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Thoughts From Progressive Supply Chain Leadership

Reprinted from Healthcare Purchasing News, July 2015

What ignites a progressive supply chain leader?

by Rick Dana Barlow

Diving into the vast searching pool online for the "best" leadership skills and leadership skills tests is a lot like trying to get somewhere fast on Interstate 5 in the Los Angeles or I-94 in the Chicago metropolitan areas around rush hour. The volume of traffic (information) clogging the roadway leaves you dazed, confused and scrambling to make sense of what to do.

Everyone seemingly has his or her own opinions on what works, what doesn’t, why and what you need to do to fix it.

Corporate (and "lifestyle") coaches cough up a quiver of motivational banalities on character, commitment, communication and confidence as a blueprint for success. You can take a countless variety of clever quizzes and tests to determine whether you possess any notable leadership qualities or see if you exhibit habits of highly successful people. Much of it centers on the warm, soft and fuzzy areas linked to personality traits, balancing those alpha male/assertive female tendencies with the underlying fundamentals of a servant leadership mindset.

Some might consider all of the high-brow babbling to be mindless gobbledygook. In one sense, it’s hard to argue against it. But for every pound of cotton candy on display you might find an ounce of something nutritious and substantial.

Outside of healthcare, supply chain embraces the enormous volume of leadership tests and tutorials because the profession represents an immense component and important contributor to manufacturing and retail success that fuels the overall economy.

Supply chain inside healthcare, however, represents more of a smaller, niche community that peeks over to non-healthcare industries for useful tips, but remains somewhat steadfast in a self-prescribed uniqueness, sniffing that "healthcare is different."

Regardless, the healthcare supply chain can, should and does maintain its own cadre of progressive thinking leaders.

Healthcare Purchasing News tapped into that vein of knowledge for insights and outtakes from more than a dozen recognized industry leaders acknowledged by their peers. Here’s what propelled them to success.

Lynn Britton

Who is he? Britton currently serves as CEO of Mercy, Chesterfield, MO, one of the pre-eminent integrated delivery networks in the nation, after rising through the ranks of retail and then hospital supply chain management. He also was elected into the Bellwether Class of 2013 in Bellwether League Inc.’s hall of fame for healthcare supply chain leadership.

What attribute/characteristic defines the progressive supply chain leader? It’s undoubtedly perseverance — being faithful to the struggle. The key is to never give up and to be constructively dissatisfied so you are always reaching to perform even better. It’s how you progress, move forward and evolve the work.

What career advice would you give to achieve leadership status? Leaders must be prepared to periodically reinvent themselves. We all develop styles and behaviors and we get very comfortable. There is a lot of talk today about disruptive change agents. Sometimes we need to disrupt how we lead so we find the best ways to move our organization forward. We have to step back and ask ourselves, ‘what is going to work?’ and change if it’s not what comes naturally to us. We must be willing to change in order to be relevant and effective.

What motivates and shapes progressive supply chain leadership during adversity? We have to remember that the work we do in difficult times is going to sustain the organization for years to come. You have to be dedicated to the purpose of your organization. It’s what drives you every single day. We are a part of a 180-year-old-plus mission, and God forbid that on our watch it wouldn’t continue. It keeps me awake at times and it wakes me up every day. Our work must ensure the mission and our organization lives on for the next generation.

What’s the biggest challenge progressive supply chain leaders face? Leaders get too comfortable. Again, it’s about stepping back and reinventing yourself from time to time to be more effective.

Nancy LeMaster

Who is she? LeMaster currently serves as Vice President, Supply Chain Transformation at BJC HealthCare, St. Louis, where she’s dedicated more than two decades of her hospital supply chain career to performance improvement initiatives even before they became fashionable in the industry lexicon.

What attribute/characteristic defines the progressive supply chain leader? Persistence. You are trying to move a diverse group of stakeholders away from the status quo toward an unfamiliar future state.  There will be many turns and twists in the path forward and you have to be persistent and keep both a compelling vision and a clear road map in front of people.

What career advice would you give to achieve leadership status? It’s all about trust and "the why." First, you have to be trustworthy and earn the trust of others. People won’t take risks with you or follow your lead if they don’t trust you. Second, people need to feel your passion and understand "why" you are doing something. The "what" isn’t very motivating, but the "why" will engage people and cause them to want to create the future with you.

What motivates and shapes progressive supply chain leadership during adversity? Going back to the “why” we are in this business – to help other people. A quick walk through one of our hospitals always reinforces the importance of our work and helps me keep the patient in the center of all we do. I believe every dollar we waste in an inefficient healthcare supply chain is a dollar that can’t be spent on prevention or care.

What’s the biggest challenge progressive supply chain leaders face? Balancing the need to be a change agent and move your organization into the future with providing critical day-to-day services. It is easy to become totally immersed in the day-to-day operations and not allocate the time required to develop the future state and gain the support and resources necessary to achieve the vision.

Anthony Trupiano

Who is he? Trupiano currently serves as Senior Vice President, Supply Chain at WellStar Health System, Marietta, GA, which earned HPN’s 2011 Supply Chain Department of the Year award under his watch. In fact, Trupiano is the only supply chain executive to date to own the distinction of leading two different organizations to HPN’s distinguished and distinctive award. Prior to WellStar, Trupiano served as Network Vice President, Supply Chain Management, a 2007 award winner SSM Health Care — St. Louis.

What attribute/characteristic defines the progressive supply chain leader? The ability to communicate effectively in order to build strong relationships across the organization is critical to the success of a progressive supply chain leader. Supply chain interacts with a variety of constituents, physicians, administrators, suppliers and staff. Each relationship requires a slightly different set of communication skills.

What career advice would you give to achieve leadership status? The trust level between suppliers and providers has been low for too many years. Compared to other industries, healthcare supply chain is in some areas decades behind and we cannot hold on to the strictly transactional relationships we have fostered for so many years. I believe healthcare reform is going to force the formation of greater trust between suppliers and supply chain to drive out the inefficiency that exists on both sides of the relationship.

What motivates and shapes progressive supply chain leadership during adversity? I am energized by change.  I find that having a network of peers to bounce ideas off and to discuss challenges helps in terms of coming up with creative solutions and dealing with adversity.

What’s the biggest challenge progressive supply chain leaders face? I think in some organizations, the C-suite is still trying to figure out where supply chain fits in the organization.  Progressive supply chain leaders need to be thinking about how they can get a seat at the table when new programs are being considered or as a resource for assisting in the reduction of all non-labor costs.  It is up to us to develop the skill sets necessary to branch out into other areas.

Bob Simpson

Who is he? Simpson currently serves as President and CEO, LeeSar and Cooperative Services of Florida Inc., a vast shared services organization that fortifies healthcare systems on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Since the late 1970s, Simpson’s career has spanned local and federal healthcare agencies, hospitals and healthcare systems, several suppliers and a regional purchasing group. A member of the Bellwether Class of 2012, Simpson also earned HPN’s 1991 Materials Manager of the Year award.

What attribute/characteristic defines the progressive supply chain leader? One attribute/characteristic that defines a leader is one who is willing to take risk and put his/her job on the line every day to achieve success. Playing safe in today’s environment will not give you the results you need to re-engineer your healthcare systems’ supply chain to meet the cost containment challenges of today and tomorrow. Managing the norm will bring little or no value to the community we serve. Looking at our costs differently in how we purchase, receive, distribute and utilize our supplies is a basic requirement for our future leaders.

What career advice would you give to achieve leadership status? You must develop a strong working relationship with the suppliers that service your healthcare facilities. It is only by working together with no middle man that these relationships can result in redesigning your supply chain model for the future challenges we face.

What motivates and shapes progressive supply chain leadership during adversity? The ability given to you by the people you report to. To take risks, step outside the box, work closely with the medical staff and your suppliers to find and deliver additional savings and value by looking at the supply chain process differently.

What’s the biggest challenge progressive supply chain leaders face? Spending too much time looking and not enough time doing! Today’s norm must be changed, and every person and process that touches any product or service from the time it is produced until the time it is consumed must be evaluated and eliminated where it makes sense to make the supply chain more efficient. Take action to deliver more positive results every day.

Tom Derry

Who is he? Derry is CEO of the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), which celebrates its centennial this year, and a staunch advocate of supply chain’s contribution to organizational success. “In a low-growth global economy, companies’ competitive advantage often comes down to the speed and agility of their supply chains,” he said. “Financial analysts are scrutinizing companies’ earnings for insights into how effectively they’re managing their supply chains. With so much at stake, today’s supply chain management professionals have the opportunity to make a profound difference to their organizations. The more they become masters of their craft, the larger the contribution they can make.”

What attribute/characteristic defines the progressive supply chain leader? The most progressive supply leaders are focused on continuous improvement and learning on the part of the organization. That means building a process to test for performance and competency gaps, and addressing thorough opportunities for targeted training and development. The ISM Mastery Model is a competency framework that can help organizations with this. It’s a free resource available on the home page of the ISM Web site.

What career advice would you give to achieve leadership status? It’s a trap to focus on being best-in-class in executing the supply function for the business as it exists today at the expense of evolving the organization so that it will be equally effective in executing in the business in its future state.

What motivates and shapes progressive supply chain leadership during adversity? Knowing that their success is critical to attaining the organization’s strategic objectives and its financial performance.

What’s the biggest challenge progressive supply chain leaders face? Seeing the scope of their responsibilities as driving revenue growth through sourcing innovation as much as protecting the bottom line through cost reduction.

Ray Seigfried

Who is he? Seigfried serves as the Senior Vice President of Administration, Clinical and Materiel Operations, at Christiana Care Health System, Newark, DE. He is one of a growing number of supply chain executives reaching the C-suite to make a difference, and is a member of the Bellwether Class of 2012. Further, his organization earned HPN’s 2008 Sterile Processing and Distribution Department of the Year award.

What attribute/characteristic defines the progressive supply chain leader? In my opinion, one of the most important characteristics for progressive supply chain leaders is to possess the ability to think differently about current problems and solutions. Progressive supply chain leaders have a full grasp of today’s proven standards but they do not see those standards as the Holy Grail. Today’s standards exist for us to invent new ways and processes that will enhance, improve, or, hopefully, reinvent an entire standard.

For example, two decades ago at Christiana Care Health System, we needed to improve the selection process of very expensive clinical technology for our capital budget. Traditionally, these types of big-purchase decisions were made by some combination of an executive management team — i.e., the CEO, COO and representatives from both the finance and clinical departments.

The consequence of this traditional process was that CEOs were placed in a position where they had to explain to doctors or department chairs as to why their clinical technology request was denied. Additionally, the process was viewed as political and arbitrary. As manufacturers created more complex and sophisticated technologies, this type of decision-making process became increasingly difficult for any one individual to justify.

Thanks to the expert help from my colleagues in executive management, we created a more value-based decision-making process grounded in established criteria, reason, inclusivity and collaboration.

What career advice would you give to achieve leadership status? My one piece of advice is for supply chain leaders to hold tight to the courage and conviction they possess when they present new processes that are met by others with skepticism. Some of your ideas will be very successful and others will fail - but those failures turn into opportunities if you are open to learning from them.

What motivates and shapes progressive supply chain leadership during adversity? Supply chain leaders who introduce new ways of performing work will always face some level of adversity and uncertainty since they are introducing a change in process. Personally, my motivation is rooted in my desire to improve and redesign processes that ultimately enhance our ability to care for our patients and their families.

What’s the biggest challenge progressive supply chain leaders face? The biggest challenge I face is the fear of being lost during a journey aimed at discovering a new supply chain process. Stay tenacious, and supply chain leaders not only will overcome the fear of being lost but also will discover new processes that emerge from this journey. As the great J.R.R. Tolkein noted: “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Frank Kilzer

Who is he? Kilzer, a member of Bellwether League Inc.’s Honoree Class of 2010, retired last year after nearly five decades in healthcare supply chain management at a system in North Dakota where he also served as one of the industry’s pioneering champions for the use of bar-code technology dating back to the mid-1970s.

What attribute/characteristic defines the progressive supply chain leader? It will be important for progressive supply chain leaders to be realistic in understanding the current state of the supply chain. However, to be progressive the supply chain leader must be a visionary and have the ability to assess the future state of the supply chain, then, be able to rally whatever support is necessary to move in the right direction.

Why? There is a risk that supply chain leaders can become too consumed by process or procedural tasks and although these are important it is just as important, or even more important, to recognize the roles they have in assuring the safety of every patient that comes to their organization seeking healing in their lives. The progressive supply chain leader must understand that everything purchased in their organization will in some way touch the lives of the patients they are serving. If something goes wrong they must be prepared to answer the questions that will follow: What items were used, where did these items come from, was there a breach in sterility, did the item contain latex, was it from a recalled lot or batch? Being able to effectively track and report what was used on every patient right down to the lot, batch or serial number, is as important as assuring the sterility of every item entering the surgical field, knowing the percentage of staff who washed their hands before touching a patient, or the number of hospital-acquired infections.

What career advice would you give to achieve leadership status? A progressive supply chain leader must have a solid working relationship with every department manager throughout the organization, as well as their staff. Through this relationship they must be able to listen to the concerns these people have with the current supply chain, engage as many people as possible with defining solutions and as a progressive supply chain leader use their knowledge of rules, regulations and expectations of the organization develop the strategies to address the concerns that were identified while at the same time being as efficient and cost effective as possible. Visibility, sharing expertise and providing education on how important the supply chain is to patient safety is an essential element to being successful.

What motivates and shapes progressive supply chain leadership during adversity? Healthcare is a unique industry. It is a ministry, and supply chain leaders are an integral part of that healing ministry, helping to heal those who come to their organization when they need healthcare for themselves or a loved one. I can’t think of a better motivator for a progressive supply chain leader during times of adversity, stress and uncertainty than to maintain a focus on the patients they are serving.

What’s the biggest challenge progressive supply chain leaders face? The challenges will be different in each organization. To be a progressive supply chain leader they must stay abreast of trends and challenges in the industry and understand the impact these will have on their organization as well as their supply chain. Being able to address whatever happens will require a strong relationship with their colleagues, a trust and confidence level with senior leadership and the governing board and an ability to communicate what strategic actions are being taken to stay abreast of whatever happens and how these actions will be implemented.