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How to keep your inner compass from becoming demagnetized.

Chris Oleksy, Founder and CEO, Oleksy Enterprises; Next Life Medical07.20.16 Whether in feedback from my Medical Product Outsourcing columns, or while speaking at conferences, I am often asked by younger supply chain professionals what they can do to ensure they start off their careers on the right foot. Likewise, I'm asked for "coaching tips" from managers of all experience levels interested in helping their new supply chain hires get off to a successful start.

Smiling, I usually tell them to read my articles. In all seriousness though, I write articles and speak at conferences like the MPO Summit (which I feel are the gold standard for supply chain professionals) so I can share my more than three decades of experience and help business executives in various industries. But recently, I was at a loss for words when a young person asked, "What is the single most important trait of a supply chain professional in the healthcare industry?"

This individual didn't ask me about the importance of models like the SCOR Supply Chain Operations Reference Model, or the OE-Tier5 models I wrote about in my May MPO article. This individual honed in on the most important trait for supply chain leaders.

For the next week, I could not get this intriguing question out of my mind. I sifted through 35 years of professional experience looking for that key trait, and then it hit me. As I thought about all the courses I had taken, the degrees or certifications I'd earned, and the educational conferences I'd attended, I realized the trait is not something you are taught. Rather, it's something you discover--it's your true north; your internal compass.

In keeping with my movie themes, I recall Curly (Jack Palance in "City Slickers") driving his comrades to find the "one thing" that really matters--the catalyst for combining mission with passion. What a subtle but game-changing trait for supply chain professionals: combining mission (supply chain execution) with passion (the patient) to create the care chain.

Thus, I contend, the single most important trait of a healthcare supply chain professional is the ability to utilize skills to configure the pieces that support the care chain. Said another way--don't just be a supply chain professional; be a care chain professional. Start with the patient and configure (align) all entities from the patient through your organization to your supplier's supplier.

My May article, "Misalignment: The Wrong Execution of the Right Idea," introduced you to Miss Alignment. If you recall, Miss Alignment did not speak up to management when she was asked to focus on the supply chain (cost) and not the care chain (patient). She was being forced to utilize a single-use disposable that was cheaper but had inferior patient results, to that of a capital-driven device that provided better overall patient care. She told us that her vocation (true north) was to take care of patients, but she was being told by management that her job (mission) was to save money.

This tug-of-war (detailed in my series of articles) is an extremely difficult battle for supply chain professionals--particularly younger professionals--to manage, or in many cases, tolerate. The post-Obamacare environment has created a relentless focus on the supply chain at the expense of the care chain. But all is not lost. Time and again, I have seen organizations manage the "one thing" very well. I remind supply chain professionals across the ecosystem that theirs is not a zero sum game. We can take waste out of our supply chains as well as help caregivers treat patients. But it takes a resilient focus--true north--to do both simultaneously.

Once I figured out how to put the "one thing" (trait) into words for the person that triggered my epiphany, I contacted him and we engaged in another spirited discussion. He understood the inner compass concept once I explained it to him, but the answer only prompted more questions. Specifically, he asked if I could help him find his true north. He said his father was a paramedic and his mother was a nurse, and that his family was deeply committed to helping people in need.

He revealed that, like his family, he really cared for people. Hence, he joined a healthcare company because he thought it was a good way to use his supply chain training for the good of patients. However, he was really struggling to enjoy his role.

Perplexed, I told him that he had already found his true north, and it was exactly like mine. I didn't quite understand his question. He then explained that his company was prioritizing cost over patient care--not unlike Miss Alignment's organization. He told me his firm was in the process of being acquired; consequently, the care chain was being sacrificed for the good of cost improvements and higher stock prices. He said the patient or care chain was no longer the central focus of the company. Suddenly, it all made sense to me.

I told my young friend that his true north was not lost. Rather, his organization's misguided focus was demagnetizing his compass' needle. I told him to picture a compass and imagine the little red needle pointing north at the Arctic. I explained that demagnetized needles will no longer point toward the Arctic.

That mental image seemed to do the trick, as my inquisitor realized the focus on cost was demagnetizing his true north needle toward the patient. I reminded my newfound acquaintance that he and all supply chain specialists must remember that their responsibility lies first with the care chain, and then with the supply chain. I told him he must repeat this mantra to others within his organization because caregivers and patients need him as their advocate. I then said that patients undergoing treatment for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or congestive heart failure don't care about Wall Street.

I reassured this young professional that strategies exist to help companies reduce waste and help improve patient care. I also explained that the consolidation his company was experiencing was the ecosystem's way of eliminating duplication and cost, which ultimately could help enhance clinicians' patient care abilities. I emphasized, however, that it was very important not to lose sight of the patient while consolidation was taking place.

I further directed my friend to my required reading for all supply-care chain professionals, especially those new to the field: Bill George's "True North." The book is an incredible read, and addresses the introspective look at "who you are" as a person, leader, and organization. I was serving in a supply chain role at Medtronic Inc. in the late 1990s when George was leading the company through an unprecedented expansion similar to today's rapid consolidation at the OEM level. Medtronic's true north is restoring patients to their full lives. In the late 1990s--not unlike today--one of the best ways to improve patient care was with a global supply-care chain that could treat more patients per second than any company on Earth. I fondly remember being in a small meeting when George was speaking passionately about taking care of the patient first. "All the rest will follow," he said, and he was right. Keep in mind that Wall Street rewarded George and Medtronic with multiple stock splits during that time, proving that both a focus on the patient (care chain) could co-exist with a focus on the supply chain (cost). In other words, a rightly ordering of the care chain with the supply chain could indeed take place.

I left my pupil with another helpful activity that I have used over the years and offered to many supply-care chain professionals struggling to find their true north. I suggested to this conflicted young man that he go to work with his father, a paramedic, and watch how he takes care of patients. I also told him to visit a cardiologist's office or the oncology ward of the nearest children's hospital. If those real-life experiences don't remagnetize his needle and focus on the care chain, then his true north does not involve healthcare.

It is imperative that all healthcare supply-care chain professionals find their true north--combining mission (supply chain) and passion (patient care chain). By never forgetting the patient, all the rest will follow.

Chris Oleksy is founder and CEO of Oleksy Enterprises and Next Life Medical. He can be reached at or
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Title Annotation:Columns
Author:Oleksy, Chris
Publication:Medical Product Outsourcing
Date:Jul 1, 2016
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