Use the Storytelling Method to Train Supply Chain Professionals

By Dr. Tom DePaoli

One of the oldest methods of passing down knowledge is oral storytelling. Usually an ancient sage would be the keeper of the stories and pass them down to other tribe members. I highly recommend this method for supply chain professionals.

Here are some advantages of storytelling:

  • The brain stores information by stories.
  • Stories are humanizing and stimulate creativity.
  • Storytelling improves listening skills.
  • Storytelling builds a team culture.
  • It encourages collaboration.

First, creating the right atmosphere and teamwork is essential in order to establish the validity of this method. The trust of all members of the team and non-attribution is essential. The leader of the team should lead off and share personal supply chain stories of success and failures. There should be a general framework for the stories. In our framework, we structure the stories to first give a background of the situation or issue, then tell how resources are gathered to address the issue (approach), and finally reveal the results. Often the approach to solving the problem is more important than the actual results. Colleagues are encouraged to ask questions and to suggest more appropriate approaches. Supply chain professionals have many touch points or people involved throughout the supply chain. Stories should not be limited to paying customers but include suppliers, colleagues, competition, other departments etc.

Here is an example:

Background: We went through comprehensive sourcing selection process with a cross-functional team. We involved all the key stakeholders and were very meticulous in our research and selection. We were highly confident that we had selected the right water pump supplier and were expecting significant hard and soft savings. The supplier had prior experience with partnerships and alliances.

Approach: Much to my surprise after two weeks I discovered that the process was not going well. Maintenance personnel were complaining about the new supplier so I decided to investigate. I walked around the plant and talked to maintenance personnel and their department heads. I soon discovered that the issue was not the quality of the pumps. The issue was the representative that the supplier had assigned to our account. The rep just could not adjust to our people or culture. The personality was not a fit.

Results: I approached the supplier and requested that a new representative be assigned to our plant. The new representative got along well with everyone and we made great progress in savings and innovation. The lesson that I learned is that the selection team should interview the potential supplier’s representative during the selection process and ensure that they are a fit. We thus added “chemistry” to our selection process.

We used this same storytelling method after every sourcing event and continued to discover issues that we had missed. We then added them to our overall sourcing methodology or checklist. Storytelling is a powerful collaborative learning tool. I recommend taking full advantage of it.


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