“My logisticians are a humorless lot … they know if my campaign fails, they are the first ones I will slay.” – Alexander the Great

I have always loved this quote because it captures the do or die nature of logistics with a funny, but morbid twist. While managers are no longer killing logistics guys, there is still a lot of pressure on the logistics function.

Just like Alexander’s warriors, modern day logisticians are often held responsible for things that are outside of their control. The blame for the late shipments is always the shipping guys fault. When Mother Nature floods or freezes the roads, the shipping guys have to explain the failure. The same rules apply to truck shortages, customs laws, mishandled freight, holidays, damage, you name it, and logistics is responsible.

Clearly the logistics team should be responsible for a certain level of performance, but when there are negative repercussions for every problem, the wrong culture will develop.

Alexander Wasn’t That Great

The problem with Alexander’s management style is that it leads to the wrong behaviors. When the logistics guy is risking his life every time the army falls short, I’m guessing there was a lot of finger pointing, CYA and plain old lying going on.

In such an environment, team work, honesty, morale, and trying out new ideas, were probably in short supply.

The same thing happens today. If the logistics guy is going to be beat up for every problem, they will begin to withhold bad news, cover up issues and shift blame to someone else. When problems get covered up, they obviously don’t get solved.

Open Communication and No Executions

To get the most from your logistics group, you have to develop a culture that encourages open communication and continuous improvement

The foundation of that culture should be honesty. You can’t have good, open communication without honesty. If you shoot the messenger, he will stop bringing bad news. The messenger bringing bad news is actually bringing an opportunity for improvement.

Also begin using metrics or key performance indicators to measure the most important areas. These metrics should point your team to even more opportunities for improvement. Remember, the biggest problem is having no problems to work on.

Encourage experimentation and new approaches. Don’t bet the farm, but take small, calculated risks that potentially uncover better ways of doing business.

Last, but not least, never slay the logisticians – they are too hard to replace.

Please tell me about your experience. Have you worked for a modern day Alexander? Does your company encourage open and honest communication, even when the new is bad?