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Big Change Starts With Small Talk at All Levels

If Art Krulish, director of customer success at Setlog, a cloud-based supply chain and vendor compliance management platform, could offer one piece of advice to apparel companies, it would be this: talk.

During a Product Innovation Apparel discussion last week, titled “Enhancing Interdepartmental Collaboration and Coordinating in Overcoming Supply Chain Challenges,” Krulish underlined how leadership needs to talk to experts, employees and partners alike instead of simply issuing orders.

“In today’s world, collaboration is something that we really need to have a good handle on,” he said, noting the importance of staying up-to-date on compliance regulations and knowing whether factory partners are—and will remain—compliant. “You need to have a consistent system that you can rely on to provide that type of information and you need to have that view across everything.”

Daryl Brown, former vice president of global business ethics and compliance at Kate Spade & Co., agreed. “You really need to know your suppliers and make sure they’re not subcontracting behind your back,” she said, stressing that audits are necessary.

“If you know that a sourcing person [in your company] is going on a trip to look for new factories, you want to make sure they’re current on what the issues are in that country. What non-compliance issues are happening there? They need to have a little training first, have a little checklist so they just walk around the factory and look for things,” she said, recalling that when she was at Kate Spade, she often had sourcing executives come back from such a trip and say a potential factory partner would never pass an audit unless it made some changes. “Get that started right at the beginning.”

But Richard Kramer, president of Hengrun USA, pointed out that there needs to be a balance when it comes to audits.

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“The more they check and check, the more goes out the back door,” he said. “There are beautiful, compliant factories in China and Bangladesh that are there just for show.”

Krulish nodded. “If that comes upstream, it’s going to hurt you,” he said. “You need to understand more about what’s happening out there, about who your suppliers are. And have a real relationship. Don’t sign on suppliers just because you need something. Understand who they are and what they can do for you.”

Talk about technology

Communication is also key during any sort of change management process.

“You have an obligation to your employees to help through the process [whenever you bring in a new system],” Krulish continued, explaining that in a lot of cases, companies bring in extra staff specifically to learn new systems, like PLM and ERP, and when they leave, the older staff members don’t feel any obligation to it because they didn’t work on it. Instead, they stick with their Excel spreadsheets.

“They need to understand the process and how it’s going to be changing. You need to help them grow and learn why the new system is going to help them do their jobs better,” he said. “They become extremely fearful when you bring in new technology. They still need to be guided through the process and you need to help them get through that as well.”

Kramer added, “Even the factory needs to understand what you’re going to be implementing. If the factory doesn’t understand what you’re sending them, it’s going to be useless.”

“If they understand why this is a better solution for them, that they don’t have to send all these e-mails, you’ve made their lives simpler. You need to explain that to them,” Krulish echoed. “If you’re not talking to the people whose jobs are going to change then you’re missing a great opportunity to explain to them why their world is going to be better.”