Professional Courtesy: Oxymoron?

Professional Courtesy: Oxymoron?

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

Have you read the fine print in our key industry benchmarking studies recently? Over the years, response rates have declined to the point that one could legitimately challenge the validity of the data. The 2002 Georgia Tech outsourcing survey yielded 212 responses from 1,458 questionnaires; the J.P. Morgan study, 53 out of several hundred; and only 66 of the Fortune 500 saw fit to respond to a similar Northeastern University survey. While statisticians may argue that these response rates (13 to 14 percent) are adequate, it is difficult to accept that 66 firms are a cross section of the entire Fortune 500.

Ten years ago, logistics experts began touting the value of collaboration across the supply chain and in 1998 the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Standards group began serious promotion of Collaborative Planning, Forecasting and Replenishment. Some retailers such as Wal-Mart and Ace Hardware have been quite successful in this area. Many others have not.

In his most recent "State of Logistics Report," Bob Delaney stated, "It seems to us that collaboration is being over-taught, over-sold and over-published. We see nothing in the quarterly finished-goods inventory data being reported by public companies to support it."

While technology most often is identified as the major obstacle to effective CPFR, there is considerable evidence to suggest that lack of cooperation among and even within companies is a major factor. In the final analysis, the success or failure will be dictated by human skills, attitudes and actions.

Recently, I had occasion to attempt a small survey of 10 companies. My initial calls resulted in nine voice mails, and those messages plus two e-mails to each yielded two completed questionnaires and one refusal. The entire survey consisted of four questions that took about two and a half minutes to answer. Others have had similar experiences.

Why are we seeing so much of this type of behavior compared with the more open and cooperative attitudes of five to 10 years ago, particularly in our industry? The reasons are not all that clear. Certainly, the economy is impacting on behavior, as are the issues of downsizing, cost cutting, radically new technology and lack of job security. What is disturbing, however, is that most of the managers behaving in this manner are not impacted by these issues. They simply do not want to take the time.

While trying to find a way to salvage my survey, I received a call from someone I will call John, who said, "It has been a while and I just thought I would touch base. I''m networking." First of all, I hate that word. And secondly, I haven''t talked to John since 1992. Obviously, he is currently out of work and engaged in a crash program to establish a network. He might as well forget it. It won''t work. Building relationships is a lifelong, never-ending project and cannot be accomplished overnight.

I am not a relationship expert by any means but over the years, I have tried to develop circles of friends and associates who can be relied on for help, to share ideas or to offer advice. The circles are concentric and some are closer than others. Some people I talk to every week or month, some every five years.

Regardless of the frequency, you should not get in touch only when you or your company are in trouble. Networking should be a way of life, not something you do when you are in trouble or need a favor. I have made it a point to call the people in my so-called network periodically just to make sure they are in good health and things are going well. Networking is about building and nurturing relationships.

As a provider of services for a part of my career, I often have been frustrated by the failure of many people to extend the simple courtesies of answering letters or returning telephone calls. This frustration turns to bemusement when the telephone rings and one of these same individuals is now out of work and suddenly my new best friend.

Relationships are important but they require a lot of effort. If you wait until you are at a crisis in your career or your personal life before you attempt to develop a network of people who care, it is already too late. If you build it carefully and nurture it properly, when you are in need, your network will support you through your difficulties.

There is an old story about a group of boys who were trying to walk a railroad track but could only navigate a few feet before losing their balance. Finally, two of the boys bet they could walk the rail without falling off. Challenged to make good on their boast, they each stepped up on a rail, extended a hand to each other and walked the entire length of the track without difficulty.

Over the long run, we will accomplish much more by helping each other.

-- Lynch is principal of C.F. Lynch & Associates, a provider of logistics management advisory services, and author of "Logistics Outsourcing - A Management Guide." He can be reached at