supply chain manager

Supply Chain Manager Survival Guide (part 1)

You were offered a new manager role because you have successfully passed the recruitment process or you have proven reliable in your current company. However, as a new manager, you need additional competences.

How to cope as a new manager? What to do to take over the team efficiently? How to build your authority in a new environment?

The first days or even weeks in a new position are always a challenge. The results of errors at this time can be serious. Especially when it comes to the supply chain, logistics or production where you manage large teams.

Together with Adam Szwedek, I describe in this article how to start in a new role. This article is a bit of a confession – we share “diary notes” – we write about things done well; about things done wrong; about things that we have not dealt with and time has shown that we should.

The work of a manager is not only about strategies, innovations, presentations to the management board or financial analyzes. It is also everyday work with people, solving problems, preventing conflicts, handling conversations, e-mails, meetings – a lot of little things.

What you will learn?

-Adam Sobolewski

In the article, we present a few points to think about and some practical tips that we have developed based on our own experience. In many cases, we mention simple things.

We do not write about finances, strategies, investments, new technologies, but about everyday, down-to-earth matters that every new operational manager encounters.

Contrary to appearances, however, these “simple matters” can be difficult. They require attention and sensitivity and it is really easy to forget about them in the daily pursuit of the result. So in the article you will find information:

  • what aspects of organizational culture to pay attention to?
  • at what stage and how to detail the rules of working with the team?
  • where and when to be present at the work of your new team?
  • what do you need to discuss with your own boss?
  • how to communicate with your team?

Finally, what mistakes should be avoided when creating relationships with the team. However, you will certainly not learn techniques that will work in every company and every situation. There are no magic solutions. So please treat the notes we have written not as a complete guide, but as a starting point for your own thoughts.

Adam Szwedek comments: In every company there is some organizational culture, more or less clear, more or less formalized. Each new person, especially the new manager of a large team, adds their ingredients to their recipe. Depending on his position in the organization, he may add more or less. I have worked in companies open to changes as well as in companies with a strict cultural “regime”. This is a matter of your personal preferences and adaptability.

I get to know the team and the organization

– Adam Szwedek

In the beginning, there will be some form of introduction into a new position. Often referred to as “onboarding”, especially if you are moving to another company or business unit.

The implementation can be more or less complex depending on the organization. Sometimes it only covers training required by local labor law. Sometimes you will also be able to meet employees or managers of the teams that support you, and sometimes you will be on your own.

Even if your implementation plan does not include meetings outside the subordinate team, it is worth asking for such an opportunity. In particular, it is important to get to know your internal customers, Sales, Marketing – departments whose results directly depend on the service and quality provided by your team.

It is worth paying attention to, among other things, mentioned points:

  • who carries out the onboarding? it is one person or a group of people?
  • was the onboarding planned as a standard or it was tailored for you?
  • how the selected people present their expectations for cooperation?
  • how they refer to the values that the company officially follows? 

Also ask about other people or functions that you need to know and understand. A person from HR planning onboarding is not always able to identify all the key players you need to meet. Usually you are also not able to do it yourself. Therefore ask everybody who else you should also speak to.

As a new manager, after getting to know the structure of the organization for the first time, you should get to know your team in detail. Sometimes an initiative will come from the team. Regardless, however, think about such issues as:

  • form of meetings – individual or group? Depending on the size of the team. In teams of up to a dozen people, it is definitely worth investing time in one-on-one meetings, in larger ones, at least organize meetings in subgroups.
  • meeting place(s) – in a conference room or the person’s workplace, or outside the company? In a face-to-face meeting, you can get to know the specifics of the work better (don’t tell me about your work – show me what you are doing). Outside of the company, you can get to know people better. In a team of several dozen or more people, the only practical solution is a short meeting in a room or in an open space.
  • meeting schedule – who should you meet first? First, direct reports. Arrange the order with the team, taking into account their recommendations and planned absences, and stick to it consistently afterwards. Show that people in your team are important to you.

You should also make your expectations clear during the first meetings with the team. Not necessarily requirements in terms of goals to be achieved. But for sure the basic rules of behavior and cooperation that you will require on a daily basis.

Also, be prepared for a demanding attitude. It happens that employees try to use the manager’s “freshness” to get something for themselves. Don’t try to please everyone at once. Sometimes you will have to say no or not yet.

Remember one more thing – when getting to know the new organization, avoid criticism, evaluation and comparison to the previous company. Approach the people and processes present in the new place with humility and respect. There will be time for comments and changes.

First, try to understand why things are done differently here. Of course, except for violations of applicable labor law or health and safety regulations. In such situations, you must act immediately – as a manager, you are responsible for the safety of your team from day one.

Adam Sobolewski comments: If you embrace a large team, say several dozen or even several hundred people, you will probably feel pressure. It will seem to you that you need to prove yourself in your new role as soon as possible and necessarily take some important action. At least I experienced this feeling when I first started being in charge of operations on over 200 people. However, I already know from experience that in the first period the most important thing is to get to know your new team. You can’t do anything on your own. You have to cooperate with everyone.

I set up clear rules

– Adam Szwedek

Why is direct presentation of the rules important when starting work with a new team? You have to present yourself as a manager – I work like this, I reward it, I demand it and I don’t tolerate it – this is your code of conduct, your set of values, your vision of the team’s work.

Thanks to this you eliminate understatements and the later “but you never talked about it”. Remember that no one reads your mind. It is your responsibility to create the conditions for transparent cooperation – so say literally what you expect.

The specific “I know what I want” is the first element of building authority. The second necessary to gain the trust of employees is “I follow my own rules”.

Behavioral standards – if there is no standard in the company, define your approach and consequences immediately – do not wait until the first case.

Before starting work, decide what you will do in the cases described below. Contrary to appearances, each of these situations can meet you in the first hour of work.

Does the company have a program that rewards positive behavior: ideas, records, exemplary cooperation? If not, do you prefer the system or individual approach to each case? Discuss with your boss and HR manager. Remember that rewards are not only about money, but in operational realities, the award without money is often poorly received.

Also check whether the organizational culture allows for public announcing such events – sometimes it is detrimental to the awardee. Especially if it results from showing social courage and informing about the behavior of other employees.

This is clearly seen in the results of this study Benefity – czyli co motywuje pracowników, (Benefits – what motivates employees, in polish) conducted by

employees expectations

Another important matter that must be very precisely regulated is bringing in, consuming and being under the influence of alcohol or drugs on the company’s premises. The internal regulations usually contain a prohibition, but that’s about it. Often there are no specific consequences and control procedures.

Think carefully about whether you want to use the “second chance” or “zero tolerance” method, or “depends on the circumstances”. Whichever approach you choose should be – it should be applied to all employees regardless of their level of position.

Other issues are the destruction of company property (sometimes deliberate, sometimes thoughtless, and sometimes accidental, but in any case requiring a response), or smoking in prohibited places, the consequences of which can be dire.

Among the smaller behaviors, which are also generally poorly regulated in companies, which should be considered, there are also moving beyond the designated communication routes and the rules of using mobile devices in the production and warehouse area.

Real life: in one of the companies I implemented the “forklift driver code” – a set of basic rules describing the behavior and behavior of forklift operators. The code covered topics ranging from a reminder of the main safety rules, through internal regulations, to the handover protocol.

In determining the approach to all the issues described, it is also important that:

  • Remember about external companies – the standards for their employees must be the same as for the company’s employees. Otherwise, it’s hard to demand standards from your own team.
  • Agree with everybody on how to communicate about offenses – if they happen, they should be used as a warning for the future, you can show the financial consequences for the company (e.g. repair costs) or personnel consequences (e.g. withdrawal of permissions).
  • If you talk the talk you have to walk the walk – whatever rules you set – you must stick to them yourself. Otherwise you won’t build authority.

Adam Sobolewski comments: The role of the operational manager consists of many duties – including the obligation to build standards that most people consider basic in the workplace – sobriety, honesty, respect for others. Nevertheless, you have to talk about them from the very beginning. You have to talk about them constantly. Contrary to common appearances, a large team may include someone who does not understand it and is a threat to himself or others. I found out about it myself on the first day of work at the Distribution Center. I had to terminate the contract with an drunk employee. I would like to know then what Adam writes.

I am present on…

– Adam Sobolewski

At the beginning of working with the team, as a new manager, you should be present in every area and every stage of the process in which the people entrusted to your care work. You should also attend meetings that affect the work of your department or business unit.

Micromanagement is not the path to success. However, this is not about micromanagement. You just have to get to know, even feel, what the people in your new team are dealing with.

It is worth setting aside time to enter the process as a serial employee. Understand what is happening on the warehouse floor or at the production line. Of course, if only work in a given position does not require qualifications that you do not have, for example, for forklifts.

Why is this phase of embracing the new area and team so important? In addition to substantive knowledge, you will get the opportunity to meet individual people. You will show that you really care.

In addition, in line with the “the iceberg principle” you will see the figures in your reports. When you look at the ensemble in the same way as when you look at an iceberg, at first you can only see a small part of the whole.

This is well illustrated by the artwork by Sidney Yoshida. Even if the given values should be treated as indicative, they should be enough to explain why it is worth entering the process.

new manager - iceberg principle

Personally, I was lucky to work in an organization where the described approach was part of the organizational culture. A new manager, or a manager embracing a new team, was not only encouraged to work in the process. This was required during the first week in the new role and periodically thereafter.

The trust of employees gained in this way could not be overestimated. You will understand when you ask employees for extra effort. When you need to raise your score on the last day of the month or assemble a team for mandatory overtime on a holiday.

How do you think people will react to your decision if you’ve never “got your hands dirty”? How much self-confidence will you be able to afford by issuing unpopular orders if you are unable to complete each of the required jobs yourself?

If you already know the process from the point of view of the basic employee, it is worth knowing also the perspective of specialists supporting your team or managers directly reporting to you.

As in the case of working in a warehouse hall or on a production line, it is not about knowing all the details from the beginning. It is more important that you see how key people work together, whether they rely on each other, and whether or not they resolve conflicts on their own.

Personally, in order to structure the work at this stage of getting to know the team, I use the model 5 dysfunction of teamwork created by Patrick Lencioni.

Below is a graphic summary by Ewa Lewczak (originally in polish).

new manager - team disfunctions

Patrick’s model should be viewed as any other conceptual tool. It does not explain all the reality we know. However, it has value because it provides a starting point and allows taking systematic actions to improve the results of the entire team.

If you are wondering how, below is a checklist that you can answer after each meeting you have witnessed. If you answer NO or DON’T to at least one of them, you already know what element of teamwork is worth working on.

  • do people talk directly to others about ineffective activities?
  • do team members know what their colleagues are working on?
  • how often do team members appreciate the involvement of others?
  • how often are the interests of a particular department deprioritized?
  • do the meetings end with specific arrangements and an action plans?

Finally, I would like to add that as a new manager you must be present in the team’s work. These issues cannot be seen from the outside. You really have to come between people. Even when you get to know the team, you have to periodically check that everything is in order.

Adam Szwedek comments: This is exactly the mistake I made in my last company. I got involved too quickly in strategic, company-wide projects instead of spending a lot more time learning about technologies, processes and people in the beginning. Later, “catching up” was no longer effective. You don’t have to become an expert on a given machine or process, but you have to get to know people, their language and their everyday life. There is a reason why one of the foundations of Lean is Gemba Walk, meaning “entering the place of doing real work”.

Until the next time

Everything said up till now is not yet enough to survive as a new supply chain manager. However, this is a good start and it will need to suffice until the next time. Anyway, you will not need to wait too long. Most probably when you read this entry the next part is ready.

I plan to publish on Logistics Simply regularly. In the first month you can expect a lot of content as I focus on catching up with ‘older sister’ Logistyka po prostu which is Polish.

In case you find my articles interesting, inspirational, or just helpful, please share them. Also, don’t hesitate to connect with me. The easiest way is by subscribing to the newsletter.

Until the next time!


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