The not-so-new normal: Why remote retailer and supplier performance management is so hard

The not-so-new normal

As part of adapting to the COVID-19 situation, many of us have begun working remotely to protect the key workers within our organisations to limit the spread. 

Whilst the reason for working from home may be new, remotely collaborating with our suppliers is far from it. However, our new working environments do provide a useful reason to reflect on our working practices in the pursuit of greater productivity and enjoyment in our work. Within this article, I share the common barriers that you – as a retail professional – will come across when mixing remote working with supplier collaboration.

Why it isn’t your fault

Before I share those barriers, it's important to contextualize this by framing the environment in which we work. Having an appreciation for the world in which you operate helps you to understand why things feel so hard sometimes. 

As retail knowledge workers, we spend most days wrestling with dozens of systems, thousands of spreadsheets and hundreds of suppliers. Within own brand, there’s the added complexity of suppliers and products - often spanning into multiple diverse product categories.

Each variable – like the number of systems, suppliers, products or categories – multiplies the complexity of your job. This leads to a lack of clarity and productivity where we can often only focus on the tip of the iceberg of problems and issues impacting the performance of our brands.

Too much “work about work”

The McKenzie Global Institute have done some really interesting research around this topic and estimate that 61% of our time is spent doing “work about work”. This includes the lower-value tasks like:

  • Coordinating
  • Scheduling
  • Data entry
  • Planning

This means that only around a third of your time is spent applying your professional experience, expertise and passion to the problems and opportunities within your organisation.

The huge variety of suppliers, products and categories also present a challenge for our IT colleagues, tasked with “one system to do it all”. Even where multiple systems are implemented to perform different functions, retailers have to continuously make compromises to suit the majority of use cases. This leads to too many workarounds to suit the many edge-cases.

The impact to those seeking to collaborate with suppliers is a stream of compounding challenges:

compounding challenges

Overcoming complexity

Overcoming the complexity of retail – whether we’re all working from home or back at our desks in the office - requires two things:

  1. One view of supplier and product performance
  2. Working with suppliers as one team

To create one view of supplier and product performance, you need to consolidate the data that informs the performance of your suppliers and products into one place and then give your team and your suppliers visibility through simple and intuitive dashboards. We’ve seen this first step alone reduce customer complaints by 17%.

Working with suppliers as one team starts with making it really easy to communicate and collaborate around the issues and opportunities that those dashboards may highlight. This has saved some of our clients millions of dollars/pounds by reducing the cost of poor quality.

Remote working is presenting a new challenge for many of us. But the old challenges of supplier engagement, supplier collaboration and supplier performance management remain. Is the time and mental capacity that you’ve possibly gained during “lockdown” your opportunity to tackle them once and for all?

David Taylor

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