Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors
December 8, 2017  |  ByJohn Tracy, NAW 2017 Chairman of the Board

I can’t imagine a situation where a company would not say that the key to its business is its talent, and that culture is a real company strength. This would be a little like any of us starting our conversation by saying that our service is bad.

The reality is that no matter what the real facts are or what our customers really think, all of us who run distribution businesses generally feel that our talent and culture are our strengths. I would suggest that every company feels this way, but distribution businesses are likely more passionate about it than most, simply because we don’t manufacture products and we generally offer products that are available elsewhere in the marketplace.

As with anything as complex as talent and culture, when we at Dot Foods started examining this closely many years ago, we had more questions than answers. We found the questions extremely helpful to this day, particularly when you’re in a distribution business where you don’t have complete exclusivity on any product and have to convince suppliers and customers that your distribution supply chain is the best option.

As an example, when you think about talent, I often think about the statement, “People are our greatest asset!” Again, I would suggest almost every company has said this at one time or another. If that is true, can we all answer the following questions?

  1. Do we have technology dedicated to tracking this asset, including every key employee attribute such as background, education, geography, training, skill  assessment, ambition, etc.?
  2. Do we do systematic, comprehensive planning on this asset annually in terms of quantity, quality, depth and succession?
  3. Can we quickly and easily identify the depths of the skills we have, the skills we need, and the skills that we’re going to need in the future?
  4. Are there any trends within this asset base, both in terms of our people and the environment that we’re operating in, for that talent?
  5. Do we have an attractive environment to be able to recruit and retain the skills that we need?

You may already do this and could easily have more YES answers than we do to these questions. I would challenge all of us to think carefully about whether we’re spending enough time, resources and expense to making sure we are treating our talent truly as if it is our greatest asset.

A close and key attribute to talent is obviously culture. I suspect all of us feel that we have a strong and attractive culture. I would suggest that there are several questions which would be helpful for us to answer as we manage this critical part of our organizations so that we remain at a competitive advantage. How would you answer these questions?

  1. What is the exact definition of the culture that will offer us the greatest competitive advantage?
  2. What attributes of that culture are currently strengths and which ones need work?
  3. How do we measure those attributes on an ongoing basis to make sure that we have a routine assessment by area of the business?
  4. Do we have a plan to nurture, develop and enhance those attributes so that culture remains an ongoing competitive advantage even as the environment changes?

Although you may be doing a great job in this area, it is always helpful when someone challenges our diligence or causes us to think about this critical component of our organizations. I would argue that distributors are more customer service-centric than manufacturers, just by the nature of what we do and the value we add to the supply chain. However, because of our role, I would also argue that the bar is higher for us than it is for manufacturers. This is all the more reason why our talent and culture have to be even more of a competitive advantage.

There are many distributors who feel that today is the toughest competitive environment for talent that we’ve ever seen in our industry. This includes truck drivers, warehouse staff, salespeople, senior managers, etc. NAW recognizes this talent challenge and continues to focus talent education opportunities through its NAW Roundtables, NAW Executive Summit and the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence.

I have enjoyed sharing my thoughts this year with the NAW audience and I look forward to seeing everybody at the NAW Executive Summit in Washington DC, January 30–February 1, 2018!

Thanks for listening!

The following two tabs change content below.
John Tracy, NAW 2017 Chairman of the Board

John Tracy, NAW 2017 Chairman of the Board

John Tracy is Dot Foods Executive Chairman.