Applying Design Thinking to the Work of Logistics Managers

Olga Zhinko, HR Director of TELS Group of Companies

A lot of cases have been published on the web-site of TELS Group of Companies in the last year. The cases bring into focus the results of our employees’ work involving preparation and optimization of logistics schemes for clients. I can take the liberty to say that a creative approach in the work of logistics managers is one of the key competencies today allowing to cope with the assigned tasks successfully.

How did we manage to reach it?

VUCA era (the term is an acronym from volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) requires a flexible creative approach to all spheres of life including business. That is why TELS includes creative thinking skills in employee’s job profile.

It’s almost impossible to find the required number of experienced, professionally trained, creative personalities. At the same time, creative thinking can be developed through special training programs if one has the right potential.

TELS Group of Companies operates a policy implying the growth of an employee from the beginner to a senior logistics manager (obviously if they have certain abilities and will). Part of educational programs aim to increase creative potential. A serious emphasis is put on developing managers' flexibility of thinking and non-standard approaches to perform tasks that have to be fulfilled within the established business processes and service standard.

Why do we need creativity today in, as it seems, rigid business processes?

Solving problems reactively and proactively

Working in conditions of “perfect competition” as it is in the market of transport logistics involves competition for the customer between a large number of companies with a similar level of service and capabilities.

But what will happen to the competitive advantage if services of the major market players are approximately at the same level?

Everyone knows that good services are no longer an advantage today. Quality services within the established standards is a normal state of things. Moreover, today our customers expect managers to be willing to go beyond the usual schemes if required. The advantage now becomes the ability not only to solve customer’s problems, but also to lift them from the customer forever. This means not just temporarily going “beyond” to solve the problem but finding an acceptable solution algorithm which can be used in similar circumstances to solve similar problems.

The desire to find comprehensive solutions lifting customer’s problems will now become a “philosophy” of customer relations for employees of all levels and positions.

Major key customers expect us to be proactive in servicing their logistics needs. On becoming a contractor for such a customer, we should not just work by request but initiate the optimization of their logistics schemes and mitigate all potential risks beforehand. For this one has to understand customer’s business and the market perfectly. It’s important to track the changes, analyze the changing circumstances, signal about the potential problems and offer solutions immediately.

That is why the development of proactive and creative approaches at work has become one of the most important tasks in training and employee development system of TELS Group of Companies.

Teaching design thinking

It is clear that the main conveyors of all innovations are middle managers. The success of the newly introduced work models depends on expertise, initiative and on-the-spot control.

That’s why Design thinking course is included in Employee pool training program (a program preparing the employees for middle and senior managers). This implies a different approach to customer service, which is distinguished from the standard model of work. The course aims to show the variety of mechanisms for reviewing situations and finding new solutions for the client.

Design thinking is a process targeted at creating a “better future” and finding new ideas to solve problems comprehensively in a variety of areas. In business, design thinking is a method of new product and service development. The proposed solutions often take unexpected shapes.

EXAMPLE. IKEA is an excellent example when design thinking was applied. Almost all the elements of the legendary IKEA business model, as showrooms along with catalogues, flatpack knockdown furniture, self-delivery and assembly, came to life due to the pilot answers to vital questions. For instance, independent delivery of goods became IKEA’s key strategy almost by accident. Once dissatisfied customers rushed to the warehouse because there were not enough employees who could help them. The warehouse manager saw the advantage of customer’s initiative and suggested to adopt this principle on a regular basis

TELS Group of companies decided to apply this tool to develop current service and create additional products.

Design thinking implies immersion in client’s business in order to see their problems more accurately and feel them more acutely. Such an approach allows to understand client’s needs better, pose questions more accurately and find answers faster.

To ensure that our leaders implement the design thinking method in their teams, we offer not only theoretical knowledge but also practical experience during the training course, starting from problem identification to prototype creation and presentation of a pilot project of a business solution. During the course our employees develop solutions, defend their projects, most of which have applied value and require little development for implementation.

Results in action

It’s a comfort to know that such an approach to staff training gives measurable results in customer service. The skills acquired in design thinking significantly expand managers’ ability to find the schemes of cargo delivery and improve them according to customer’s priorities.

In the last year, TELS Group of companies has developed a number of mini-projects for customers working in different sectors of the market. The proposed solutions ensure improved schemes of cargo delivery in various conditions – deficiency of transport, limits of storage volumes from customer’s side, short-term planning of production needs, situational requirements to accelerate the delivery of goods and many other conditions. New logistics schemes minimize time and costs and, most importantly, solve customer’s problems systematically.

Of course, successful development of relations with the customer is possible only when the customer sees you as a real expert, trusts your conclusions and proposals. One should be a real field expert to confirm the expertise on a daily basis.

New methods and experience in using them allow our specialists to find solutions more successfully and quickly. As work experience shows, employee’s individual capabilities as well as company’s capabilities grow with new methods. Comprehensive customer support has developed significantly due to additional services solving client’s related tasks.

And last but not least, success is contagious. By taking part in team search for solutions, observing how unexpectedly and effectively your colleagues solve the problems, offering your own efficient solutions, people catch the optimism and the desire to develop. And the major result is the growth of business competitive advantages.