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A Conversation on Positive Disruption with Joanna Martinez and Sunita Shahmehri

think outside the box - blog

Joanna Martinez, founder of Supply Chain Advisors LLC, is a speaker, consultant, advisor, and published author. Recognized as a global procurement/supply chain leader, Joanna’s expertise allows her to provide coaching, strategy development, training, and opportunity assessments for her clients, which range from Fortune 50 companies to technology startups.

At the 2020 Quality Summit, Joanna – who provided the closing keynote presentation – spoke at length on “positive disruption,” including how this sort of disruption can help individuals move forward both personally and professionally.

In the following interview, we connected with both Joanna Martinez and Sunita Shahmehri –the latter of whom serves as Ford Motor Company’s Supplier Technical Assistance (STA) North America Operations Manager, and AIAG’s Quality Steering Committee Co-Chair. Sunita is also Ford’s voting representative on the IATF and serves on the IAOB Steering Committee.

With more than 15 years of experience at Ford, Sunita joined the conversation to provide a more automotive-specific stance on change and disruption in our industry, and what this might mean as we move forward.

Read on to hear more from both Joanna and Sunita, including insights on how your organization can facilitate a culture that embraces and leverages positive disruption, and where the biggest areas of disruption might occur in the future.

How can organizations create a culture that embraces positive disruption – and how can they leverage that disruption on a larger scale?

JM: By stepping back every now and then and asking themselves, “Does this make sense?”. Every process or task in a business was set up for a reason and made sense to someone the moment it was put in place. But as people change, as tasks are automated, as companies are reinvented – the need doesn’t always remain. So one of the first things someone can do to disrupt the status quo is to actually STOP doing what is no longer necessary. Beginning what I call a “question culture” eliminates wasteful activities and gets people to feel empowered about what is possible. Bigger ideas and bigger changes can grow from that base.

SS: This has been a key topic for us over time. How do we disrupt ourselves? Personally, I really like this concept. To keep up with the industry and how quickly it changes, we really need to embrace how we can change the way we work today. For so long we keep looking at the same data, same metrics, and expecting different results. In today’s environment, to keep up with the changes, we need to change how we work. The concept of disrupting, to me, is looking at what we do or measure and looking at it through a different lens to see how we can improve our processes and products for the better.

How has the automotive industry changed since you started your career?

SS: I have been in automotive for 16 years now. Since I have started, I have seen quite a shift in the industry in terms of technology and culture.

Our vehicles today continue to surprise and delight with the features that are now available. Having front cameras, 360 cameras, blind spot sensors, and lane assist technology were really things of the future when I first started. Getting into a new vehicle today is exciting to see what new features have been included. The automotive industry has always been fast paced and ever changing. More recently I am finding there is more focus on the “team” effort. We are focusing on our Ford truths with all employees to help build creativity, trust, and develop a true team atmosphere. We are focused more than ever on our customers and employees.

What led you to “embrace the churn”?

JM: One December, I was writing up my accomplishments for the year when I realized that I had completed almost nothing. There was pressure on margins, cutbacks were rumored, and I spent the entire year with my head down trying to be invisible. Who wants to spend their life doing that? I realized that I had to either learn how to deal with a level of uncertainty in the business world or change careers.

I’m so glad that I didn’t try to change careers, because there is no career on planet Earth that has been insulated against the disruption we’ve seen over the last few decades. Virtually every role today is performed differently than it was in the 90’s so there is nowhere to “hide.”

By practicing positive disruption and becoming change makers ourselves, our days are more exciting and we build up tangible examples of why we should be the people chosen for that next set of promotions!

What are the most critical challenges the next generation of (automotive) professionals will face, and what advice would you offer someone just starting out in their career?

SS: As I mentioned earlier, automotive is such a fast-paced industry that we are changing the way we work to be more agile. Keeping our internal processes flexible to develop new technologies is going to be key moving forward. Automotive is also a very competitive environment so we find ourselves trying to “think outside of the box” quite often. For new engineers and young professionals coming into the industry, my advice would be to keep your minds open to new possibilities. Wherever you are working in the automotive industry, think outside the box and take pride in your work. Be bold and courageous with your ideas, but also be open to candid discussions to understand different viewpoints. Working collaboratively will ultimately help you achieve success.

How can social media help organizations work through corporate disruption?

JM: If people don’t know how you are contributing, what good is it doing you? Yes, you may have the self-satisfaction that you’ve done a job well. But beyond that, if no one knows what you’ve accomplished then it won’t do you any good the next time you’re up for a promotion or the next time there is a reduction in force and someone is deciding who should stay with the firm and who should go. So you must promote yourself every chance you get.

Social media can play a great role in keeping your name out there and labeling you as a thought leader or significant contributor in your field. You can’t share company secrets on LinkedIn, of course – but you can contribute to company newsletters and updates, and make sure that your profile in the company directory is up-to-date and reflects the very best image of yourself. And you can show your knowledge of the field you work in with thoughtful comments and posts.

Where do you see the biggest areas of (positive) disruption in our future?

JM: Digitization. We are only beginning to scratch the surface on what the digital enablers like blockchain, robotics process automation, or artificial intelligence can do. If you are going to invest in additional education for yourself, that is the place to do it.

SS: I think in the next few years our entire landscape of what we currently know as the automotive industry will be different. We are migrating to new technology in the space of battery electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles are quickly moving. Our opportunity to disrupt ourselves to keep up with the technology to quickly get quality products to our customers will be key for the future. It will be exciting to see what the next 10 years will look like.