Today’s post, not so much supply chain specific, but just as ninjas should be, I’m going to be flexible and talk about employee morale and culture.  I just finished reading an article by Fortune magazine re-posted on CNNMoney.com titled “Wal-Mart and the perils of ignoring staff complaints” (article is linked here).  I know myself and countless others have been thinking about how Black Friday has not-so-subtly crept into Thursday with many retailers opening their doors at 8PM on Thanksgiving Day.  It’s like 2013 car models have hit showrooms in August 2012 or Christmas decorations the day the spider web, pumpkins, and other Halloween decorations are taken down. But this time, creeping Black Friday into a holiday… that’s interesting.

The article primarily talks about how unhappy staff members are kept out of the loop of big changes (i.e. opening doors at 8PM on Thanksgiving Day for Wal-Mart).  The staff are now forced to work on a holiday where we, the consumers, get to relax and have time off to spend with our families.  The staff used to have this same holiday and time to spend with family.  Not so much anymore.  Big companies such as Wal-Mart, kinda-sorta big RIM (maker of Blackberry devices), and the like have had track records of ignoring staff.  Without a means of discussing complaints internally and with the explosion of social media, it only makes sense for these same employees to voice their frustrations out in the open on Facebook, Twitter, etc.  And that just makes everything spread like wildfire.  And to make things worse, some of these companies just fail to even address the complaints, and instead, send a canned, generic response which then adds fuel to the fire as more staff jump in igniting more attention from the outside world.  See the vicious cycle?

As we think about great companies and the bad, we think about the brand image.  The article went further to highlight a Weber Shandwick study (see study here) on company reputation and found that 63% of Execs say their companies’ market values are tied to reputations.  That doesn’t shock me.  How much do we hold Apple, Google, IBM in high regard?  Look at their stock prices… 561.70, 665.87, and 190.29, respectively as of November 21, 2012 4PM EST).  If you’re like me, you believe they have pretty good reputations and that they’ve got pretty good track records (in general) with their employees.

And you know what?  It’s not just about the employees of Wal-Mart, too, who actually now miss out on some nice family time.  I mean granted, to get ready for Black Friday at 12AM or 6AM still calls for some work on Thursday, but 8PM on Thursday just forces staffers to move up that time table.  However, it’s not just the staffers, right?  Thinking about it from a supply chain perspective, all the different movements in the supply chain also requires shippers, transporters (i.e. truckers), customer service centers (call centers), and the like to also move their time table up. 

So as you consider Wal-Mart and other retailers’ employees, consider the holistic view of everyone involved who makes Black Friday happen.  I guess we should start calling it Black Thursday or Black Thanksgiving.  Not sure how I feel or if I’ll be out elbowing my way to the latest and greatest deals, but I’ll take the time now to give thanks to the hardworking men and women who make commerce happen, if you wanted to work or not.  

And of course, I give thanks to YOU for reading… stay tuned for my thoughts on culture.  I ended up writing more than I thought so I’ll make this part 1 of… a couple. Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanks,
Supply Chain Ninja

Going hand-in-hand with my most recent post about how everyone copies one another (How to Survive: Read the Market or Just Simply Read What’s On Your R&D Presentation), I received this in my email as part of my newsletter subscription to Strategy+Business — the article is titled “The Value of Being Second” by Oded Shenkar (see article here).

In the article, I nod my head in agreement with every word.  Shenkar cites a chapter from Eli Broad’s The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking.  I like to think I’m a thinker (else, why would I have a blog?), and I’m also a perceiver of the world.  That is, I like to sit back — no wait, I lay in bed unable to sleep at night — and reflect on the world around me.  And so I sit there and I think about how so many of the former companies of great stature, great products have just disappeared out of existence while new companies just take the world by storm.  Again, going back to my previous article where I talk about the Xerox’s and Best Buy’s of the world, it’s no longer needed or even desired to be the first kid on the block with a new product, service, or whatever else.  

As an aspiring entrepreneur, too, being a Co-Founder of Body Boss Fitness, I get to network with other entrepreneurs and hear lectures and presentations from successful entrepreneurs like Charlie Goetz (a Professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School), David Cummings (Founder and CEO of Pardot who just got acquired by ExactTarget for $95.5M after only a few years in existence!), etc.  They all say the same message that Shenkar speaks of in his article and what Broad wrote in his book — the market is changing and no longer is innovation and first-movers necessary to be successful.  Instead, it’s the guys who follow the first-movers who capitalize on the first-movers’ failures and mistakes, and they get to leverage the companies coming in second don’t have to educate the market.  Of course, second-movers come in with a new twist as the many entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to would say, including myself.  I especially like the analogy Shenkar cites from Broad: it’s like hiking.  The guy in the front has to clear the brush and is getting cut up and does all the hardwork.  However, he paves the way for the guy following who just simply walks the same path with less investment.

Of course, there are many benefits, too, of being the innovator and first to the market including brand name and access to the technology and more.  And then there’s me, whom I very much hope to be a builder of the future, and wouldn’t mind being the guy at the front of the line hiking.  I want my name out there because if done right, too, the first-mover can keep its place as number 1 in the market place.  The key here is the need to also continually innovate.  (I’m finally getting around to tying this post to my previous post.)  If you can continually innovate, you’ll keep ahead of the curve and you’ll reap the rewards and leave second, third-, n-movers behind you.  Don’t be stagnant.  Or be stagnant and be content to play second fiddle in the future (or no play at all).

And so in closing, I want you all to appreciate coming in second because when done right, coming in second just positions you for first place next year.  But if you’re willing to invest and keep innovation high and strong, keeping the pole position is certainly achievable.  When I hike, yes, I like to lead.  I may be the cut up by the brush and I have to be the one to clear it, but I like that. I like the challenge.  I’m okay with paving the way for others to follow because in the end, it’s for the good of the group.  Do know, though, that while I’m in front, I’m running.  So I’m keeping my place at the front.  You’ll just have to work that much harder to keep up.


[1] Shenkar, Oded. The Value of Being Second.  In Strategy-Business. [Website]. Retrieved November 1, 2012, from  http://www.strategy-business.com/article/ac00041?gko=ba14e&cid=BL20121025&utm_campaign=BL20121025