Attract cultural influencers to transform supply chain culture

Throughout 2022, supply chains have focused on rebuilding after the setbacks of the past two years. Executives have often focused on process standardization, improved data management, benchmarking, and identifying best practices. At the same time, supply chains in many companies have not been immune to the impact of the “Great Resignation” and the worker-centric new normal.

One of the key lessons of the past two years has been that supply chains must anticipate constant change. As a result, leaders are prioritizing collaboration and innovation across the supply chain. Supply chains must ensure they are investing in their people to forestall employee engagement issues and remain resilient in the face of ongoing change.

Improving collaboration and cultural changes often mean developing and improving corporate culture. APQC has identified cultural influencers – roles within an organization that can make a significant contribution to creating or maintaining corporate culture – as well as actions that help drive successful supply chain culture change.

Check out the related infographic from APQC.

organizational culture and subcultures

APQC defines organizational culture as an organization’s values, belief systems, leadership styles, collective unspoken assumptions, stories and rituals, as well as its character and direction. It contains elements such as mission and value statements, history and norms of behavior that shape daily life within an organization. Organizational culture is explicit (that is, expressed through documents such as values ​​or mission statements) and implicit (communicated through more subtle cues such as the look and feel of an office or workplace). Both explicit and implicit culture drive the employee experience in profound ways.

organizational subcultures. Businesses need to look more specifically at their organizations by also understanding their organizational subcultures. These are segments of the larger culture that have different cultural norms and values. Subcultures arise when people working on the same team, department, business unit, or functional role share common interpretations of the broader organizational culture. What sets subcultures apart from the broader organizational culture is that they tend to have different work norms, terminology, and understandings of how to carry out the organization’s mission and goals.

Figure 1: Barriers to improving supply chain processes

Source: APQC

The importance of culture. Organizational culture has the power to affect business performance, both positively and negatively, and also plays an important role in employee satisfaction and retention. The supply chain is not immune to workplace trends like the Great Resignation and Quiet Quiet; An organization’s culture can motivate employees to either stay or move to another company. An organization’s culture can also adversely affect the business through unexpected behavior, disengaged employees, wasted resources, and missed opportunities due to a lack of collaboration and cooperation between business units or across functions.

The need for a cultural change

To combat the problems that have plagued supply chains over the past two years, companies are trying to improve their processes as much as possible. As shown in Figure 1, organizations report a variety of barriers to improving their processes. Almost half of companies suffer from a lack of collaboration. More than a third of companies experience such limited employee engagement that it prevents supply chain improvement. Both problems arise directly from the organizational culture.

A lack of collaboration has been a problem in supply chains for some time, but recent material shortages and logistical disruptions have made it even more acute. Collaboration can enable supply chain professionals to find ways to overcome these issues, but only if it happens more quickly and at scale than many companies have. More importantly, organizations need to ensure they enable collaboration both between their employees and between their employees and external partners.

Workforce engagement is related to collaboration in that opportunities for employees to collaborate can encourage greater employee engagement. The pandemic and related issues, along with ongoing economic factors affecting workers, have led to reduced employee engagement in several industries. Additionally, the rise of hybrid and remote work has transformed the way employees interact with each other and their employers. Greater collaboration and more open communication, both within and between teams, can help employees feel more connected
the organization.

innovation and culture change

When asked about their top focus areas, 87% of supply chain organizations in the APQC study said innovation was one of the top areas. Within innovation, organizations are prioritizing several areas that require cultural change (Figure 2).

Incorporating innovation into corporate goals means changing the way the company works and how it approaches success. Similarly, adopting a culture of creativity and adopting new business models requires a change in how an organization perceives itself and how people interact across lines of business.

Figure 2: Innovation priorities within the supply chain

Source: APQC

Changing corporate culture requires a company to have a clear understanding of the nuances of how different teams work.

It also means that organizations need to be strategic about how to lead people to change.

Due to the nature of the work, supply chains have employees working in different roles and often in different locations. Organizations rely heavily on technology to create workable connections between groups. This can make it difficult for an organization to convey organizational culture.

Cultural tools and challenges

APQC’s research found that many organizations do not understand the roles within an organization that can help shape culture. They also lack an understanding of common challenges in defining and maintaining corporate culture.

Organizations can engage internal culture influencers to drive cultural change through both their actions and their words. Cultural influencers inspire or guide the actions of others to adopt practices and values ​​that are integral to an organization.

The most prominent of these cultural influencers are the leaders of an organization. More specifically, leaders can model desired behaviors to ensure a culture is created and strengthened at the top. They also communicate the importance of culture throughout the organization and support culture change initiatives. In many organizations, leaders can make or break culture. Employees closely monitor whether leaders are truly “keeping their word” when it comes to norms, values ​​and expected behavior.

Other roles within the organization also act as cultural influencers. For example, one function that can have a significant impact on culture is HR, as it sets policies that reinforce cultural expectations. Additionally, longer-serving employees can drive culture as they serve as experts on the unspoken rules of how the organization works. Other support functions such as process management, knowledge management and transformation offices also shape the culture as they enable changes in the way business is done.

Actions of culture influencers. After organizations have identified the cultural influencers of their employees, they can identify actions to drive cultural change. Organizations can divide these actions into three groups.

  1. Communication. Organizations should convey elements of culture such as mission and values ​​as well as enable two-way communication that helps employees to be heard.
  2. human capital management practices. Driving culture starts with the hiring process where the organization looks for both technical skills and cultural fit. Once employees join the organization, senior managers and HR can amplify messages and behaviors through the onboarding process, employee promotions, rewards, and employee engagement efforts.
  3. corporate events and materials. Rituals such as annual events, celebrations, town hall talks and regular business meetings convey how an organization works. Organizations can also create new rituals to drive new goals and behaviors. Additionally, showcasing artifacts such as old logos, marketing materials, and uniforms can provide a sense of continuity for what the organization values.

Figure 3: Common organizational culture challenges

Source: APQC

While an organization can go to great lengths to shape culture through the actions of cultural influencers, it must still take steps to address potential challenges before they derail cultural change.

challenges of culture change. Challenges to cultural change can come from many different directions. Approaches like gap analysis and cultural assessment tools like engagement surveys can help organizations gain insight into their current culture and pinpoint specific challenges before working to steer the culture in new directions. Figure 3 shows some of the most common factors that can derail culture. These cover a number of areas within the organization and are therefore the responsibility of different units within the company.

About APQC

APQC helps companies work smarter, faster and with more confidence. It is the world’s leading authority on benchmarking, best practices, process and performance improvement, and knowledge management. APQC’s unique structure as a membership-based non-profit organization makes it a differentiator in the marketplace. APQC works with more than 500 member organizations worldwide in all industries. With more than 40 years of experience, APQC remains a global leader in transforming organizations. Visit us at and learn how to make best practices your practices.

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