The Way of Life in the DC

LifeWay Christian Resources sells “Biblical solutions for life,” including books and videos, through print catalogs, the Internet, and more than 130 stores nationwide. So as supply chain manager for the Nashville, TN-based company, Randy Brough has a bevy of tasks to juggle. These include overseeing the fulfillment from the 350,000-sq.-ft. distribution center in Lebanon, TN, of more than 1 million cartons a year bound for direct consumers.

What’s the hardest thing about bringing change to an organization?

Every organization has change management issues for one simple reason: people. It is in our very nature to resist change personally for many reasons. We may infer that we will lose control of our current environment, have our responsibilities increased or — worse yet — decreased, or be required to learn new tasks. It has been my experience that people resist change because the big picture is often not conveyed to them through management. Without being able to see the big picture, let alone share in developing it, employee buy-in is extremely tough.

What’s the biggest fallacy when it comes to warehouse management system (WMS) technology?

Every organization believes that its processes are unique, ultimately requiring significant customization to the WMS. These organizations choose to change the software when instead they should modify their current processes and adapt to the base processes to the WMS. All too often, they regret [opting to change the software] later when they face significant upgrade costs or, worse yet, cannot migrate to a new version or release. And it is often assumed that improvements in accuracy will be gained automatically; however, the opposite may be true if the organization does not have sound process disciplines. Many distribution centers have found that a WMS can automate bad processes, thus exacerbating inventory quality issues.

A related issue is the problem of data hygiene; all too often the WMS gets blamed for “systems problems,” when in reality these are data hygiene issues that were passed to it from the host system. Most organizations underestimate the importance data integrity has on productivity, quality, and reporting.

What was your “welcome to operations” moment?

One of the best personal growth experiences occurred early in my career and stems from my not understanding the culture of the organization. I tried to instill process disciplines that were not in sync with the organization’s leadership at the time. I had to fight the issue below and above me, which placed me between the proverbial rock and hard space. Lesson learned: Understand the culture and the parameters you are allowed to work in. If you have a great idea that is bigger than your capabilities, solicit help from those who have greater organizational influence.

“If I weren’t in operations, I’d be….”

An educator. I have passion for increasing knowledge and find the old saying true: You learn more as a teacher than as a student.

What was the greatest lesson you learned over your 20-year career?

The single largest issue that we face today is the same problem that organizations have always faced. Companies still have issues finding, hiring, and retaining employees who can meet the needs of their customers. The difference is that we try to bridge the gap through technology and automation and have done so with limited success. Interestingly, the best organizations are typically those staffed with the best people, not the best systems.

What’s the most interesting thing in your office?

I have a quote from a previous manager at LifeWay and refer to it often. His quote was “You may get in trouble for going over budget, but you may get fired for not taking care of your customers.” To me the quote rings true on many levels. We often get so focused on budget constraints that we forget that we are serving a customer, and bureaucracy is the arch-enemy of customer service.

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