The Covid-19 pandemic tipped the world of supply chain logistics upside-down. We know this because supply chain disruption analysis tells us so. In its report, ‘ Stock and supply chain issues in the UK ’, the ONS says: ‘Over recent years, the EU exit, coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, higher energy and commodity prices, and events such as the blockage of the Suez Canal have presented businesses with significant challenges when acquiring and maintaining their stock.’

The report was published just two months into the Russia-Ukraine conflict. In the months following the invasion, supply chain disruption worsened as we realised en masse our over-reliance on key energy and agricultural commodities (globally, as well as in the UK ).

In this brief article, we’ll outline how to handle supply chain disruption with strong leadership . Whatever the cause of supply chain disruption – Covid-19, conflict, semiconductor shortage – business leaders could sustain business operations by focusing on customers, clients and employees.

This rare period of disruption may represent an opportunity for well-drilled organisations to improve business resilience, and rewrite the rules of how the company operates.

Scrutinise operations, and include people

Perhaps one of the key areas a business could focus on during times of upheaval are operations. How a business works is prisoner to external influences such as supply chain efficiency. When these influences affect the running of an organisation, it may be natural to feel helpless. In fact, a report compiled by Keelvar says supply problems have led to more than half of survey respondents being ​‘​kept awake’​ at night. Being a sourcing professional is therefore stressful. 

Yet, everyone in an organisation may bear the weight of anxiety. The World Health Organization says the Covid-19 pandemic increased the prevalence of anxiety and depression by 25% . With 17 million working days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety ( HSE report ), it’s an issue business leaders would do well to address. Here are some pointers:

Look closely at current processes

To lessen the burden of operational flux during supply chain disruption, leaders might diligently scrutinise processes to see where to release pressure. It may help to have an effective data collection strategy in place. This may help employees cope with new issues that crop up, and smooth a path toward positive outcomes. One of the more effective ways to navigate a business through a period of transition, and to see how current processes work, is by adopting agile working methods . The approach should ideally include the setting of clear goals that follow a ‘transformation roadmap’ to ensure new business objectives are recognised and followed.

Be authentic

The key to employee buy-in for this process is to avoid acting like a startup business. Startups are startups for a reason: They are small and nimble, and don’t have to report in to a parent. A large, more established business has a different skeleton, with many factors to consider that require realistic, more appropriate solutions.

Be agile

Agile methodology may still work for established businesses, as continuous assessment, subsequent adjustments and diligent monitoring are universal strengths. And, as stressed by Startups : ‘A startup mentality can include existing businesses, as long as they operate with the same attitude on which they were founded.’

Employees could help alleviate supply chain disruption

Employees are vital to the success of business change, and can actually help counter the effects of the same supply chain disruption that causes employee anxiety. It means adapting to change, but change can be difficult. We compiled a list of six empathy-inspired change management tips that may help business leaders through this phase.

Yet, while existing employees are crucial in handling supply chain disruption, it may be beneficial to look at filling talent gaps to expedite the change process. Identifying gaps may be easier because of an agile strategy. While it may be difficult to fill talent gaps while skills are in short supply , organisations must look at improving recruitment processes to remain competitive and weather the storm.

Technology will help, too

Areas of the business that may need more attention include IT and digital capabilities. Switching to a system that handles real-time order monitoring and end-to-end inventory visibility requires specific skills. Business needs may demand better logistics operating models, too. The right balance of existing skills and new skills could help senior leaders navigate turbulence.

Having better data and analytics capabilities should maximise visibility and transparency. A more streamlined warehouse management system, for instance, ‘ is essential for alleviating labour shortage concerns and future-proofing against unexpected changes to the supply chain ’. Plus, knowing more about customer expectations (personalisation) and employee expectations (well-being, diversity, etc.) provides a big picture.

Artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA) and machine learning (collectively referred to as hyperautomation) may augment how an organisation balances the many facets of change via disruption. For instance, dynamic customer data could help reduce operating costs, says a Royal Mail insight report . Hyperautomation ( listed as one of Gartner’s top strategic trends ) may be the essential ingredient in quickly adapting to supply chain disruption.

There is only one thing certain …

Business leaders may withstand the uncertainty of supply chain disruption by accepting that nothing is certain. It’s a philosophical stance, yet perhaps an important one. Businesses can’t avoid uncertainty, but one might better manage and mitigate supply chain uncertainty by adopting the measures we’ve outlined in this article.

See disruption as an opportunity to change. People are at the heart of how well a business emerges from a period of great disruption. Combined with an enhanced technology stack, businesses may become future-proof and increase resilience.