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Sage Advice: SNL, logistics, and a wet Italian cruise liner

Humor aside, NBC’s Saturday Night Live (SNL), logistics, and a submerged Italian cruise ship have a lot in common.
By John A. Gentle, President of John A. Gentle & Associates
February 01, 2012

Humor aside, NBC’s Saturday Night Live (SNL), logistics, and a submerged Italian cruise ship have a lot in common.

I recently watched a promo for SNL where the guest host was talking about the skit rehearsals and what a daunting task it is when things are changed, dropped, or added at the very last minute. The host said he did not know if he would be ready. To this, an SNL regular said: “The show doesn’t go on because you’re ready, it goes on because it’s 11:30 p.m. on Saturday night.” In other words: Ready or not, it’s show time.

The same, unfortunately, held true for Captain Schettino and the crew of his ship Costa Concordia—and so too is the reality of logistics and supply chain management.

With the exception of transactional activities, extraordinary logistical events occur at random times and your team needs to be well trained in order to successfully mitigate the challenge.

The simple question is: Will you be ready? However, the better questions to ask are: Does your team consistently train, and if so do you only train on transactional activities like tendering freight? Or, do you train only after an audit finds shortcomings?

It’s not that we were never exposed to the concept of training or rehearsing. Looking back on our lives, we were taught to practice everything from our first grade play to fire drills, and from academic exercises like multiplication tables and pre-SAT tests to group activities like musicals and sports.

So, what happened to all of those training and rehearsing skills? Well, we know it wasn’t part of the culture on the Costa Concordia’s command staff. Is rehearsing and training only for actors, athletes, students, singers, pilots, NASA, and the military? Sometimes, I think that logistics professionals have become intellectually arrogant and feel that they are above training and rehearsing. Hopefully your company’s culture supports non-technical training and rehearsing and they don’t fall victim to the infamous ROI.

Most companies mainly focus their proactive training on transactional skills, safety, information systems, and human resource compliance; while rehearsing seems to be isolated to fire drills—and even then, getting some to comply is a challenge.

The reactional training is often based on unfortunate events and audits. As a result of the shipwreck off of Giglio Island, for example, new training procedures for pre-departure rehearsals will likely be implemented. What a disastrous and expensive way to introduce a seemingly logical process change.

So, do you and your employees know what the processes and rules are, where they are housed, and how they are accessed? Do you ask your team if they’re following the processes/protocols and accept a yes or no? If an audit tomorrow finds a variant, will you be surprised and say: “I thought we changed that.”

A good example of how things evolve is singing. You think after a while that you know the song, but over time you gradually begin to sing your version of the song. You or your colleagues may have rationalized that the song sounds better without regard for the consequences of those changes.

Your guiding principles must be embedded in your program and followed by everyone. Has your team slowly hijacked your programs, commitments, and processes? Teams that have chosen to micromanage your programs into something that they like just a little bit better are placing the integrity or reputation of your program with your carriers and customers at risk.

Have the courage to require your team to test and practice in spite of leadership concerns for ROI. Avoid the temptation of the adrenaline rush that comes from operating too close to the rocks.

It’s show time. Are you ready?

About the Author

John A. Gentle
President of John A. Gentle & Associates

John A. Gentle is president of John A. Gentle & Associates, LLC, a logistics consulting firm specializing in contract/relationship management and regulatory compliance for shippers, carriers, brokers, and distribution centers. A recipient of several industry awards, he has more than 35 years of experience in transportation and logistics management. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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