Michelle Dilley energizes her company by challenging the status quo, standing her ground, and allowing her team to make mistakes.
Michelle Dilley was a 16-year supply chain veteran when she realized she wanted to stay in this field for good. Her revelation came after she left her job as a sourcing general manager at Whirlpool to join health care provider Ascension Health as vice president, supply chain.
“My role was to drive a major transformation initiative, from how we did sourcing, procurement, and supplier qualification, all the way through managing inventory, fulfillment, and payment,” Dilley says. “It was a true end-to-end perspective. I loved partnering with people to work toward eliminating inefficiencies and waste up and down the supply chain.”
In February 2019, Dilley was named chief operating officer at DSC Logistics, a CJ Logistics company, based in Des Plaines, Illinois. Dilley had served as chief supply chain transformation officer at DSC since 2017. She spoke with us about her career development and recent activities.
IL: When you joined DSC, what was it like to move from in-house supply chain management to the service provider side?
It has been gratifying. I have a great opportunity to challenge the status quo and get results. I can put myself in our customers’ situations and think through the challenges they’re facing and how we can deliver solutions to help. I can also be a thought leader, working with them on strategies to grow their businesses and capabilities.
IL: What’s one experience early in your career that helped to shape you as a leader?
I had a boss who wouldn’t allow me to move into a new role that was going to help me expand my skill set. That taught me to put people first. Think about their personal needs and growth opportunities and fully support them. You’ll always find a way to work through the organizational impact.
IL: Have you ever made a mistake that taught you such a valuable lesson you’re actually glad you made it?
It happened early in my career, when I was doing financial forecasting. We were working on a tight deadline with a lot of data, using Excel spreadsheets. I trusted the information I was getting. But then I discovered we were missing some data, and as a result we had made some significant misforecasts, which unfortunately came at a time when the company was struggling financially.
This mistake taught me that you need to trust and verify, and be diligent about paying attention to detail. I could have avoided the error by reaching out and asking others for help, not feeling that I had to do all the work myself. That’s another important lesson. Being a woman in a male-dominated field my entire life, I don’t always find it easy to ask for help. Women feel we have to be strong and confident. But asking for help is okay.
IL: What are your most important characteristics as a leader?
I’m positive and realistic. I speak with clarity and certainty while standing my ground. I lead by example. I allow people to make mistakes and then support them when they do. I firmly believe that if people aren’t taking risks and making mistakes, then we’re not growing, evolving, or continuing to improve the way we need to.
IL: When you walk into a logistics facility, what clues tell you whether it’s running well?
First, I look for visual clues. Is the facility clean? Is it well organized, both on the floor and in the offices? Are the docks clear? Are current posters or reports hanging on the walls? Does anyone do anything with that information? Do employees look happy and engaged? Is leadership on the floor?
Then I’ll do walkabouts, asking employees what’s working and how we can make their jobs easier. I’ll get a sense of whether the employees take pride in their work, and I’ll listen to their feedback. I’ll also look at the interaction between leaders and employees. Do the leaders know employees’ names and ask about their families? The engagement and dialog between leaders and employees tells a lot about how the logistics center is running.
IL: Which recent advances in supply chain technology do you find most interesting?
With the tight labor market, I’m excited by advances in automation, such as automated guided vehicles and automated lifts. Also, we’re doing a lot of interesting things with artificial intelligence (AI) not only for reports and forecasting, but also from a safety perspective. For example, we’ve partnered with OneTrack. AI to put cameras on lift trucks to monitor how people are driving and whether they’re following the right procedures. We’re also working on using AI to help us track inventory physically throughout the warehouse.
IL: Advice to your 20-year-old self?
Be bold. Be brave. Manage your career as best you can. Get out of your comfort zone. Invest in yourself by networking and finding a sponsor.
IL: How do you like to spend your time outside of work?
I have three wonderful, active children whose travel sports teams consume most of my weekends. I also love to be outdoors. I get together with my women friends for Saturday morning runs and coffee. When I need solitude in nature, I go kayaking. I enjoy knitting and reading. I like to do yoga, but I don’t do as much of it as I should.
I also serve on the board of directors of STAG Industrial, a real estate investment trust that acquires and operates single-tenant industrial properties throughout the United States.
Big Changes Bring Rewards
When a company launches a major transformation, that initiative brings big changes for employees at all levels. Some people might need fresh training to prepare for new responsibilities. Some may take a dip in productivity while they get up to speed. “It’s important to be positive and realistic,” says Michelle Dilley. “Talk with the team about what’s going on, create open dialog for feedback, and allow them to ask questions and challenge the strategy.”
In June 2019, DSC’s top operations leaders got together for one of their quarterly meetings. Naturally, the progress of the transformation was a major topic at the two-day event.
“We introduced the transformation strategy about a year ago,” Dilley says. “And now, it is exciting to see the enthusiasm, the ownership, and the accountability of these leaders who made this major shift—not just for themselves personally, but for their organizations.
“To see that work translate into results has also been incredibly rewarding,” she adds.