If you've signed up for professional development courses this year, you're not alone. A new poll of U.S. business executives indicates that 31 percent plan to participate in training and professional development programs in 2006. Here's hoping at least some of them will choose classes on logistics strategy and technology.
Here's why. The end game in logistics today is to boost efficiency and drive out costs, and the means to that end is invariably technology. Surging sales, demands to do more with less, and the need to manage sprawling global supply chains have left managers with little choice but to abandon their manual processes and harness the technologies available today.
Implementing technology-based solutions, though, generally requires a change in process. And that can be a tough sell. It's human nature to resist change, particularly change that threatens to disrupt employees' routines. All too often, instead of embracing the new technologies, people find "work-arounds" that make the new system work as much like the old one as possible.
That's where training comes in. The best way to discourage employees from subverting the new technology is to provide thorough, detailed training. The hope is that if you explain what the technology can do and why it will help the business, people will embrace the change in process it may require. It's not enough to delve into the new system's mechanics; you also have to persuade the users that it's to everybody's advantage to do things the new way.
This is where many companies stumble. "We all need to shift our training a bit," says Gary Maxwell, senior vice president of merchandise replenishment at Wal-Mart. "We need to include not only the tactical 'how-to,' but also the strategic 'why'. Understanding the basic underlying reason we are doing things differently is critical to success."
In fact, Wal-Mart makes a point of doing just that whenever it introduces a new technology or process—which is to say, all the time. Take the case of a trainer assigned to teach employees how to enter data into a new warehouse management system (WMS) or analyze reports from a new RFID-enabled inventory-tracking program. Before he or she dives into the details, that trainer first explains why the new process is important to the retailer's business strategy. Trainees come away with a full understanding of how using that WMS or RFID system helps the retailer achieve its goal of perfect in-stock performance: having all items in stock all the time.
If you'd like to learn more about logistics strategies and the technologies that support them, you'll have plenty of opportunities in 2006. Throughout the year, industry associations like the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC), the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA), and the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) will offer a variety of courses and seminars.
Next month, for instance, the MHIA hosts its semi-annual North American Material Handling and Logistics Trade Show and Conference (NA 2006) in Cleveland. Registered attendees can choose from a host of seminars and courses, many of which are free. (For more information on classes scheduled during NA 2006, see RoadTrip, page 18.) In May, the annual WERC Conference in Orlando, Fla., will feature a full slate of seminars on strategies, tactics and tools you can use to improve operations. And in October, the CSCMP will host its 2006 Annual Conference, which packs literally hundreds of educational sessions into just two and one-half days. In fact, that annual conference has become a yearly pilgrimage for many logisticians looking to stay ahead of the game.
Why not join them and take advantage of the professional development opportunities offered this year? Gaining a deeper understanding of how logistics can support corporate strategy will only make you better at your job. And when it comes time to introduce your staff to the new processes, you'll have no trouble telling them why you're doing it and—more importantly—why it's good for you, for them, and for the company.