 2019’s trends: Eager experimenters

Date : 12 November 2019

At the start of the year, we called out four trends we expect to influence supply chains in 2019. The time has come to begin reviewing how the trends played out and we’ll do this in a series of blogs over the next few weeks. This week, I’ll be looking at Eager experimenters – this is all about businesses of all sizes establishing and embedding a self-disruptive supply chain culture, underpinned by objectives that incentivise people to experiment.

The need to do this is greater than ever as the industry attempts to free itself from the shackles of legacy infrastructure and ways of working to keep pace with changing shoppers and young, born-digital businesses.

What’s been happening?

To be a successful experimenter, businesses must enable and encourage their people to work in this way. This year, businesses like Walmart, which is very deliberately embracing technology and digitalisation, took action to support its workforce to do just this. It opened a Supply Chain Academy in one of its distribution centres, giving its employees the chance to progress in their careers. Essentially, staff undergo training in leadership, safety and supply chain, before adding a technology-related course in the future.

Laying the foundations

Through this initiative, Walmart seeks to invest in its people and empower them to innovate to solve business issues. Greg Smith, Executive Vice President of Walmart U.S. Supply Chain, said: “Within the Walmart Supply Chain, we are focused on creating a great place to work where our more than 100,000 associates can be empowered to solve problems for our business. This first Supply Chain Academy is a pivotal step on that journey. North-central Texas customers will see the impact of the training and hard work of these graduates on the shelves of the more than 140 Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs this distribution center serves.”

Meanwhile, Amazon’s apprenticeship programme in the UK, which combines software engineering and robotics with leadership and technology skills, targets the development of future team leaders and ‘innovation drivers’. The move reflects Amazon’s willingness to embed a self-disruptive culture and become a leader in innovation.

Another interesting experiment that caught everyone’s attention is the trial of a dedicated refillable zone in Waitrose’s Oxford store where customers are able to fill their own tubs and jars with various products. The trial is still at its infancy and is designed to test how customers might shop in the future, with the ultimate aim of reducing plastic packaging.

Leftfield ideas like this are all part of the experimental culture we see emerging.  Some will work and some won’t. Being comfortable with this principle defines an eager experimenter.

Agility, innovation and skills nurturing

Initiatives like these demonstrate the growing importance of developing a workforce that’s skilled and au fait with the latest trends and advancements in technology. While large businesses are more likely to have the resource needed to support this shift in thinking, in most cases, it’s being done retrospectively. Trying to develop this behaviour rather than embedding it from day one is much harder. This is why we tend to associate this mentality with smaller startups, where experimentation is embedded in the culture and forms part of the DNA of the business from day one. 

A key pillar of making the shift is agility. We looked at how businesses can develop this mindset in Building an agile organisation: applications across the value chain. It looked at how an agile mindset and ways of working can deliver better outcomes in shorter time frames across the value chain.

Meanwhile, another report, Digital supply chain capabilities explored why organisations must create and support a responsive decision-making process that can easily adjust to an increasing pace of change, and ideally embrace disruption through continuous innovation and upskilling of their human resources.

The agile manifesto

Source: Building an agile organisation: applications across the value chain, IGD Supply Chain Analysis.

Establishing how to embed new ideas into an organisation can be tricky. One way to improve your odds is to stay on top of the latest trends and draw clear objectives that formalise how your business will respond. The workforce must be put at the heart of the strategy. Otherwise, any attempt to create a self-disrupting culture is likely to fail.

Conclusions

Disruption is the new normal. Businesses and their people simply don’t have time to dwell on ideas anymore. They must also develop people capable of coming up with and converting ideas to create value. Today’s successful businesses seek to disrupt and effectively deal with external disruption. To avoid stagnation and remain competitive this isn’t so much a choice as a necessity.

Wassim El Attar

Supply Chain Analyst

In this report, we highlight the four supply chain trends that will mark 2019

This is the third in a series of reports detailing the key findings from IGD’s supply chain leaders global survey. This time, the attribute under the microscope is Entrepreneurial.

Get the latest industry news and insights straight to your inbox with our range of newsletters.