Everyone is familiar with the Boy Scout’s mantra, “Be prepared.” When the Boy Scout’s founder, Robert Baden-Powell, was asked, “Prepared for what,” he defined the motto to mean, “you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.” Seems like a tall order, right? But preparation is crucial – our customers deserve nothing less.
No one in logistics will ever forget the March 2021 Suez Canal obstruction. Caused by the Ever Given container ship that ran aground, this major accident resulted in the blockage one of the world’s busiest maritime routes for six days and a freeze in global trade, which cost approximately $10 billion per day.
Also seriously damaging the global supply chain, was the significant escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian war in 2022 along with the lingering impact the coronavirus pandemic. And just last month, Canadian dockworkers finally ended a 13-day strike, but not before severely affecting two of North America’s largest ports – the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Prince Rupert – resulting in a loss of over $5 billion in trade.
So, how do we prepare for disruptions of this magnitude? How do we improve our resiliency? How can we hope to truly thrive in this capricious industry? The answer is clear: Communication. Yet, as crucial as communication is to supply chain success and logistics in general – perhaps more so than any other industry on the planet – it is often times one of the biggest areas in need of improvement!
We can’t predict with certainty the challenges we will face: major weather issues, labor disputes, scarcities of resources, civil unrest, etc.; however, through the practice of clearer communications skills, in the form of early assessment and notice of emerging situations, we can be in a better position to respond quickly and more appropriately.
With the Suez canal blockage, the shipping industry needs to discuss how to prepare for and prevent these types of accidents in the future. Safety and how to manage the ever-increasing size of these vessels is no doubt being addressed. The massive weight and length of this ship, not to mention the failure to correctly consider the winds and weather, contributed to this accident. Crystal clear, honest communication might have helped to prevent this accident from damaging worldwide distribution lines.
Obviously, the logistics industry could not have prevented the global pandemic or the war between Ukraine and Russia. However, there were (and are) multiple mixed messages relayed.
And with regard to communications around the pandemic on the use of masks and social distancing during the period 2020 through 2022. I am sure we can all agree that the presence of one clear message would have helped. Although it would not have necessarily halted the impact of the pandemic, at least the industry would have been able to speak with one voice to their employees, their clients, and other stakeholders.
Now here we are in 2023 – and topping the list is the prevalence of labor disputes and major work stoppages. In fact, in a most recent example, trucking giant Yellow ceased operations July 31, putting 30,000 jobs at risk. A nearly century-old business, the trucking company was struggling with a massive debt load and was in a standoff with its labor union. The jury is still out on how this catastrophic regional disruption will impact the overall supply chain, but we will be watching.
Suspension, interruption, stoppage, cessation… whichever word you use to describe an event that disrupts the distribution of commodities by land, air, or sea, it is essential that those of us in leadership positions engage closely with our team to ensure they understand the circumstances surrounding any given tumult. In this way, they will be best equipped to put forth quick and creative work-around solutions designed to significantly minimize the ripples that disruptions can create.
At the end of the day, it boils down to being prepared, acting appropriately, and practicing the 4C’s of communication with your customers – and your employees, for that matter:
- Clear: Make the goal of your communications clear to your customer.
- Concrete: Ensure you share only the most important details and facts.
- Correct: Make sure what you’re suggesting is accurate. Bad information helps no one.
- Complete: Your message is complete when all relevant information is included in an understandable manner and there is a clear “call to action.”
Personally, I like to add one more “C” in the delivery of effective communications — “Courteous.” You want to ensure that you always address the concerns of your clients in a friendly, open, and honest manner, regardless of what the message is about. Be empathetic. Communicate with others as you would have them communicate with you.
If you follow this golden rule, you will not only be successful in logistics, but in life as well.
~ Roger Paredes
Prime Group CEO