What the U.S. Congress Should Learn from Supply Chain Collaboration

Most business executives today understand that they must collaborate with their supply chain partners to cut costs, improve service levels and remain competitive in an increasingly complex and competitive world. Unfortunately, the U.S. Congress has increasingly been heading in the opposite direction—becoming more partisan and obstructive with each new election—to the detriment of U.S. competitiveness and influence in an increasingly complex and competitive world. Our elected officials in Washington could learn a lot from understanding why supply chain collaboration has benefited all parties involved.

Going It Alone No Longer is Viable

Before the empowered consumer took control of the supply chain, it was possible for companies to operate in silos—both internally and externally. The “push-based” supply chains of that bygone era allowed companies to push their products out the door to the next company in the chain with little more collaboration than POs and shipping manifests. But with consumers now in charge, who are much more fickle and volatile in their demand patterns than companies, all supply chain partners must work together to agilely anticipate and react to changing consumer demand.

Congress is going in the opposite direction. Not only do the two parties not collaborate for the good of the American people, they are openly obstructionist in preventing almost any legislation from being passed. Regardless of the political arguments, let’s just agree that shutting down the government is never a good idea. Unlike supply chain collaboration, where everybody wins with lower inventory levels and costs and improved agility, obstructionism is a losing proposition for everyone, akin to ‘if you won’t play by my rules, I’ll take my bat and ball and go home.’

Collaboration is all about sharing and compromise. Supply chain partners share information and risk to be better prepared to respond to consumer demand patterns with increased speed and at lower cost. They understand they sometimes must compromise, such as agreeing to lower their price to secure a larger order. But in politics, compromise has become a dirty word. Those who reach across the aisle are considered traitors to the party. How is anything good going to get done that way?

The Demise of the Bullies

Us older supply chain professionals have seen supply chain bullies come and go. A number of years ago, before the rise of big retail chains, manufacturers were the supply chain bullies. They owned the brands and marketing might to shape consumer demand for their products that retailers would have to carry. But as mega-retail chains grew nationally and globally, they acquired the power that comes with huge marketing budgets, massive order quantities and lower-cost store branded products. But much to the surprise and chagrin of both big manufacturers and mega-retailers, neither one can be supply chain bullies anymore because the consumer is in charge. Retailers and manufacturers must collaborate to give the consumer what she wants.

The bullies have shifted in politics, too. Originally the big party bosses called all of the shots. More recently, the big money donors and political action committees (PACs) are directing the action. What happened to government by the people for the people? We as consumers of the government must take charge.

People in Glass Houses…

Lest we heap too much scorn on our elected officials, we have to remember, just as consumers we cast our votes with our dollars, forcing supply chains to react, as the electorate we must cast our votes with…our votes! Although much has been made over the significance of house majority leader Eric Cantor losing his primary, only about 65,000 people out of 760,000 eligible voters in his district, cast ballets—less than ten percent of the people decided how everyone will be represented.

Worse yet for our democracy, we voters are punishing politicians who make any attempt to compromise by voting them out of office. The biggest loser in the Cantor election will be the American people because all politicians will be that much more reluctant to reach across the aisle in an attempt to pass legislation to benefit all of us. So regardless of your political persuasion, maybe it’s time to stop pointing fingers at any one party or politician and start voting for politicians who are willing to compromise to get things done—just like we do in our supply chains. Democracy depends upon it.

  5 Comments   Comment

    • Yes, the U.S. prides itself in being the world’s leading democracy. But when the two parties won’t collaborate, democracy doesn’t work. Other democratic countries are doing a better job in this regard at the current time.

  1. Hello,

    I understand what you’re saying about collaboration, sharing, and compromise. However, many of us have seen the effects of when supply chain partners share information with their partners and are thereby taken advantage of. This is also a fear that politicians have as well, thinking that any piece of evidence that they’re willing to compromise will be used against them. It takes a great amount of trust to divulge information that the other party can use against you, both in business and politics. However, I fear that within politics, trust in the other party is barely there, while in supply chain, people are beginning to embrace collaboration.
    Politics have gone a different way than our forefathers intended. Not only are politicians who are willing to compromise competing against the other party, but also against members of their own party who believe those are too soft, too willing, and are not strong enough to stand for one’s party’s beliefs. It is the escalation of many like-minded people being in the same room, given a topic – mindsets are pushed towards the extreme. Perhaps when business sets the precedent, politics will be more keen to follow.


  2. I could not agree with this more. As consumers tastes have changed over the course of the last 30+ years, the giant corporations have been forced to compromise with their manufacturers to meet the consumer demands. There is no room for one way is the right way, consumers will let a company know if they do not like what is being put out by not buying therefore these bigger companies will see loss in both marketshare and revenue. Yet our government is still stuck in this “my way or the highway” mentality. The American government has adopted a policy that they know what is best for the American people and have completely forgot that we have opinions and we all have individual needs. ACA is a perfect example of this, it was believed that the American people all needed the exact same kind of health coverage and so the ACA was created to do just that. Congress did not think that there are a lot of American people out there that did not want or need it, they were satisfied with the product they already had. Of course there were citizens that needed the ACA, but this one size fits all style of doing government is the wrong road to be traveling down.


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