Commentary | Smart Moves

Leading Change and Innovation in Transportation and Logistics

Tags: Supply Chain Management

Dr. Ernest L. Hughes is Associate Professor of Transportation and Logistics, American Public University, 877-755-2787

Online retailer Amazon.com has been experimenting with small, unmanned aircraft for package delivery for implementation perhaps as early as 2015. Amazon is not alone in evaluating drones as a means to improve its transportation and logistics. The German Deutsche Post is also currently conducting tests.

Time will tell whether or not drones will join other successful innovations in the history of transportation and logistics such as the wheeled cart, steam-powered railroad locomotive, automobile, and airplane. Regardless, successful adoption of a new innovation requires leadership and change management within the organization and across the supply chain.

Dr. John Kotter, noted leadership scholar and Harvard professor, believes that leading change has three essential ingredients. These are:

  1. Creating a vision of the future and strategies for producing the changes needed to achieve that vision;
  2. Aligning people around that vision; and
  3. Motivating them to overcome barriers and produce the changes needed to achieve the vision.
  4. Let’s look at motivation first. In August 2013, I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was hot and muggy, as Philly often is during the summer. While I was standing outside the museum, a sedan pulled up to the curb and four men in suits and dress shoes jumped out. Just like in the famous 1976 movie, they sprinted to the top of the “Rocky steps,” then did a victory dance before jogging back down the steps, hopping into their car, and driving off. What motivated them to do that? They motivated themselves.

    In his comprehensive study of how motivation works, Dr. E. Tory Higgins, professor of psychology at Columbia University, defines motivation as “directing choices in order to be effective.” This is a practical and useful definition for organizational leaders to build upon.

    Let’s now look at creating a shared vision and aligning people around that vision. James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, concur with Dr. Kotter about the importance of shared vision and the expectation followers have of their leaders to create one with them. They assert that “being forward-looking – envisioning exciting possibilities and enlisting others in a shared view of the future” is the single most important attribute that most distinguishes leaders from followers.

    How might this be accomplished? In my work, I use small and large group methods and toolkits for hands-on planning and creative engagement. People support what they help create.

    Lastly, let’s look at the strategies to produce the changes needed. In their Handbook of Global Supply Chain Management, John T. Mentzer, Matthew B. Myers, and Theodore P. Stank provide a straightforward recipe:

    1. Explain why the change is needed.
    2. Communicate clearly what is in it for the organization and the employees.
    3. Explain what is needed from each individual.

    Supply chain innovation, whether it is implementing a new business process, drone transport, or an enterprise system like sales and operations planning, requires motivation, shared leadership, and change management. Do you have these essential ingredients?