Surviving supply chain disruptions requires good communication, nimble thinking (with video)

A screenshot of two women.

As company leaders and managers emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, they should take away three lessons learned and integrate those lessons into their midterm and long-term planning, according to Heather Sheehan, executive director of AWESOME, a nonprofit group that focuses on advancing women in supply chain leadership.

Those three lessons are: effective communication at all levels; the need to hire and develop good talent; and the importance of hiring people who are good problem solvers, Sheehan said Wednesday during American Shipper’s Global Trade Tech virtual summit. 

“Leaders have to be open and vulnerable in their communication to balance optimism and realism,” Sheehan said during a fireside chat entitled “Leadership and Logistics in the ‘Next Normal.’”

Sheehan also stressed the importance of hiring good problem solvers, those who can understand the root causes of a problem and come up with solutions to address them.

Hassett Logistics President Michelle Halkerston said open communication was key to getting her company’s teams to rally together and meet customers’ needs during the coronavirus pandemic. Her company provides logistics services to the domestic airfreight market. Hassett also offers 3PL services, and it has been a trucking carrier for more than 40 years.

During the height of the pandemic, Halkerston realized that effective communication was critical in order to conduct remote leadership successfully. That communication consisted of giving employees continuous updates, not just about what was happening within the company but also around the world, she said. 

“The one thing I wanted to make sure they understood is: ‘Don’t worry about your job. Don’t worry about Hassett. Your job is safe. The company is safe. Take that off your worry list and focus on yourselves,’” Halkerston said. 

Hassett’s leadership focused on three areas: ensuring the safety and health of their teams, some considered essential workers and unable to work remotely; understanding customers’ needs; and working with airline and ground partners to work on those customers’ needs.

“To say that it’s been interesting would be a huge understatement. … Like every business out there when the pandemic hit, we were faced with making a lot of quick decisions that were going to be impactful and doing that in light of very little data and changing information on what seemed like a daily basis,” Halkerston said. 

While Hassett thrived during the pandemic, in large part because of its involvement in e-commerce, other companies weren’t so fortunate. Factors such as production shutdowns and a severe drop-off in the demand for a company’s services hampered businesses that weren’t deemed essential, according to Sheehan.

However, many of the companies that faced challenging circumstances also were part of traditional supply chains that focused on costs and long planning horizons. Their supply chains’ limited flexibility prevented them from turning into “something that really elevates and provides to end customers,” she said.  

Supply chains now are realizing the importance of being nimble and using technology to handle disruptions, Sheehan said. 

As logistics companies and supply chain stakeholders look beyond 2020, Sheehan would like to see three outcomes from this year. One is “a real, impactful acceleration of diversity in our businesses” so that companies can benefit from having insights gleaned from diverse company teams. Another is the continuation of efficiencies that have resulted from working virtually. And a third is the realization of how important public and private funds are to support transportation infrastructure.

“This is a great time to put people to work making those infrastructure improvements,” Sheehan said. 

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

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