CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
December 17, 2017
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It's not just what you say, it's how you say it

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To be successful, a supply chain manager needs strong interpersonal communication skills.

I firmly believe that the free and unobstructed flow of information is essential for effective supply chain management. Now, you probably assume that by the "flow of information," I mean something like electronic data interchange. That's critically important, of course, but what I'm talking about is something else ... something that is often overlooked today: interpersonal communication.

To be successful, a supply chain manager needs strong communication skills. That's because the ability to communicate clearly, person-to-person, facilitates the exchange of important ideas and makes connections between individuals and companies possible. On the most basic level, communication skills help you to talk with other people about what they're doing, to learn from them, and to maybe offer a suggestion or two that might help them.

As the head of CSCMP, it's part of my job to engage in this kind of information sharing. Every day I speak with people about the economic and environmental challenges they're facing, and about how they're successfully meeting those challenges as well as capitalizing on the opportunities that they create. But the conversation doesn't end there. The next step is to find ways to share that knowledge with others who could benefit from it. In fact, that's one of the things we at CSCMP do best.

Good communicators make it easy for listeners to understand their message. One of the most effective ways to get your point across is to speak in terms your audience understands. Suppose you are making a presentation to your CEO or to someone who's running another segment of your business, and you say something like "seamless, fluid, fully integrated, satisfying the needs of our customers at the lowest total delivered cost." He or she might smile at you, but it's quite likely that they will not have understood everything you've said. Here's a better approach: break that sentence down into parts and explain what "seamless," "fluid," and "total delivered cost" mean in terms that matter and make sense to them. For your CEO, that will mean financial terms. For a business unit head, that may mean framing the discussion in terms of how supply chain performance supports that unit's success. In other words, use your communication skills to explain the value of logistics and supply chain efficiency in the language of your listener. If you are unable to do that, then your listeners will not comprehend that supply chains do, for example, affect market share, revenue, and profits, nor will they understand that a well-managed supply chain is necessary for fulfilling a company's mission and making its vision a reality.

As you can see, supply chain professionals need excellent communication skills for a variety of reasons. This is not simply a matter of personal career advancement. Sharing information, whether about general business practices or about the special nuances associated with a particular industry, helps everybody— and every company—to succeed and excel.

Rick Blasgen is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP).

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