“All You Need Is Love”: Unpacking the book “Flow: How The Best Supply Chains Thrive”

A Guest Blog by Rajinder Bhandal Ph.D., University of Leeds

My colleague Rajinder provides a thoughtful commentary on our most recent book publication: Flow: How The Best Supply Chains Thrive, Rob Handfield, PhD and Tom Linton. Here are her thoughts and original sentiments.

Thanks to Rob Handfield and Tom Linton, I’ve got a new book to add to my collection! Over the festive season I decided to treat myself and indulge in: ‘Flow: How The Best Supply Chains Thrive’. It was a wonderful opportunity to fully immerse myself into the concept of flow in the context of supply chains. The notion of flow is approached from a refreshingly modern perspective, drawing on science, philosophy, information technology, geology, history, metaphysics, as well as the natural world.

In fact, it got me thinking about the strength, consistency, and solidarity of relationships within and across a supply chain setting. For instance, managing, building, and sustaining, relationships with suppliers, customers, buyers, managers, co-workers, to name just a few. Perhaps we can unpack this a little further by shifting our attention to love!

I purchased my book from Amazon. By the way, Handfield and Linton nicely remind us in their own book, that Amazon actually started off in the business of selling books online! Do you remember those days?!

Which ‘love’ language do you speak?

Have you heard of ‘the five love languages? This notion was first coined by Gary Chapman, in what turned out to be the number 1 New York bestselling book: The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. Essentially, the main message from the book suggests that, in the context of a romantic relationship, partners tend to show love in 5 ways:

  • Love language No.1: Words of affirmation
  • Love language No.2: Quality time
  • Love language No.3: Receiving gifts
  • Love language No.4: Acts of service
  • Love language No.5: Physical Touch

 The reality is that in a loving relationship, an individual has a particular love language. In other words, one might express love to their significant other via ‘love language No.2: quality time’ and ‘love language No.3: receiving gifts’ and hold these in high regards in comparison to the other remaining love languages. However, their partner might have a different love language, in which they regard love language No.4: acts of service as the only way to show love.

What we have here, is a situation in which two people are speaking two very different love languages. Due to this difference and imbalance in their love language, it may lead to potential conflict, arguments, or feelings of being unappreciated in a relationship.

Thus, it is valuable to recognise that what might be ‘your’ primary love language, in order to feel accepted and appreciated in a relationship, might not be the same as your partner!

Supply chain love

With that said, is it possible to apply the five love languages concept to help iron out or rescue any supply chain related relationship issues?  Or at best, is it worth trying to understand, discover, or even spell out the love language in a supply chain setting?

Thanks to Handfield and Linton’s work on ‘Flow: how the best supply chains thrive’ I’ve got the ball rolling on this…

Words of affirmation: “The word” …Say the word I’m thinking of

Communication is at the heart of longevity in relationships in the context of supplier relationships:

“Reassessing and strengthening relationships with people across the supply chain, from material suppliers to CEOs, is especially important now. One critical step is communication: re-set supplier relationships, and have personal conversations with CEOs to align strategic plans with current state of the supply base” (p. 218).

Quality time: Keep calm and don’t rush things

Perhaps one can just ask for a drop more time to prevent orders from being rushed:

“Unfortunately, most of our supply chains are completely misaligned. This is because most supply chain designs are extremely clunky, making them ill-suited to uncertainty, random events, spikes and lulls in demand, and unexplained behaviours that seem to come out of nowhere. When this happens, buyers, planners, and expeditors spend most of their 12-hour days fighting fires. They are rushing orders or on the phone with suppliers, begging and pleading with them to expedite or postpone a shipment or cancel an order” (p. 156, 157).

Receiving gifts: It’s not the gift, but the thought that counts!

In the book, Handfield and Linton make a splendid point, highlighting that trust and good quality data is a must. The importance of high-quality data is the basis of effective decision making:

“Our experience is that digital dexterity requires high-quality data. Individuals need to be able to trust the data they are relying on to make decisions. If the data cannot be trusted, spit-second decision-making cannot occur, People will simply delay decisions until they feel confident about what the data is telling them” (p. 140).

Acts of service: Sharing [data] is caring

Perhaps one way to overcome some of the challenges of poor data in supply chains is through such acts of service.

“Allowing one group of people to control data and keep it to themselves can slow down and destabilize performance. On the other hand, if an organization shines a light on data and allows both employees and external partners to view and interpret the information and collaborate in the process, business value is created” (p.136).

Physical Touch: Let’s agree and celebrate with a firm handshake!

The need for an all-inclusive culture with a sense of camaraderie and shared vision is going to be the way forward:

“If supply chain management executives are truly committed to moving toward evolutionary design, one of the first major shifts will be in the way that organizations in supply chains define their relationships, as stated in their contracts” (p.82).

Remind me of Newton’s third law again???

Handfield and Linton present a case that there is a correlation among supply chains that flourish and constantly change and managerial innovate thinking alongside action. Clear indication is given that supply chains can and will thrive. However, an organisational cultural change in mindset is needed, with regards to the etiquette of sharing data:

What is needed is a cultural shift whereby people in different functions are willing to lose control of their data by allowing it to be shared with other business functions” (p.134).

The application of the concept of FLOW is path towards supply chain agility and a glimpse into the supply chains of the future. In sum, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, thanks to Newton’s third law, we know this. Can we perhaps dither for a minute or two and capture the essence of love and the love languages in the context of supply chain love…. What do you think?