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‘Ready Up!’ What Fortnite Can Teach Us About Supply Chain Leadership

Credit: Fortnite

I bet you never imagined you would see the video game Fortnite mentioned in the same sentence as the words supply chain leadership. But the massive multiplayer videogame that has grown to over 350 million players in only a few years, holds the key to a new approach to the classic change leadership model that no longer produces the results that we want and need? The truth is that the way you play Fortnite is a good model for how you should make change happen. Don’t worry, even if the last video game you played was Pac-Man or Galaga you will find that Fortnite is a great example of Change Leadership in the Digital Era. Follow this new approach to change and you will be able to make breakthrough improvements in your supply chain around the world. But first, let me remind you what we have been doing….

Change is not an email campaign

The classic change leadership approach starts with top management, and select senior staff, crafting a brilliant supply chain strategy. The strategy is handed off to the communications experts and summarized with a catchy name and logo. The top people hold a Town Hall for employees and send out an email to a massive distribution list. The change message is based on a “burning platform” and cascaded down the hierarchy. All too often the results are less than spectacular. Change does not really happen where the rubber meets the road. In fact, the basic work process of most employees does not change, work attitudes and culture do not change, and our customers and suppliers fail to notice a significant improvement. Inventory stays flat, costs remain within budget and we drift along until the next top management missile is launched. Different versions of this story play out for any new initiative such as launching a new risk management application or supplier visibility tool. People become cynical and go along to get along.

We don’t listen to all the lies as well as we used to

The world has changed, and our customer has changed. (read about the New Customer). Technology has advanced rapidly enabling things that we could not even dream about 5 years ago. More than half of the population on the planet has access to information that they have never had in the past. The old top-down creation of a plan, top-down directives, and cascading communication does not work in a 140-character world where any of dozens of social media apps can be the agent that derails your strategy. Besides, people no longer believe in the stories that they hear from the leaders of government or organizations. The reality is that an organization that relies on a comprehensive strategy and massive communications campaign will not succeed. The world changes too fast every day.

Ready up!

Look at how change should happen based on how your 10-year-old plays Fortnite. Fortnite grew to 350 million users without a Super Bowl ad. Why? Because the principles of Fortnite are based on how people live, work, and think today. Fortnite enables you to accomplish exceptionally hard missions, in an extremely competitive environment…. and have fun doing so. It turns out that people like working hard if they have a clear mission and an appropriate way of accomplishing it.

Here are a few of the Fortnite principles (that are also Supply Chain leadership principles):

Leadership is dynamic and based on skill. The Leader forms a squad and gets them to show up on the Battle Bus. After that, leadership shifts as the game progresses. One person may be the best shooter. Another teammate might be the best builder and still, another might be excellent at spotting problems and opportunities. Rigid hierarchies are too slow and too ineffective to keep up with the current pace of change. Supply chain leaders should adopt this flexible approach to leadership. New Leaders should be able to develop an agile game plan for the supply chain and willing to dynamically adjust it every day, if need be, to keep the pace of change.

Here is what the CEO of a famous global video game development company says –

“Just like in Fortnite gameplay, people can win in their business or role when they have a dynamic peer-to-peer frequent communication which helps identify organic leadership to drive change.” - Alexander L. Fernandez, CEO, Streamline Media Group, Inc

  1. It Is a Global Playground: You will be playing in a 100-person Fortnite match where competitors come from Asia, Europe, and the Americas – Globally!! Supply chains are and will be always global, and we should make sure that we have the best talent across the globe to lead the supply chain.
  2. Teamwork leads to winning. Collaboration on a squad is not optional. For example, you must revive your teammates if they are severely injured. This helping extends to almost every aspect of the game including attacking, sharing weapons, and observation about the location of competing players. Everyone knows that your teammates must be successful if the squad has a chance at winning. Supply chain leaders should model “collaboration” in every aspect of the supply chain and recognize their team members with a reward who is “Collaborators!”
  3. Analytics, performance measurement, and action are inextricably linked. There is a detailed list of data available to each player. And the analytics help players know how they are progressing and how the game is moving along. Each player is data-savvy and some are data scientists that communicate with the other squad members. Direct, decisive action is the immediate result of real-time and historical data. The data shows actual performance and enables improvement. Supply chain leaders MUST invest in getting the numbers on the efficiency of the new change processes and using analytics to make quick high-quality decisions.
  4. Learning is not an overhead cost. Every player must learn new skills and improve existing skills in every match. People who have learned easily defeat those that have not. Learning is crucial if you hope to compete. Supply chain skills must be upgraded in order for any of this to work!
  5. Right tools are essential. Fortnite has a variety of weapons, each of which has effectiveness rate, firing speed, and distance (and other characteristics). You can’t beat someone who has a gold weapon if you only have grey. Supply chain people need to have the weapons to win. Weapons can include everything from new analytics software to 3D technology to effective research on the New Customer and the talent.
  6. Sometimes you have to ride the shark. In order to win, you have to observe the location and strength of 96 other players. And you also have to react quickly to win. You can ride the shark if it helps you get in the right location to avoid the storm. Supply chain leaders need to get out in front and not follow the pack. At DSCI, we believe that supply chain leaders need to lead the company strategy or need to have a seat in the strategic planning team for the organization because the supply chain is the only function in an organization where they have touchpoints in every aspect of the business. A great example of this is – Tim Cook. Tim Cook was a supply chain leader at IBM before he started leading Apple as Chief Executive Officer.
  7. Communicate and celebrate. Good Fortnite teams have a culture of communication. They point out threats and quickly react. And when they accomplish a goal or achieve a win the celebrate. Frequently, the celebration is some type of dubstep dance move. How could you create the right team culture for supply chain transformation and celebrate along the way? Supply chain leaders need to increase the frequency of communication to get real-time data on processes to avoid any mistakes and improve the efficiency of the processes and improve delivery.

Does the Fortnite way of managing and keeping the changing pace sound good to you? Please let me know… or ask your 10-year-old for help!