Change Management

Successful Change Management in Supply Chain is about Process & People

By Published On: June 30, 2023


Change Management has taken on a larger role in supply chains as automation and more specialized skill sets are increasingly required to stay competitive. Change isn’t always easy or intuitive but it’s essential. Managing this change involves creating buy-in for every stakeholder on every level.

Consider for a moment the following:

  • Many people under the age of 30 have only driven electric vehicles.
  • We all carry computers in our pockets that track our movements and allow us unfettered access to all the technology we use daily.
  • Employment norms have shifted to include remote work and the requisite technology to accommodate it.
  • Artificial intelligence influences everything from writing to data analytics and modeling.

Change is relevant in all industries. But let’s use the beverage industry because that’s where I come from. What’s unique about the beverage industry and change is that the consumer has changed. Employers and companies have to change when the needs of the consumer change. There has been a distinct evolution in product portfolio, particularly in ready to drink products – less calories, better taste, more utility. These changes have an Impact on the product itself as well as packaging. These things drive massive change in cost structures, procurement, production landscape, route to market, and end to end supply chain. Working in this industry has given me unique insights into change.

What does all this mean? It means that you either adjust to a disrupted landscape or you fail to compete. It is not optional. Each of the above points requires manufactured goods that need to be transported. Where are those goods manufactured and how are they transported? Both of those are transforming as well, which require change management tactics.

Connecting Self Interest to the Change

Remember, change management is all about understanding each employee’s self interest. We need to connect the change that is occurring to positive outcomes for the employee. “What’s In it for Me” (WIIFM) is a question we want to ask each employee at multiple steps along the transformation. Change is difficult and can be scary. A defensive posture is natural for those who have become accustomed to a certain way of doing things. All too often, a manager or organizational authority figure rules with an iron fist and simply makes the change without procuring necessary buy-in to maximize success rates of said change.

People who are affected by change can have a negative perception of the change. It’s natural to get defensive when change is forced on you. Formal change management addresses this and takes action which helps people understand where and how their self interest is addressed in the change.

How your individual team members participate in the change improves their own outcomes – which is a rarely addressed aspect. People work for “I, inc.” first. This creates new opportunities for team members and makes the company more secure with more stable employment. It is crucial to overtly connect change your direct reports fear with their own self interest.

Program Management/Change Management for Large Scale Transformations

The key to a prosperous transformation lies in the ability to execute intricate changes on a grand scale. A lot of supply chain leaders work towards successful and large scale transformations, but it’s hard to do. Extensive change programs that result in substantial and sustained performance enhancement require a lot of attention to details matched with a thorough understanding of your team’s capabilities and deficiencies.

It is also a fact that a high percentage of large scale transformations fail. Two characteristics of failed transformation are lack of robust program management and change management capabilities and resources. Cold. hard. fact.

Getting to this point involves myriad tactics, including but not limited to, managing the implementation of improvement tactics and maintaining the organizational stamina during a process that can span several years. Deploying a few critical design elements into a transformation program can significantly impact the outcome, separating the winners from the losers.

Becoming Familiar with a Transformation

Absence makes the heart grow fonder and familiarity breeds contempt. In a Pandemic impacted world, we are all likely a bit contemptuous over the technologies that allowed businesses to continue operating remotely in a high capacity.

Many people reading this article have already had at least one virtual meeting today. If not, you more than likely have one scheduled. Prior to 2020, the thought of conducting so much business via video conferencing was far from our minds. But now, video calls are industry standard across every major employment sector. Why? Because there was a major sea change that forced this adjustment. Remote working has become the norm for more than 50% of the workforce. This requires rapid adaptation in order to remain competitive. Managing this transformation requires adjustments.

This is just one example of getting out of the way of change and realizing that there’s value in said change for everyone. The question becomes, “can you manage it?”

Leading from the Front in Turbulent Times

Make no mistake about it, these are turbulent times across the supply chain landscape. As our friend Stacy Green, SVP at Keurig Dr Pepper, said on our Supply Chain Careers podcast, “staying calm in turbulent times and not throwing fuel on the fire during transitions” is essential and a necessary trait for effective leaders. We’ve got to always manage change calmly.

  • Lead from the front.
  • Communicate consistently.
  • Support the team.
  • Set the tone that supports those who bring “off track” items up early.
  • Don’t punish team members who bring up problems, reward them.
  • Coach accountability.
  • Plan for things to go wrong.
  • Remain agile.

Can’t fix problems that you don’t know about. The good leaders will reward transparency about mistakes and all the “red lights.” If you’re on top of those, then you can only fall so far. But if your team is afraid to come to you with problems, mistakes, errors, or poor performance schemes, then said red lights can metastasize. Reward both good work and the attention to bad work.

Change doesn’t happen by only doing what has worked in the past. Change happens by looking around the next curve for anticipated obstacles and adjusting current tactics.

There’s a Formulaic Science to Change Management

It’s like antibiotics, if you take a course, you’re gonna get better. If you follow the scientific standards of change and program management, things will get better. This is why you engage with professionals who have done this for a living. They can guide you through this and customize a change management plan for your specific needs. Just as you won’t use a plumber to reconstruct your ACL in your knee, you need specialized and experienced people to help create this path. But, the numbers don’t lie: use this proven process and change will be done right.


20 years ago, flip phones were barely coming on the market, the Motorola RAZR being the height of this technology.

And just 10 years later, smart phones had taken over. The radical and rapid disruption that technology has placed on our worlds has forced change on all of us. This same rapid disruption impacts supply chain in major ways. Change doesn’t always come gradually, and more of it was forced upon the world with a global pandemic.

Now, we live in a very disrupted world. That means change is ever present. How we handle said change and manage it on an enterprise level can be the difference between success and failure. We can collect buy-in from every stakeholder, from bottom to top and have synergistic transformation or we can rule with an iron fist and hope for the best.

Whether its a smart phone or an electric vehicle, the world is changing and supply chains with it. Our adaptive capacity rests with our leaders. How will said change be guided and “what’s in it for me?” Success sometimes hinges on a leader’s willingness to relentlessly sell the value of the change, especially when external factors drive compressed change.

It’s good to consult experts on this topic if your organization is looking to make fundamental shifts and transformations. Some books on the topic to consider include: Heart of Change and Leading Change. 

Change Management Certifications are also available via ASCM’s certification process.


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