Purchasing managers are from Mars, logistics managers from Venus

Supply chain optimization is closely linked to collaboration. A collaboration between different companies in a chain, but especially between different functions in a company. All this with the aim to offer the end customer a beautiful product and maximum value. Unfortunately, in practice, I see that good cooperation is rarely successful. Employees are too busy with their own interests. Moreover, the character profiles that are requested for different functions - and therefore the type of employees that perform the functions - often differ too much from each other.

A good example is the cooperation between the purchasing and logistics departments. Functions that are closely linked and have an important role in improving the supply chain. Traditionally, purchasing managers are mainly looking for extroverted employees who can communicate well and act decisively to close the best deals. Logistics managers often have analytical skills and knowledge of systems that are requested and the type of employee is often more introverted.

I realize that I am generalizing and that both functions have developed strongly in recent years to a broader perspective. But is not there a core of truth in this image? Linking these two functions will usually not quickly lead to fruitful cooperation.


The question now is how or under what conditions this cooperation will be better. An important condition in my view is support from top management. This also includes an assessment system that is geared to the common goals. A conversation between a purchasing manager and logistics manager about articles that have been out of sales for too long will only be successful if the waste costs are part of the result of the purchase category and a reservation has been included in the budget.

In my view, however, it is too easy to place the responsibility for the cooperation only with the management. Employees can also do a lot to bridge the differences themselves. Eyeopener for me was a workshop by the Arbinger Institute about the book 'Leadership and Self-Deception'. The Arbinger Institute distinguishes between people who in the box and out of the box to think. The first group focuses on their own needs. They see other people as 'objects' that can - or actually must - contribute to their goals. The second group sees other people as 'people' with their own concerns and needs

By the out-of-the-boxYou do not only focus on your own goals, you also focus on what others are concerned with. Instead of persuading them to cooperate in something you believe in, you may be able to offer a solution to a problem faced by colleagues from another department. More than 'a few minutes' alignment, extensive presentations or detailed business cases are no longer necessary to reach an agreement. Moreover, these colleagues will sooner be more inclined to listen to your story next time.

Of course, it is not the intention to only deal with the problems of others and to forget your own goals. The result of the out-of-the-boxattitude is that there is more understanding and trust, which improves cooperation. The key to success is to appreciate the people around you and to interest you in what moves them. This open approach has given me a lot. I would like to heartily recommend it to you and I am curious about the result.

Erik-Jan Smit is a former Managing Consultant at Supply Value

Erik-Jan Smit picture
This article was published in Supply Chain Magazine (December 2016)