Leadership Insights

5 Things that Make A Great Business Partnership


The 4th Could Have Your Enterprise Singing Like The Righteous Brothers

Many business leaders make the mistake of considering partnerships transactional rather than relational.

While transactions are always part of the business equation, a great partnership is more than the sum of everybody’s bottom line. Great leaders consider integrity, competency, communication – the entire sum of the relationship.

In fact, it takes five elements to make a great partnership. No. 4 is the one that can have your enterprise singing like The Righteous Brothers!

  1. Look for partners who are competent.
  2. Look for partners who have integrity.
  3. Look for partners who can communicate clearly.
  4. Look for partners who can understand their roles.
  5. Look for partners who want to benefit everyone involved.

Look for Partners Who Are Competent

This should go without saying. After all, if your partners cannot fulfill their promise, you, your company and your customers will end up disappointed.

Executives should ensure that all partners have a unique value proposition. All partners should have a high level of competency in that area.

Evaluate their past performance. Examine their track record of meeting commitments and delivering results. Request references.

Even better, interview previous clients or partners to discover insights you’re your potential partner’s reliability and professionalism.

Look for Partners Who Have Integrity

Tompkins Leadership and our sister company, Tompkins Ventures, will only work with partners and clients that have integrity. I mean really high. We don’t want to just follow the laws, regulations and norms of good behavior. We want to rise above.

Observe your potential partner’s behavior over time. Note if they act with honesty, transparency and consistency. Conduct background checks. And again, interviewing previous associates can verify a potential partner’s reputation and ethical standards.

I thought I was in the consulting business for decades. It only took me a few decades to find out how wrong I was. I was in the integrity business, not the consulting business.

My reputation was not because I invented this, foresaw that or wrote dozens of books. My reputation in supply chain and leadership grew because people trusted me.

They knew if I said something, I would bend over backwards or do head flips to make sure my organization got it done.

We say what we do, and then we do what we say.

That consistency over decades allowed us to be successful over time.

The last thing I want to do is work with someone who doesn’t have high integrity. Neither should you.

Look for partners who can communicate clearly

Sometimes people can do the job. They have high integrity. They are very competent.

Unfortunately, many cannot even begin to explain what they do in plain language.

If you cannot explain what you do, how do you expect anybody else to understand what you do?

All business partners must be able to explain their value proposition to people who are not specialists. Whether you are offering supply chain solutions, leadership development or technology expertise, you are going to have to talk to many who do not understand your field.

Look for Partners Who Can Understand Their Roles

Go listen to “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” or “Unchained Melody.

The original Righteous Brothers, Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, had contrasting vocal ranges.

Musical experts note that Medley’s bass-baritone voice took the low parts. Hatfield’s tenor, which reached as high as countertenor, handled notes in higher registers. (Yes, I had to research that. I know a lot about leadership and supply chain. With music, I just know how to listen and enjoy.)

The duo each knew exactly their role and how their voice needed to complement each other. That’s what makes their songs so beautiful.

Your partners need to understand and know their roles. You can conduct role-specific discussions or scenarios to evaluate their understanding and readiness.

You want your partner network to synchronize like The Righteous Brothers, not clang like punk rock. (Apologies to all the punk rock fans out there.)

Look for partners who want to benefit everyone involved

Partnerships should be more than the sum of their parts. They should benefit everybody.

So many in business look at Sun Tzu’s The Art of War as a business book.

Business relationships should not mean war. I want everybody involved to win, not to die.

Look for business relationships where everyone can benefit, where everybody either makes money or gets valued services or solutions for the money they spend.

If partners lose and lose, eventually you’ll find your business has nobody to work with.

Want more coaching on how to build great partnerships and networks? I would love to discuss your business goals.

The Anti-globalization Crowd Is Not Entirely Wrong


Redesigned Global Networks Must Pay Attention to Previously Ignored Regions, Countries

More than 75% of respondents to my recent globalization survey thought that the world – and the U.S. economy – benefited as economies, cultures and populations grew more interdependent over the decades.

But as we know, globalization’s image has suffered over the last few years. That probably has something to do with why 23% thought globalization was somewhat unbeneficial or not beneficial.

That 23% probably are thinking about areas that have not benefited from decades of globalization. But truthfully, those areas have suffered because countries have pursued policies that undercut the benefits of globalization – tariffs, quotas, taxes, subsidies. Such barriers distort comparative advantage, incentivize inefficient resource allocation and leave entire regions and countries behind.

While executive leadership cannot do much about the global context of politics, wars, they can respond to the ongoing VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity). The best way for us to level the playing field is to redesign our global network, examine the entire world as our supply depot and try to make sure that other regions benefit from comparative advantage.

Globalization/Deglobalization – Survey Says …

But first, let’s take a closer look at the survey results. I asked, “Is globalization a net benefit to global living standards and the U.S. economy?”

  • 52% of respondents said “extremely beneficial.”
  • 25% of respondents said “somewhat beneficial.”
  • 6% of respondents said “somewhat unbeneficial.”
  • 17% of respondents said “not beneficial.”

The Benefits of Globalization

The benefits of globalization have been profound.

Globalization has increased economic growth, opened up new markets and promoted trade. Companies operating in global markets create jobs and economic diversification. Globalization promoted cultural exchange, which fosters tolerance and understanding. It also promoted technological advancement, innovation and improved living standards as comparative advantage (more on that in a bit) made goods more affordable.

In fact, according to The World Bank, the global poverty rate plunged from 36% to 9% between 1990 and 2017, lifting 1 billion people out of poverty. The World Bank uses national poverty lines to measure poverty worldwide. A United Nations report puts the number of people lifted out of extreme poverty at 2 billion. (The U.N. defines “extreme poverty” as living on less than $2.15 a day at 2017 purchasing power.)

A lot of that benefit comes from comparative advantage.

Comparative Advantage

I recently analyzed the path global supply chain leaders must follow to respond to today’s world of constant VUCA.

Comparative advantage plays a key role. Comparative advantage or specialization goes back to the beginning of civilization. Each family did not try to do it all – instead, people who specialized in farming farmed, hunters hunted, blacksmiths blacksmithed, etc.

Trading the surplus allowed people to increase their standard of living. As the world evolved, such trade went beyond the village, beyond the community, beyond the region and beyond the nation.

When comparative advantage is allowed to play out, the world is flat (apologies to Thomas Friedman, author of the book The World is Flat). Unfortunately, politics and VUCA keep getting in the way.

That 23%? They Have A Point

Despite the unmitigated benefits of globalization, those negative views are not wrong.

They simply have a different perspective. They see how China has accrued many of the benefits of globalization. They see how leadership in the West is responding to decades of Chinese anti-competitive practices with our own subsidies, tariffs and quotas. They see areas of the world that did not benefit as much from – large swaths of Southeast Asia, India, Africa and South and Central America, even parts of the United States.

Executive leaders cannot repeal trade laws, tariffs or export controls. We cannot eliminate VUCA.

We can, however, examine our entire global network. The only way we can deal with whatever VUCA comes around the next corner – and there will be more in a world of perpetual disruption – is to continuously redesign our supply chains in an attempt to flatten the playing field.

As we flatten the playing field, we need to reflect on the 23% who view globalization in a negative light. Beyond regions of the world that have not benefited, I am sure they are thinking of the jobs that disappeared in areas like the U.S. Midwest and the South – manufacturing, textiles and more. Many have been hurt by an uneven playing field, and we need to make sure that free and fair trade mandates the winners and losers, not the political gamesmanship that has hurt so many communities.

I would love to discuss what your organization is seeing as you examine your global network with an eye toward the future.

Are You Confused By Lina Khan and Her FTC? I Am

Federal Trade Commission

The Antitrust Paradox that Really Isn’t

I began researching Lina Khan in 2017. The current Federal Trade Commission Chair had published “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” in the prestigious Yale Law Journal.

The article contended that Amazon used predatory pricing (selling products below cost to drive out competition). Her view was that Amazon aimed to create a monopoly and take unfair advantage of consumers.

My research file on Khan between 2017 and 2021 includes a few articles. Most of them discuss how Khan continued touting this same anti-Amazon theme for the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commerce and Administrative Law.

A Bizarre Line of Thought on Antitrust Law

I found Khan’s whole line of thought between 2017 and 2021 bizarre. I, unlike Khan, am not a lawyer. But my understanding is that antitrust law protects American consumers from deceptive or unfair business practices. The law’s goal is to promote a free and competitive marketplace by challenging anti-competitive mergers and business practices.

The facts in 2017 were that Amazon’s business model was widely embraced. Customers received great service, chose from a great selection of products and paid great prices.

The Amazon model was not new in 2017. It simply expanded Jeff Bezos’ 1994 business model. As a matter of fact, those are the goals of every business: provide great service, selection and prices.

A New FTC Chief – A New Line of Attack

Imagine my shock in 2021 when Khan was named the youngest ever chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Clearly, she took this position not to uphold antitrust law but to change it. In her words, the United States needs “a different set of rules.” Not surprisingly, Khan drove the FTC against merger and acquisitions involving “Big Tech.”

Not surprisingly, she lost. Microsoft won the fight to buy Activision Blizzard. The FTC withdrew a case against Meta after negative court rulings.

Now, Khan’s FTC has targeted Amazon with a major antitrust action. Surprise, surprise.

But, wait a minute, it looks like she has changed her tune. She now claims that Amazon’s practices result in higher prices for lower quality products.

So, what exactly is the problem? Is Amazon charging too much (2023) or too little (2017)? Again, it’s bizarre.

Digging deeper into the FTC’s lawsuit against Amazon begets more confusion. At a high level, I categorize the FTC’s concepts into three categories: Don’t all retailers do this? Isn’t this good for the consumer? Don’t customers have a choice?

  1. Don’t all retailers do this?
  • Amazon uses an algorithm to price items.
  • Amazon charges clients to advertise on their site.

If you think other retailers don’t use algorithmic pricing, you have not talked to many retailers. And in general, most business entities charge for advertising. Take a look at your next grocery store receipt. Kroger likely did not print the coupon for the Mexican restaurant next door for free.

  1. Isn’t this good for the consumer?
  • Amazon highlights low prices.
  • Amazon’s prices are routinely lower than prices elsewhere.

This kind of goes back to point No. 1. From time immemorial, many retailers have advertised lower prices. Yes, some upscale retailers advertise that “premium” pricing is worth the extra value and service. But most consumers goods aren’t advertised like BMWs and Porsches.

And whether Amazon’s prices truly are lower depends upon the product. “Free shipping” is not free, and I know examples where the drug store around the corner has lower prices on some goods.

U.S. consumers know how to do price comparisons.

  1. Don’t customers have a choice?
  • According to the FTC, customers have no choice Amazon is in a business category all be itself – the “online retailer.”

In my view, “online retailer” is a made-up term:

  1. First, Amazon has a retail footprint through Whole Foods.
  2. Second, Amazon has dipped into the physical store market and, frankly, has not been able to compete.
  3. Third, all sales these days are omnichannel.

Yes, Amazon dominates online sales to the tune of a 38% market share. But Amazon has a lot of omnichannel competition. Think Walmart, Costco, The Home Depot, Dicks, etc.

In fact, Walmart generated more revenue in retail sales last year than Amazon. Although that could change in the future – and then change again.

Shoppers are not exclusively online or exclusively in retail stores. They might see something online. Go visit the store. Try it on. Like it and buy it – or not. They’ll try something on in the store. Wait until the next paycheck – and then buy it online.

That point seems to elude every thinker behind the FTC’s lawsuit against Amazon.

If you define the category narrowly enough, like the FTC did, nobody has any competition. What happens if I define the retail landscape as companies whose founder, Jeff, has a shaved head?

It’s only Amazon. No competition.

If You Break Up Amazon, Who’s Next?

The recent FTC lawsuit asks for “structural relief,” a phrase that often translates into a breakup.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have professionally had some disagreements on some Amazon practices. But just because I disagree does not mean they are illegal.

In fact, I recently warned retailers against relying on Amazon as their one-stop supply chain solution. Better to look for optionality in your warehousing and transportation.

Anyone who thinks that breaking up Amazon is in the best interest of the consumer needs to look at Walmart. Doesn’t the megaretailer’s “Everyday Low Prices” give them an unfair advantage?

And then who’s next? Costco, Kroger, Home Depot and Target?

Bottom line, the FTC needs to focus on enforcing the laws of the land, not trying to rewrite them.

What do you think?

The AI Industrial Revolution: Embrace Progress and Learn from History

Artificial Intelligence

Why a 19th Century German Philosopher is Still Right

In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, the words of 19th-century philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel ring truer than ever: “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” We find ourselves in the midst of another industrial revolution, driven by artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, machine learning, robotics and more.

Leaders are figuring out how to use these transformative technologies to reshape the way we live, work and play.

Change and Fear

Often in this space, I have stressed that the future will be a departure from the past, not a continuation. That is true.

But sometimes history repeats itself. And that’s happening here. But for business leaders and entrepreneurs, this repeat will be a good thing.

Historically, rapid technological progress has often elicited fear and resistance. People worry that their skills will become obsolete, wages will decline and jobs will vanish. These concerns have surfaced time and time again. Artificial intelligence, particularly generative AI models like ChatGPT, Google Bard and the like, are triggering those same warnings of doom again.

Yet history has consistently demonstrated that these fears are largely unfounded.

Even this time, doomsayers have been light on detailing exactly how artificial intelligence will destroy us., as this New York Times articles points out.

Let’s take the previous Industrial Revolutions one at a time:

The First Industrial Revolution

The First Industrial Revolution, spanning from 1760 to 1840, introduced innovations like the steam engine and textile machines. While these changes raised concerns about job displacement, they ultimately created new employment opportunities and increased productivity.

The Second Industrial Revolution

The Second Industrial Revolution, roughly from 1850 to 1914, saw the mass production of steel and the spread of electricity. Once again, there was resistance to these advancements, but they led to economic growth and the emergence of new industries.

The Third Industrial Revolution

Computers, the internet and mobile phones marked the Third Industrial Revolution. Despite initial resistance, these innovations gave rise to entirely new job categories and significantly improved the quality of life for billions worldwide.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and AI

Today, as we stand at the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, fears about artificial intelligence persist. However, if history serves as a guide, these concerns are likely to be proven wrong once more. This revolution will create new opportunities and industries, just as previous ones have.

Recognize the Pattern of Doomsayers and Luddites

Throughout history, the fear of technological advancements replacing workers has recurred.

Yet, these technologies have consistently created more jobs, increased productivity and enhanced the overall standard of living. Acknowledging this pattern is essential when addressing present-day anxieties.

The Luddite movement during the First Industrial Revolution serves as a notable example of resistance to change. They went around destroying looms, fearing that the new technology would destroy their chances at future employment.

While their concerns were valid, technological progress continued, and society adapted.

In contemporary times, a new generation of skeptics has emerged in the face of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. While some advocate for caution, we must recognize the immense promise that AI and automation hold in addressing society’s challenges. These neo-Luddites will be proven wrong – again.

Embrace Change

While concerns about AI safety and ethics are valid, we should not allow fear to hinder progress. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will usher in new job opportunities, enhance productivity and stimulate economic growth.

As we embark on this new era, heed Hegel’s words and learn from history. The weaving loom, electricity and mobile phones ultimately improved our lives and expanded employment opportunities.

I mean, do you really want to go back to sewing all your clothes from scratch? I didn’t think so.

Generative AI promises to improve lives, businesses and the world. Let us approach it with an open mind, diligence and thoughtfulness.

If you’re interested in exploring how progress and technology can benefit leadership in your organization, I would love to talk.

Leadership Strategies for Navigating Peak Season 2023

Holiday Peak Season 2023

Yes, Consumers Will Spend. Supply Chain Leaders Must Prepare

As the holiday shopping season approaches, one thing is abundantly clear: consumers are gearing up to spend, and the holiday spirit will be in the air.

This anticipated surge in consumer spending is not mere speculation; it’s a trend deeply rooted in long-term consumer behavior data. Surprisingly, despite 2022’s predictions of reduced consumer spending, sales from October to December of that year soared by 8.3% compared to the previous year. Forbes reported a 9.3% increase in nonstore sales, including eCommerce, with some specific categories experiencing a staggering 20% growth.

Many retailers and etailers have pushed early access sales in September and October. Ever since the advent of Amazon Prime Day in 2015, leaders have sought to compete by offering Black Friday in July.

These insightful leadership attempts at demand shaping have reshaped the holiday shopping landscape, extending peak spending beyond the traditional Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In this context, leadership plays a pivotal role in preparing retail, eCommerce and fulfillment operations for the challenges and opportunities of Peak Season 2023.

Warehousing: Well-Prepared – Not Enough

One aspect of preparedness that stands out is warehousing. Over the past year, many companies saw slower sales than expected, which has resulted in accumulations of inventory. The reduction in imports has lessened demand for adding warehousing space. In fact, I do not expect warehousing to be a problem for Peak Season 2023.

However, it’s crucial to recognize that warehousing is just one part of the equation. A comprehensive strategy involves efficiently moving these goods to meet surging consumer demands.

The Challenge: Labor and Transportation

With warehousing under control, insightful leaders need to turn their attention to two critical elements of the supply chain – labor and transportation. In fact, I think supply chain leaders are paying scant attention to those two factors, which could pose significant challenges as we approach peak season.

The labor market has proven unpredictable, with many industries facing worker shortages. For the logistics industry, recruiting and retaining qualified workers remains a daunting task.

Simultaneously, transportation faces its own set of challenges. Escalating fuel prices and logistical complexities make securing reliable transportation more difficult. However, committing to a single transportation solution is risky. A thorough Transportation Diagnostic Evaluation (TDE) can help identify the most suitable approach. Pairing the TDE results with a robust Transportation Management System (TMS) can provide a competitive edge, allowing flexibility and adaptability when demand spikes.

Giants Gearing Up: Amazon and DHL

Recognizing the importance of proactive planning, supply chain leaders at industry giants like Amazon and DHL are addressing their personnel challenges head-on.

Amazon plans to hire an additional 7,600 workers in Nashville and a quarter-million employees across the U.S.

Similarly, DHL eCommerce has inaugurated a $74 million consolidated distribution center near Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. This high-tech facility can process 50,000 parcels and packages an hour and unload 20 trucks an hour, streamlining the final mile delivery process. DHL has invested $400 million in U.S. operations to ensure they have the technology, labor and transportation necessary to meet holiday demand effectively – now and for the future.

Your Move: Secure Flexible Solutions Now

At this stage, you likely will not hire a quarter-million workers or open multimillion-dollar distribution facilities.

However, securing flexible labor is achievable. Companies like Task4Pros offer trained warehouse labor in various U.S. locations, with a proven track record of rapid scalability. Unlike many temp agencies, Task4Pros Pros arrive prepared for warehouse work, boasting a 100% fill rate and turnover less than half the industry average.

As mentioned earlier, the synergy of a Transportation Diagnostic Evaluation (TDE) with a Transportation Management System (TMS) is a potent option to navigate the challenges of peak seasons. These solutions can prove invaluable in handling demand spikes efficiently and effectively.

Don’t Wait for the Peak to Hit

In the race to prepare for Peak Season 2023, waiting is not an option. As a supply chain leader, secure flexible labor and transportation solutions now to avoid shipping delays and provide excellent customer service.

Turning the challenges of the holiday season into growth opportunities requires foresight and proactive planning, and Tompkins Leadership is here to help you succeed.

Future-proof Business Leadership from Mark Twain – Sort of

Mark Twain

Business Leadership Quotes that Ain’t So

My wife and I watched the 2015 movie “The Big Short” the other night. The protagonists “future proof” their investments by betting big against the housing market before its 2007-2008 collapse. The film about the 2008 collapse of the U.S. housing bubble used an introductory quote from Mark Twain:

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

That quote really spoke to me. It applies just as much to business leadership today as it applied to the failure of the global economy and the Great Recession.

Interestingly, the next morning I went to Quote Investigators, a website that traces quote origins. They found no substantial evidence that Mark Twain ever said or wrote this remark. The earliest similar statement came in 1874 from Josh Billings, a pseudonym of the humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw. Billings wrote, “I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.”

Departing Now: The Old Definition of Future Proof

Well, independent of who said it, the quote takes on a whole new meaning toward future-proofing your business when I add my thought: “It is not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble as much as what you did know 6 months ago that is no longer true.”

This quote reflects back to the reality that from now on, business leadership must look at “future-proofness” in a different way. The future will be a departure from the past, not a projection from the past.

I have been saying this for over 5 years now. And given COVID, Rusia/Ukraine, China/Taiwan, globalization/deglobalization, free trade/tariffs, nearshoring/friendly shoring/reshoring, hurricanes in Los Angeles/drought in Panama, inflation/interest rates, uncertain consumer demand/uncertainty of supply, value of AI or not, peak season or not, inventory overage/shortages, etc., business leaders certainly must realize that uncertainty is the only thing that is certain.

Business Leadership: Building for Success with Insight

The ramifications of perpetual uncertainty were the premise behind my 2022 book Insightful Leadership: In the context about the quote on what “ain’t so,” the insight business leaders have about the future will dictate your ability to future proof your enterprise. What you know about the past will likely dictate failure.

So, it is a good thing Mark Twain did not say what some have attributed to him. And even if he did, in today’s uncertain times he would be wrong.

What Business Leaders Need to Know – By Mark Twain

So, not to spread rumors, but I recently met a retired riverboat pilot on a paddle boat going down the Mississippi River. His complexion was fair. His eyes were blue. He wore a white suit and a bow tie. He sported a striking, bushy white mustache and goatee.

He told me: “The problem today ain’t so much the things that a person thinks he knows, it’s the things he thinks he knows that have changed, and the person does not realize they have changed, and they ain’t no longer so.”

Did I dream that? Seems I remember the person’s last name was Twain. Don’t believe I heard his first name. Maybe I need to go back to Quote Investigator?

3 Revolutionary Ways to Gain Business Insights

Business Intelligence

Your Enterprise Needs the Benefits of Business Intelligence

Insight is the raw fuel that leaders need to handle today’s business world. Each day’s headlines seem to reveal more disruptions and crises. Despite all the talk of a new normal, each new normal gets quickly swept away by the waves of the future.

Material shortages and labor woes persist. Solid shipping routes face snarls and delays. Fraying trade ties force enterprises to reconsider supply and sourcing.

You need business insight into the future, not data from the past. Tomorrow’s business landscape will be a departure from the past, not a continuation of historical data.

That said, continued technological advances allow insightful leaders to use data to develop business intelligence in ways never envisioned before:

  1. Through the Internet of Things (IoT), which can yield data from virtually every facet of your operations.
  2. Through artificial intelligence, which helps organize that data in ways that make sense, and
  3. Through environmental scanning, which combines all that data and analytics with your human experience to guide your enterprise to profitable success.

1. Business Insights with The Internet of Things and Embedded Business Intelligence

The Internet of Things (IoT) uses sensors to connect devices and objects to embed computer power into everything – vehicles, production machinery, buildings, appliances, you name it.

These interconnected devices yield business insights by harnessing volumes of data. RFID tags allow supply chain pros to track inventory across the globe. Sensors track shipments to detect delays, along with monitoring inventory conditions and damage. Finding out that your cold chain is a bit too hot – and fixing the situation – can be salvation. You don’t want to deliver your customer’s cold goods hot.

Everybody in your product’s value chain – suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and more – can access real-time data to make quicker decisions, resolve issues proactively and coordinate better during the next inevitable supply chain disruption.

2. Business Insights with Artificial Intelligence

Today’s artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions, from warehouses to digital supply networks, help organize all that data in ways that make more sense.

Warehouses that integrate artificial intelligence, machine learning and the IoT have increased picking efficiency by 20% to 40%. Digital twins run simulations and analyze the data in real time to recommend optimized workflows for picking, putaway, cycle counting, crossdock, loading and unloading – every warehouse operation.

Digital supply networks have yielded double-digit improvements in premium freight costs, overall transportation costs, inventory reduction and reduced manual planning, scheduling and execution management overhead.

A real-time single version of truth connects your entire value chain. Removing boundaries between enterprises links all raw materials/components/parts from their entrance into your end-to-end supply chain until their exit as finished goods. AI autonomously resolves many issues, whether the trouble spot is 23 suppliers upstream or 13 suppliers downstream. Only significant problems get escalated for human intervention.

3. Business Insights with Environmental Scanning

Although they are improving daily, even generative artificial intelligence cannot make every business decision. But combining the insights gained through IoT, AI and ML can supercharge your environmental scanning.

Environmental scanning involves knowing your market, knowing what’s happening, researching and learning even beyond your comfort zone, and asking yourself, “What is going to result in my business changing?”

A great example is the Amazon-Kohl’s partnership, where Kohl’s accepts Amazon returns. Amazon’s environmental scanning revealed that easier returns could lure customers who normally would not buy online. Kohl’s needs foot traffic to drive sales. As described with more detail in my latest book Insightful Leadership, both win.

The partnership started pre-pandemic and continues to be applauded by retail analysts years later. Amazon, for its part, is striking similar deals with other retailers.

Business Intelligence for the Future

Want to learn more about combining the IoT with artificial intelligence with environmental scanning for solid business intelligence? I would love to discuss how your enterprise can benefit.

Safe Workplaces Rarely Make Headlines


Do you care about safety? Do you care about employee morale?

If you said no to the first question, you shouldn’t be leading a business. If you said yes to the second, well, at least there is hope.

Industrial safety and ergonomic programs have been around for decades, but they often require high initial investments that take a long time to pay off – although they do pay off in reduced injuries, fatalities, lower employee turnover and savings in workers’ compensation insurance premiums.

Artificial Intelligence solutions can drastically reduce that initial investment and the time it takes for interventions to secure a safer environment for your workforce. Injuries could decline by more than 50% – and as a result, employee morale will not take a hit – and your workers’ compensation insurance premiums could decline by up to 40%.

According to the National Safety Council, work injuries cost $167 billion in 2021 – $1.34 million per death and $42,000 per medically consulted injury. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 5,190 fatal work injuries in 2021 – meaning an employee died every 101 minutes.

That’s unacceptable.

Face it, many industrial “accidents” are preventable. Beyond the deadly consequences for your workforce, severe incidents can damage your brand for decades. And even minor injuries have a negative impact on morale.

Even accidents that don’t make national headlines destroy morale and productivity. No matter their economic situation, how many employees want to show up at a worksite where their friends and colleagues were maimed or killed?

I’ve heard numerous stories about workplace accidents that have ruined companies for months or years. You think it can’t happen, but when it does, your workers are thinking: “Doris always had a smile on her face and was full of life, and now she’s gone. I not only don’t want to do her job; I don’t want to go down that aisle or even get near a forklift.”

Work shouldn’t hurt, and it certainly shouldn’t kill.

In the case of workplace safety, avoidance is your goal – safe workplaces rarely make headlines. Safety programs have progressed far beyond EHS software, telematics, wearables and video analytics. I would love to discuss how new Artificial Intelligence solutions can help keep your employees safe and productive.

Leaders Must Pick the Right Generative AI Wave

Waiting for the perfect wave

Do you feel like a surfer staring at endless waves as you contemplate the ocean of business possibilities from generative AI?

You’re not alone. The latest iterations of generative AI, from ChatGPT to GitHub Copilot to Stable Diffusion and others, have leaders contemplating three options for their next move. You can 1. stick your head in the sand; 2. try to invest and capture value from every aspect of generative AI; or 3. insightfully select the right options that serve your customers, improve your operations and make best use of your personnel.

Unless you have unlimited capital and resources, I recommend Option 3.

In Option 1, John notes that “My Dad started this business 40 years ago without generative AI. I’ve run it the last 20 years without generative AI, and I can run it another 30 years.”

That will lead to ruin. Eventually, the tide will come in. John’s business will drown. I give John 5 years max.

Option 2 looks enticing, and even I have to contain my excitement at the possibilities. A recent McKinsey analysis, “The economic potential of generative AI: The next productivity frontier,” examined 63 use cases and concluded that generative AI could add $2.6 trillion to $4.4 trillion in value annually. And generative AI can play in any sector – the McKinsey report detailed use cases in retail and consumer packaged goods, banking, pharmaceuticals and medical products.

But that wave likely leads to a wipeout as well.

Susan may think her organization can handle everything, but few enterprises can afford to hire enough people and throw enough money at the massive quantities of computational power required to train generative AI with the however many billions of parameters necessary to tailor it to every aspect of your operations. And today’s high interest rates preclude going into massive debt.

OpenAI spent a staggering amount of money to develop ChatGPT, and the world’s most famous large language model costs a bundle to operate. Estimates for OpenAI’s daily spend are all over the map, from $100,000 a day to $700,000 a day. And the company may have lost a staggering $540 million last year, including $89.31 million on staff.

Earlier this year, Microsoft confirmed it has invested billions in OpenAI. Unless Susan’s business can tap into some of the billions of dollars venture capital is pouring into generative AI, her enterprise will burn through its cash reserves before seeing enough benefits.

After all, if you look closely at the McKinsey report, 75% of generative AI’s total impact will come in customer operations, marketing and sales, software engineering, and research and development. The potential for generative AI in manufacturing and supply chain functions is much lower.

Supply chain and manufacturing still will benefit from AI, according to the report, but that benefit will come from “numerical and optimization applications that were the main value drivers for previous applications of AI.”

So Felicia, who picked Option 3 for her consumer packaged goods firm and concentrated on automating key functions in customer service, marketing and sales, will be the likely winner.

For leaders, the right strategy is to transform your business into an AI enterprise. The danger is staying onshore or trying to ride every wave you see. I think 50% of businesses will be like John, 40% like Susan and 10% like Felicia. Insightful Leaders will follow Felicia’s path and select the most lucrative generative AI waves to ride. Make sure your organization is on the right wave.

“Old” eCommerce Requires New, Agile Strategies


It’s hard to believe, but eCommerce is almost 30 years old. This means businesses must pair grown-up, agile strategies with solid execution to maintain and gain competitive advantage.

The first documented online transactions where a customer placed an order, sent money to another human and received goods in exchange took place in 1994. Although Smithsonian Magazine reports dueling claims as to whether the first sale involved a CD or computer equipment.

No matter, the point is that eCommerce is getting old. From those few transactions decades ago, first quarter eCommerce sales accounted for 15.1% of all retail sales, its highest share since the pandemic-fueled second quarter of 2020, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In addition, eCommerce is no longer the province of digitally native businesses. Virtually every retailer has embraced, or tried to embrace, unichannel strategies where they sell everywhere (online, in store) and deliver everywhere (in store, direct to the customers’ homes or buy online pickup in store). While online sales growth is outpacing retail growth, the increase is no longer stratospheric enough to overcome poor strategy and lackluster execution.

In other words, as The WSJ’s Justin Lahart writes: “The picture that emerges is one where sales tend to grow each year, but at nothing like a viral pace, with different players duking it out for share and winning or losing depending upon how they execute. If that sounds a lot like the business of retail before the advent of online shopping, that is because it is.”

Strategies to take advantage of eCommerce abound.

For example, as The WSJ reports, formerly online retailers like Warby Parker (eyeglasses), Allbirds (sneakers), Parachute (bed linens) and others are opening retail stores, reducing the shopping center vacancy rate to 5.6%, its lowest in years. Leaders of these enterprises are using online sales data to place stores near their customer base, which also helps them decide how to build out their distribution network.

Walmart’s strategy is to offer a suite of online pickup and delivery services, as well as online advertising, which skyrocketed its U.S. e-commerce sales by 27% in the most recent quarter.

While online grocery sales are up overall, the volatility among segments requires strategies agile enough to react to and fulfill consumer demand. The latest data, reported by Supermarket News, show that some segments skyrocketed while others plunged – so VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) is going nowhere.

Like everything else, your company’s supply chain strategy will require optionality to succeed. I would love to discuss ways Tompkins Leadership and Tompkins Ventures can help.

Pairing Supply Chain Strategy with Execution is Hard


Bad news for Shopify, Blue Apron and AEO points out the importance of devising a solid supply chain strategy – and pairing it with solid execution.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, the eCommerce provider, meal-kit delivery company and apparel retailer are pulling back on plans to deliver their products directly to consumers. All three hoped to gain market share by rapidly expanding distribution capabilities to challenge Amazon – a tall order.

In my view, The Wall Street Journal’s headline, “Companies Find Ambitious Logistics Strategies Haven’t Delivered,” is inaccurate regarding Shopify and Blue Apron. Those two enterprises basically had no strategy, just assumptions. Shopify and Blue Apron assumed that they had the customer, so they might as well do logistics just like Amazon did – even though neither Shopify nor Blue Apron had particular expertise in logistics. That “strategy” does not work unless you have the scale that Amazon has to become profitable in logistics. Neither did.

AEO, for its part, had a great strategy. The company aimed to scale by offering its logistics services to other retailers. This is the perfect way to play it, as many retailers, large and small, are frustrated by dealing with Amazon.

Unfortunately, AEO failed in execution. Amazon spent decades assembling its fleet of vehicles, warehouses, planes and final mile providers. AEO tried to build quickly through a flawed M&A process, spending hundreds of millions of dollars upfront to buy logistics providers instead of building organically, supported by the continuing growth of eCommerce.

Yet even though the company is pulling back, AEO’s focus on a solid strategy did yield some positive results, cutting delivery costs for American Eagle brands. Instead of totally abandoning this strategy and selling off its logistics assets like Blue Apron and Shopify, AEO is simply reducing its workforce and expansion plans. With the infrastructure and strategy in place, AEO could be well-positioned for future growth. And yes, eCommerce continues to grow, just not at the explosive numbers of 2020, making it hard for AEO to justify those huge capital outlays.

As Tompkins Ventures Business Partner Aaron Alpeter told The WSJ: “The reality is that logistics is hard. Supply chain is hard, and you spend your whole existence in supply chain trying to make sure the things that were supposed to happen happen, and you have customers that effectively tolerate (only) perfection.”

What AEO, Blue Apron and Shopify are facing should give executives pause in this world of perpetual disruption – supply chain strategy is important, and pairing a good strategy with solid execution is paramount for success.

But your company has options, and if you want to lead your enterprise to supply chain success, I would love to discuss them with you. Going it alone is not wise in this world.

This Blog Won’t Solve Everything – Read It Anyway

No, this blog will not perfect your life, grow your business 50%, cut logistics costs by 50%, allow you to give 50% raises to your staff … you get the picture.

Perhaps, however, you will start looking at advice on the internet with a more discerning eye. This column by Jason Gay in The Wall Street Journal got me thinking about our advice culture, and how so many headlines out there promise that this ONE thing will FIX EVERYTHING.

That, unfortunately, is not how life works. That is not how leadership works, particularly in an era of perpetual disruption, where everything you assumed certain is now wrong or has changed, and the only thing you can be certain about is … uncertainty.

As Robert J. Bowman writes for Supply Chain Brain, “Even the world’s best archer has trouble hitting the bullseye if the target won’t stand still.” While Bowman was discussing the rapid demand shifts in the microprocessor market, the quote applies to leadership in all sectors.

Leadership is a continuing evolution. What worked for the first 45 years of my professional life took me from my kitchen table business where we did warehouse consulting. Then we added inventory management, then transportation, then network planning. Then we moved into packaged software and implementation doing WMS, inventory, forecasting, TMS, LMS, YMS, then OMS, then S&OP, then into material handling systems integration and warehouse execution systems. Then we went global and began to look across the network into supply chains and then to supply chain visibility and then Digital Supply Networks, then to Artificial Intelligence and digital twins and on and on.

As you can see, leadership did not mean resting onshore in a steady state. As opportunities explode, you must grab those waves, ride them and provide more and more value. Sometimes the evolution is slow, and steady state appears to be in place for 9 months or even a year. But then you will quickly cycle through two bursts of innovation in 3 months. So, you see, turning problems into competitive advantage requires continuous learning and continuous evolution.

Sounds simple, right? But as Gay writes, “The notion that a single bit of wisdom can profoundly change a life is highly spurious, bordering on deception.”

That’s the way it is with leadership. Executive development and organizational transformation take time. You must take everything you learn – from this blog, other blogs, books (some people still read them), videos, webinars, speeches and your daily work life, and filter that knowledge through your experiences.

Pairing your knowledge, learning and ability to change with executive coaching can jump-start organizational transformation. But remember, coaching is more than a series of training modules for your budding leadership team. Coaching must be a holistic process. In today’s ever-evolving world, optimizing your path forward will not work. Your enterprise needs many options – optionality – and the ability to see what waves are coming and the agility to turn on a dime to deploy the right options.

The solutions your leaders select must operate over a greater range of alternative operational requirements. Leaders who can master this adaptability will have their organizations ready to handle change, different volumes, different varieties, different requirements.

So the next time you read something titled “The ONE thing you need,” well, you might really need the information in that article. But you’re going to need a whole lot more for organizational excellence in our complex world.

Business Travel: Another Nail in the Old Normal’s Coffin

Empty Airport

A new day. Another report. And more data to prove business will never return to the “old” normal.

Virtual working has permanently altered business travel, according to CNBC. The sector has stagnated, and many of those who fly are choosing economy class over fancy business and first-class digs.

This, obviously, forces airline leaders to rethink any strategy that banked on high-flying business travelers. For the rest of us, when I look back, I wonder what I was thinking for the previous 40 years.

A world of virtual, remote and hybrid work clearly was possible before the pandemic. Skype has been around for 20 years – almost old enough to legally buy a cocktail. Internet chat debuted in the 1980s. Many of the tools were there. The only things lacking among the executive set were Insightful Leadership and imagination.

As I wrote in Insightful Leadership, for 40 years I spent 3-5 nights and 40-plus weeks a year in airplanes, airports and hotels. That wicked pace of travel has dropped to about 3-5 nights a month. Beyond that, I’m not commuting to an office – unless you count walking up the stairs a commute.

What has this “disruption” done to my productivity? It has easily doubled.

I’m not the only one. CEOWorld Magazine mentions numerous studies that show remote work beats in-office productivity. This research comes from august institutions like Stanford University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, not the feelings of a Tik Tok star. From IT to finance to consulting to software, case after case abounds showing that remote employees are happier, more productive and more satisfied with their work-life balance.

And yet leaders still have their heads in the sand. Headline after headline reports that executives want their charges back in the office, under their thumb. And the U.S. Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes shows a continual decline in the percentage of hours worked remotely, from more than one-third at the beginning of 2022 to 28.4% last month. When I downloaded the data, I did note that hybrid working arrangements have ticked up to 31.5%, so that’s a positive.

Look, I’m not necessarily here to tell you how to run your business – but of course, if you connect, I’m sure we will have productive conversations. But I’ve started multiple enterprises since 2020. All have been fully remote and capable of sourcing talent from across the globe, not just those within commuting distance. I’m astounded at the results and continue kicking myself for not realizing we could have had the “new world” years ago.

The choice is yours.

Want to Hire from the Class of 2023? Re-engineer Work.

Class of 2023

Large companies, particularly the tech titans who are laying people off by the shipload, may not be that interested in entry-level workers.

But it turns out they’re not that much into you either.

Recent research from Handshake, an early career community for U.S. students, reveals that the class of 2023 are less likely to consider familiar brand names and fast-growing companies during their job search. They know that high-flying enterprises can turn south real fast. (See Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank, First Republic Bank and others.) And if they land that job, today’s graduates would like to also be employed next week, thank you.

All of a sudden, practical benefits like stability and starting salary look a lot better than adding a brand name to your resume.

This, of course, is an opportunity for smaller, more nimble companies to take advantage – as well as larger ones who don’t see every economic bump in the road as an excuse to shed staff. The CEO of software giant Intuit recently said it’s much easier to poach engineers who know a thing or two about artificial intelligence than in recent years.

Beyond luring talented professionals from tech titans or hiring recently laid off staff, there’s a lot to like about the class of 2023. According to Handshake’s report, “The Class of 2023 Prepares for a Future of Work, Disrupted,” members of this younger cohort are confident in their skills, tech savvy (even if they do not have an underlying technical degree) and expect to continue learning throughout their career.

Of particular note, they aim to build skills in critical areas such as data analysis, product management, IT, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and more. Again, this is regardless of whether they studied technical subjects for their undergrad.

Personally, given my noted preference for the new world of remote work, I was surprised by their desire to spend time in the office. Upon further reflection, this makes sense. While Tompkins Leadership and Tompkins Ventures are comprised of seasoned veterans who know what to do and have decades in the workforce, those entering professional life value making personal connections face to face. And remember, the class of 2023 missed a lot of “face time” during the pandemic lockdowns.

Just don’t expect them in the office five days a week. More than 70% want hybrid jobs. Without the hybrid option, they are split 50-50 on in-person vs. remote. Note that students of color largely prefer fully remote over fully in person, something to keep in mind as leaders aim for more diversity, equity and inclusion.

Clearly, the class of 2023 is taking account of the fact that we live in a world of perpetual disruption. Leaders who can re-engineer work to handle this era will be the winners.

Why We Need a New Path

Choosing your best path

It’s nearing the summer of 2023, and companies worldwide continue trying to return to pre-2020 – the Old Path of leadership.

Unfortunately for them, two irreversible conditions prevent that possibility: the reinvention of work and demographic change.

First, despite leaders’ desire to lure/encourage/mandate workers back into the office, the Old Path of commuting to work for a 9-to-5 is dying. Forbes reported that 50% of executives want their charges back in the office. But only 12% of employees want to be back in the office full time. While big tech companies are laying people off, smaller, more nimble enterprises are offering flexible or remote arrangements to lure talent.

Second, aging baby boomers who leave the workforce take institutional knowledge with them. But they are living longer, and many really do not want full-time retirement. The Wall Street Journal recently had an excellent set of interviews with baby boomers who plan not to retire. The great majority enjoy contributing and consider the continued mental stimulation preferable to sitting in front of a TV, atrophying in body and mind. As Nancy Murphy told the newspaper: “I’m enjoying the human interaction and learning. With the new flexible workplace – one of the few positive outcomes of the pandemic – spending time with family, traveling and many of the joys of retirement are now available to the working.”

Options for remote and hybrid work, flexible schedules, fractional executives and gig work can keep many of those baby boomers around as they onboard the next generation of leaders.

The Old Path of forcing them back into the expensive city or into lengthy commutes will push them out the door. That goes double for younger workers, because as I noted in Insightful Leadership, many view a corporate 9-to-5 as living death. Entrepreneurship exploded during the pandemic, and new business applications are showing signs of a significantly higher baseline than pre-2020.

On the other hand, the New Path of Insightful Leadership embraces both the reinvention of work and the need for change in the face of demographic realities.

Just because your team is not one in the same conference room does not mean your team is not together. Video conferencing, chats, communications technology and even the old-fashioned phone call can keep everyone connected. In fact, since executives do not have to spend their days on the road and their nights in hotels, productivity can increase while quality of life goes up – a win-win.

Changing how you used to lead may require you to also embrace coaching and training, leadership and organizational redevelopment and organizational transformation. But such a New Path is the only way forward.

Getting Back to the ‘Good Old Days’ of Innovation

Brainstorming Session

The pace of disruption has required an increase in the pace of innovation.

Unfortunately, the pace of innovation means leaders seem to spend much or all of their time fighting the fires of disruption, slowing your ability to innovate and create. Can you as a leader relate to the situation below?

A strange thing happened Tuesday in the supply chain planning department of ABC Company. Between 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., there were no crises, no fires to fight. Everything worked. The leaders took a deep breath, looked up from their computer screens and thought: “What now”? It had been several months since their pants were not on fire.

John checked his LinkedIn account and found 143 messages and 47 invitations to connect. Mary peered into her data science reports that she had not had a chance to review for several months. Bob dove into his file cabinet and eliminated a whole trash can of files. Now, once again, he can file things without his fingers sticking between the folders.

And then there was Anna, who stared out the window and reflected on the old days of 2019 and before. Prior to the advent of perpetual disruption, Anna spent several hours a day trying to innovate and create enhancements in productivity and customer satisfaction. She reached for her innovation folder and discovered that she had not touched it in 9 months.

Do you recall the good old days when you had time to be innovative and creative? When on a regular basis you actually worked on making your company better? That seems like so long ago.

Everybody agrees innovation is important – here are 13 good reasons alone from The Business Journals. And here is some information from Forbes on how to encourage employees to innovate.

But for yourself as a leader, why don’t we just pretend that between 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. today (or next Tuesday if today’s calendar is already booked with fires), there are no crises – that we actually have the time to THINK about innovations and how to add value.

I know, a weird thought, but it may be interesting to give it a shot. You may turn an hour of thought into a solution to a problem. Not having that problem next week will actually create two hours for innovation. Just like the good old days.

The Layoff Conundrum: Dishonesty Will Kill Productivity

staff reduction

A friend of mine told me he recently lost 50% of his team when 7 out of 28 found new jobs.

The math, at first, did not make sense – last time I checked, 7 was not 50% of 28.

“Yeah Jim, but those 7 who left contributed 50% of my team’s productivity,” he said.

That’s a conundrum facing employers everywhere these days. As Business Insider just reported, despite all the hubbub about how employers seemingly are back in charge, companies simply do not have enough talent for the tasks they need done.

Yet we still get articles like this, discussing how “the bosses” feel more empowered to claw back some of the power they had before the pandemic-fueled remote/hybrid work explosion. Even worse in my opinion, The Wall Street Journal’s Chip Cutter notes, companies are laying off people without laying them off – shifting back to requiring workers back in the office, reassigning employees to other projects or even other locations, requiring managers to give employees poor performance reviews – in general, treating employees poorly enough that they want to quit.

Besides that, entire sectors seem to have settled on an arbitrary percentage of workforce reductions. For tech CEOs, it seems to be 6%, even though the companies in question have different business models, income statements and balance sheets. It’s like industry leaders are just following the herd, as Fast Company magazine reported.

Look, I get it. Dire economic predictions abound, and the economy of early 2023 is not like the economy of 2022, 2021, 2020, etc. You want to keep investors happy; you want your company to increase efficiency; you do not want unnecessary costs, employee or otherwise.

But arbitrarily picking a headcount and driving people out the door is, frankly, dumb, dishonest and can backfire.

How do you think I feel about how you just treated Charlie? I’ve worked next to him for 10 years. We’ve secured multiple deals and run many a successful project together. You’re going to make him move from Chicago to San Francisco to keep his job?

Seeing this, I might start looking for my own exit. Others on Charlie’s team might feel the same way. Cohesion and institutional knowledge fly out the door with key team members, and that stellar team’s performance plummets. That’s how you lose 7 out of 28 people and half – or more – of your team’s productivity.

To be fair, these reports do note that risk – your highest-performing employees are often the ones who can easily find work elsewhere. And in a world of “known uncertainty,” finding people who can do the work is still a struggle.

So do not follow the herd. Look at your balance sheet, cash flow, productivity, what projects your teams are handling, and make a decision. And if you must trim your workforce, do it honestly.

The Answer to Meeting Overload? Proper coaching – Not a Sledgehammer


In George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984, protagonist Winston Smith finds himself scarcely able to get away from constant government surveillance via telescreens, two-way TVs in every home and virtually all public places.

Are you doing the same to your workforce with ubiquitous meetings, either in person or via videoconference?

No, I don’t mean to liken today’s leaders to the brutal totalitarian states Orwell described. But as NPR reports, UNC Charlotte Professor Steven Rogelberg’s research shows that companies waste tens of millions of dollars forcing people to attend unnecessary meetings. And according to USA Today, Microsoft Teams users tripled the amount of time spent in meetings from February 2020 to February 2022.

That’s too much waste in today’s world of perpetual disruption, where the world will change while you are stuck in a meeting.

In response, some companies have taken a sledgehammer to meetings. Shopify deleted 12,000 events from employee calendars, freeing up more than 322,000 hours. According to The WSJ, Wednesdays are now meeting free, and Shopify limits meetings with 50-plus people to a 6-hour window on Thursdays. Instead of a 90-minute town hall announcing its restructuring, tobacco company Reynolds American Inc. posted a 10-minute video.

Such moves are steps in the right direction. But if leaders are not insightful enough to systematically improve meeting content, employees can waste time no matter what day you reserve for meetings.

The problem, as Professor Rogelberg told CNN, is that only 20% of leaders ever receive coaching on how to hold meetings. Therefore, many of the people calling the meetings are “incompetent.”

Rogelberg calls meetings an evolution from the command and control of the industrial revolution’s early days. Meetings are where organizational democracy happens. But for heaven’s sakes, get some coaching and do them right.

Meetings must have a purpose. No agenda, no meeting. Be clear about what the meeting should achieve – and what to avoid. Do not leave it to employees to rein in a meeting that lasts too long or rides off the rails – that’s your job.

We are taking that advice at Tompkins Ventures and Tompkins Leadership. Both companies are fully remote. Therefore, email, text, phone – and yes, videoconferencing – are vital.

But we recognized that we got meeting happy and recently pared multiple monthly meetings down into one, sometimes two gatherings.

Find the right formula for your company. The new way of work – fully remote, hybrid or in person – requires full use of all modes of communication. Videoconferencing software is wonderful. But so are email, chat and the old-school “pick up the phone and call.” After all, I doubt your employees want to be glued to a computer monitor from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

As Work Changes, Leaders Must Adapt

work remotely

Do bosses realize the world has changed?

Everywhere I look, from The Wall Street Journal to CNBC, managers – I hesitate to call them leaders – are demanding that knowledge workers return to the office. After years of freedom and flexibility, employees are, not surprisingly, pushing back.

From Alaska to Florida, from Disney to Apple, employees believe they are more productive, have better work-life balance and are happier with remote or hybrid options. And you know what? The data backs them up. Fortune reports that productivity jumped when offices abruptly closed in 2020, stayed high through 2021, then dropped in 2022 when bosses started ordering their charges back to the office.

Face it. The definition of work – how we get things done – has changed. So the definition of leadership has changed. Therefore, leadership’s role has changed. Remote leadership is a different beast than leading everyone in office/cubicle world, so leaders must adapt. Remote work begets higher productivity and less time on meetings and commuting. The definition of work is different; therefore the definition of leadership must be different.

My latest book Insightful Leadership has an entire chapter on this (“Paradigm Shift: Sorry Boss, Your Office is Dead to Me”). At Tompkins Leadership and Tompkins Ventures, we have onboarded two companies virtually in the last three years.

I long ago came to the conclusion arrived at by Fleetcor CHRO Crystal Williams. She told Chief Executive magazine that the “‘five-days-a-week, nine-to-five in your office’ cubicle model is dead – or at least, it’s dying. If you don’t provide some flexibility, you’re not going to attract the best and brightest.”

I want the best people in the best roles, unlimited by geography or commuting time. Today’s technology allows that. Really, remote/hybrid work could have accelerated years ago if the bosses had allowed it.

Work-life balance is not about the hours at the office vs. the time at home, but about the harmony and satisfaction people have both in work and personal domains. It is a balance between home and family, health and well-being, career and community. Spending hours commuting does not fit that model, and the free coffee and doughnuts at work do not change that equation. Free coffee vs. your family? Get real.

Many of the company executives interviewed by Chief Executive’s C.J. Prince seem to have it right. See what you can learn from AllState, Embrace Pet Insurance, Blue Yonder and others.

At home, I can wake up, prepare for meetings, fix tea, have breakfast with my family, and then walk back to the office. That’s a quality of life I did not have for years.

Tompkins Leadership, Tompkins Ventures and many other insightful organizations are not going back to the past. Neither should you.

Flexibility Keeps Staff Happy – Especially Underrepresented Populations

employee retention

The evolution of business has added another “R” to the Insightful Leadership playbook.

No, I’m not talking about the reading, writing and arithmetic many of us grew up with in the U.S. public school system. I’m talking about Retention – the ability to keep good, productive employees once you have found them, particularly if you are expanding your organization’s DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) efforts.

Since beginning Tompkins Ventures in 2020 and Tompkins Leadership in 2022, I attribute much of our substantial growth to our embrace of the post-pandemic virtual world. Our staff is spread across multiple states, and our partners cover every continent except Antarctica.

But first, let’s go back to the 20-year supply chain evolution of EERR, which in 2023 has evolved into EERRR:

  • Efficiency: When coined in the early 1990s, supply chain’s entire concept was reducing costs.
  • Effectiveness: By at least 2005, most organizations used visibility to work together, collaborating on sales, out of stocks, snags in deliveries, adding value to your partners and your customers.
  • Respect: In 2020, when the pandemic, decades of digital innovation and geopolitical/financial crises combined to break the world’s supply chains, leaders gave supply chain the respect they deserved – respect, in this case, means paying attention to and elevating Chief Supply Chain Officers (CSCOs) to the C-level.
  • Resiliency: In turn, those CSCOs are adding resiliency to their organization’s supply chains, aiming to handle the perpetual disruption mentioned above.
  • Retention: The above 4 points of evolution matter not at all if you do not have the organizational muscle – RE, staff members – to get work done and serve your customers.

We have tackled staff Retention with a lot of the tried and true – treating workers as humans, not cogs, listening to their concerns, communicating through a variety of tools. But we have also embraced the virtual office, much to the pleasure of our staff. We could not have assembled our roster of international talent by requiring them to schlep to a downtown office every day. In my view, there are only three reasons to go back to office:

  1. To entertain your boss. Bosses want people to boss around and micromanage.
  2. To let your boss practice the ancient (2019) ritual of staff meetings.
  3. To gossip and spread rumors.

I mean really, if you want to talk to me, isn’t 1-on-1 better? And can’t we do that on Zoom, Teams, Slack, Webex, etc.? Half the people you talk to will be on one of those platforms anyway, so it does not matter if they are in the office next door or half a world away. And if your workers require micromanagement, you should not have hired them in the first place.

Embracing this flexibility will be more important as organizations expand their DEI efforts. Data from Future Forum reveals that underrepresented groups desire more flexibility: “88% of Asian/Asian American respondents, 83% of Black respondents and 81% of Hispanic/Latin respondents report preferring hybrid or fully remote work arrangements, compared to 79% of white respondents.”

So if you want happier, more productive staff – not to mention wasting less money on office leases – look for ways to add more remote work to your organization.

Want to Be a Good Leader? Survey Says Get Ready for Ambiguity


What does good leadership look like in a world of perpetual Disruption? A study by Korn Ferry gives us some clues, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Leaders must build “a more caring and empathetic workplace” to thrive, according to the study, which blended the Drucker Institute’s statistical model for corporate effectiveness with 34 separate metrics and more than 20,500 psychometric assessments of CEOs and other leaders.

The results? As Rick Wartzman and Kelly Tang report, a list of 20 traits and 30 competencies deemed common to companies who rank high on the Drucker Institute’s model.

Important for an age where Assumed Certainty has transformed into Known Uncertainty, ambiguity now places in the top five for both categories. “Tolerance of ambiguity” still “had the strongest positive correlation … with the Drucker Institute’s best-scoring companies, just like it did in 2020’s top five traits. But “manages ambiguity” was a new entry in the top 5 list of competencies.

Other new entries in that top five list of competencies included “Global perspective,” “interpersonal savvy” and “instills trust.” They replaced “builds effective teams,” “drives engagement,” “communicates effectively” and “cultivates innovation.”

The report defines traits as “personality characteristics central to who a person is,” while competencies “are observable skills that come naturally to some but can also be attained and honed with experience.”

Personally, I think “cultivates innovation” remains a top competency. And I find it extremely interesting that “curiosity” replacing “openness to differences” was the only change among the top five list of traits.

Either way, the results are clear. In a world where Disruption is the new normal, leaders must be prepared to handle ambiguity.

Insightful Leaders Peer into the Future, Not the Past

The first month of the year always features a deluge of articles, news stories, blogs and podcasts looking back on the previous year – month-by-month comparisons of 2021 and 2022, benchmarks for the year, how to apply those learnings to 2023.

Hey, Hey – wait a minute! Have we forgotten the lessons of 2020-2022 already? 2023 will not be a repeat of 2022, give or take 3-5% for strategic planning purposes. As we know from my book Insightful Leadership, the future is a departure from the past, not a continuation. The Assumed Certainties of the past are now the Known Uncertainties of the future.

Today, Insightful Leaders need to use the foresight they have gained through their years of experience to develop insight into what Disruptions are going on to progress into Tipping Points, harness the power of those insights to identify paradigms that are no longer correct, developing a strategy to replace these obsolete paradigms, and deploy those insights to disrupt the status quo on the way to competitive advantage and major success.

So yes, look back at what happened in 2022 and years prior. It does give you a baseline. But unlike the past, that baseline does not give you 95% accurate assessments about your business plan and operations. A better figure would be 5% certainty, 95% uncertainty.

Don’t let the waves of Disruption sweep away your organization’s future. Take much of that time you would have spent on all the discussion of the past and invest that time in thinking about the future.

Important Reminders that Less Can Be More

In leadership, subtraction can be its own reward.

I recently received two reminders that less is more from The Wall Street Journal: “Bosses Promise Jobs with a Coveted Perk: Boundaries” by Lindsay Ellis and “Why Bosses Should Ask Employees to Do Less—Not More” by Robert I. Sutton.

Ellis tackles a subject of increasing importance to leaders over the last few years: work-life balance – or, as my Tompkins Leadership colleague Julio Neto calls it “life balance.” Her article quotes numerous leaders, employees and potential employees to respect and enforce work-life boundaries.

This drive by leaders not to burn out their employees is essential. After all, Harvard Business Review reports that employee burnout costs organizations $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending, and that doesn’t include the costs of lower productivity and higher turnover.

Yes, many organizations need to worry about The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting. But you and I know that high-performing organizations still attract talent that wants to work, wants to succeed and wants to make a difference. Often, such talent needs to be reminded to take a break – for their own good and for the organization’s future.

For his part, Sutton’s article summarizes a lengthy body of research that shows how humans (bosses and workers) tend to equate adding more – more staff, software, meetings, rules, training – with creating success. Often, more just creates more bloat, bureaucracy, complexity and burnout.

His point is not that organizations need to do less, but that removing the unimportant excess frees your staff to spend more time on complex, important tasks. This is near and dear to my heart because it’s reminiscent of the Pareto Principle, a tenet of my industrial engineering education at Purdue University. In manufacturing (and many other venues of life) 80% of the errors can be corrected by fixing 20% of the causes.

Making sure your staff can concentrate on the vital few instead of the unnecessary many could be the key to success.

So the next time your organization hits a bump in the road, a thorny problem or an immovable bottleneck, the answer, perhaps, is to take a step back, remove some rules, and subtract instead of add.

A Leadership Quandary: Priorities

A key to leadership is how a leader allocates time and resources. In today’s world, the norm of perpetual disruption challenges leaders every hour as competing activities force them to make tradeoffs on how they allocate time and resources for themselves and their organization.

Great leaders realize that focusing on Important, Long-term and Strategic activities will result in the greatest success moving forward, but it is extremely difficult to withstand the call from Urgent, Short-term and Tactical activities. Realistically, few have adequate resources and time to do all.

In addition, the Disruptions of the last few years (VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity – lockdowns, hybrid schedules/remote office) have dealt an unprecedented rate of change to our leadership teams, making them less aligned than ever.

So you face a two-headed Leadership Quandary of capacity and alignment. If you slow down, contemplate and reflect, increasing your team’s leadership capacity is the only lasting solution to this Leadership Quandary.

Therefore, Leadership Development must be your organization’s No. 1 priority. This is an urgent need in a time where all organizations need dynamic, Insightful Leadership more than ever. Only by developing more leadership capacity can leaders handle all the challenges the organization faces while simultaneously harvesting all the opportunities before them.

In my view, internal mentors and internal development resources are inadequate for addressing this two-headed Leadership Quandary. Your leaders need true Leadership Development, not executive management training. Your leaders need coaches who develop their leadership abilities with insightful questions, not mentors who tell your leaders what to do.

Want to discuss this Leadership Quandary further? Amazingly, whenever I spend time with fellow seasoned leaders, we always end up discussing how our proudest, most successful moments in business came from when we dedicated our time to developing leaders and high-performing leadership teams. Happy to share with you more thoughts on Leadership Development, coaching, artificial intelligence coach-bots and more. Send me a message and we can find a time to chat.

Jim Tompkins of Tompkins Ventures On What We Must Do To Create Nationally Secure And Resilient Supply Chains

The cascading logistical problems caused by the pandemic and the war in Eastern Europe, have made securing a reliable supply chain a national imperative. In addition, severe cyberattacks like the highly publicized Colonial pipeline attack, have brought supply chain cybersecurity into the limelight. So what must manufacturers and policymakers do to ensure that we have secure and resilient supply chains? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders who can share insights from their experiences about how we can address these challenges. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Tompkins.

Read the full article.

Winning Decision-Making Means TAKING THE SHOT

Taking the Shot
Taking the Shot

Leadership, by definition, involves making decisions. And many leaders like to have enough data and research to point a clear path forward before making those decisions.
That has become well-nigh impossible during the chaos over the last few years. Waiting for the new normal won’t cut it – as I’ve written many times before, there is no new normal, only endless and repeated #VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity).

This uncertainty makes decision-making harder than ever. The levels of disruption make decision-making an hourly chore, not a once a task, as #Disruption is the new normal.
Persistence used to be a virtue, but these days, persistence is another name for just being too slow.

As an analogy, let’s examine winning tactics for the youth soccer and National Hockey League matches that I enjoy. The winning side uses teamwork to find the right shot, and when they have the opportunity, they TAKE THE SHOT.

Some teams (and business leaders), on the other hand, keep on procrastinating, waiting for more data, more analysis, more facts, more ways to take the optimal shot.

Eventually the defense (or the competition) catches up, and they never take the shot.
The winning teams (and winning businesses) must use due diligence. Examine the history of the goalies – do they give up more goals on the left side, the right side, high or low? Then TAKE THE SHOT.

Try to break down risks and take them one at a time, and don’t look back. Get moving. Do not second guess.

Give yourself a deadline for a decision and make it happen.
No matter what, your side will never win if you never TAKE THE SHOT.

Jim Tompkins
Chairman and Co-Founder, Tompkins Leadership

Shaping Culture: Onboarding in the Face of Disruption


Recently, I discussed Tompkins Leadership LLC’s views on Shaping Corporate Culture in the Face of Disruption. My Aug. 4 post detailed 7 ways leaders can and must impact culture, including the vital task of onboarding new employees.

This is going to be difficult, but not impossible, in today’s world. For in-office personnel, yes, you can sit them down one-on-one, gather them in a conference room, guide them through paperwork and personally model your enterprise’s cultural practices.

However, many who have returned to the office face a culture shock – some still hold “face-to-face” meetings via Zoom instead of crowding around a table. Casual Fridays have crept into the other 4 days of the week. And in hybrid situations, some – or all – of the office might be remote while you are plugging away at your desk.

Pamela Hinds and Brian Elliott have some good ideas in a recent Harvard Business Review article. Since this is a short blog and not a white paper, let’s take one of their points: onboarding.

Hinds and Elliott note that some companies have moved much of their onboarding paperwork and learning sessions to online and video, combined with interactive discussions of cultural values and norms.

Personally, I have found such video introductions to be invaluable as we have built Tompkins Ventures from the ground up over the last two years, along with my newest company, Tompkins Leadership.

While I benefited from knowing most of Tompkins Ventures’ new hires beforehand, I still have met some via phone call and video chat only. And many of the 300+ partners have been onboarded via email, video, and phone.

Tompkins Ventures has regular video forums divided up by practice, along with the occasional video forum for all partners. Online repositories secure files and videos for access at any time – key for a company that has partners on every continent except Antarctica. That’s a lot of time zones!

So, like many, we are using technology to replace a walk down the hall, a tap on the shoulder, the huddle around the water cooler. Sometimes, we even go old school and call each other on the phone.

Once again, technology is an answer.

Jim Tompkins
Chairman and Co-Founder, Tompkins Leadership

Need Leadership Development & Coaching? Technology is the Answer

Leadership Coaching

Good leaders are hard to find, and learning without coaching has limited value. Unfortunately, even the best team of coaches can develop only a few hundred people a year.

However, pairing great coaches with predeveloped modules and an artificial intelligence advisor can quickly scale up leadership development & coaching.

Here’s the process: Adults – CEOs, leadership team members – study and learn from a combination of self-directed modules and live teaching before interacting with a combination of live coaches and artificial intelligence advisors. Your AI advisor knows which modules you have examined and how long you have spent on each. The AI advisor spends a few sessions with you discussing the modules and asking you questions – Why did you leave that module after 4 minutes? What were you thinking when you rewound that video 3 times? Why do you think you did well on this set of questions instead of that set?

The AI advisor summarizes your progress, devises a plan, and reports that to your real-life coach. Your coach spends 20 minutes, not 4 hours, preparing for your session.

The process starts again with the next set of modules and live teaching. You can escalate to your live coach at any time if you get frustrated with your AI advisor.

This truly is andragogy – a big word referring to the methods and principles for adult education – for today’s age of Disruption. Massive workforce turnover might be forcing you to train hundreds or thousands of new hires, and that does not include budding leadership teams or CEOs aiming for new skills.

Artificial intelligence advisors + live coaching could add more capacity than you ever thought possible to your enterprise’s leadership development programs. 

Jim Tompkins
Chairman and Co-Founder, Tompkins Leadership