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Shake Up the Status Quo (ft. John McClymont)

In this episode, John McClymont, Founder and Principal of Operational Innovations, joins Caleb Nelson to share how shippers can shake up their status quo, and the benefits they can find from continuous optimization.

Leadershipping Podcast
Episode Summary

For high-volume shippers, smooth operations can feel like “success.” And as the old adage goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But when shippers settle for “ain’t broke,” a LOT of opportunity is left on the table.

In our latest episode of LeaderShipping, John McClymont, Founder and Principal of Operational Innovations, joins Caleb Nelson to share how shippers can shake up their status quo, and the benefits they can find from continuous optimization.

Main Topics:

  • What is the “status quo” for shippers?
  • The dangers of settling for the status quo
  • Identifying areas for improvement
  • How shipping is a crucial part of customer experience
  • The benefits of continuously reviewing and improving operations

Other Resources:


Caleb Nelson

Hey. Welcome back to another episode of LeaderShipping. The dust of peak season and the massive wave of returns that follow it every year has finally settled. I know I’ve spoken to a number of shippers that are looking for some relief and some normalcy during spring and summer months. A lot of shippers are glad to get back to normal for a little while.


Well, today we’re going to be talking on why you shouldn’t get too comfortable settling for what’s considered normal. In fact, shippers that settle for the status quo miss out on a lot of opportunities, such as cost savings and providing better service to their end customers themselves. Today, I’m joined by John McClymont, a true operational expert in improving logistics operations.


John often describes himself as, quote, dedicated to destroying the status quo, which I love that. John, welcome to the show. 


John McClymont 

Hey, thanks for having me. Really, really happy to have the conversation today. 


Caleb Nelson

Absolutely. John is founder and Principal of Operational Innovations, his business dedicated to helping both startups and established companies design strategies to streamline operations and most importantly, foster growth.


Prior to founding Operational Innovations, John amassed nearly two decades of experience in supply chain roles with Agropur, one of North America’s largest dairy processors, with eventually becoming the company’s national director of transportation. I am so stoked to have you on the on the show. John, I think there’s going to be a lot we can talk about from an operational standpoint.


And I’d love to jump right in with my first question. What would you consider to be the status quo for most parcel shippers today? 


John McClymont 

So I’d like to take a little bit of a different frame on it, because I think most people don’t like thinking they behave the status quo. So the really simple definition is when you stop asking why, right?


When you stop wondering why you’re doing things the way you do, why the decisions are getting made the way they are. Then you kind of fall into what I like to call the status quo, which is kind of more executing your flow rather than really fostering an ongoing focus on either continuous improvement or especially these days. So, important innovation.


Caleb Nelson

Yeah. Yeah, I love that. I think the innovation part often gets put to the corner. Everybody wants to talk about it and they want to be a part of an organization that has innovation at its core. But most shippers I talk to are just focused on getting shipments out of the door. And then innovation comes like, second to last place. 


John McClymont 

Yeah, for sure. And, you know, I think a lot of people too right, uhm, operations are very often just seen as a part of the machine or a necessary evil. Right? And the focus and the dollars, the time, the energy is put into products themselves or the actual service and, you know, operations doesn’t usually get that same focus outside of, look, we just need you to do it or it just needs to happen.


So not every organization is as focused and inclusive of maybe getting everything that they can to really extend their value proposition from how they do things and not just either what they’re selling to the market or what they’re trying to be in the market, so to speak. 


Caleb Nelson

Well, and I would assume most of it from an operational standpoint, I mean, it touches on everything from reduced costs and expenses all the way down to what I consider to be probably the most important aspect of parcel shipping, which is parcel shipping and that final mile delivery is an extension of your business, of your brand to your end customer. And if you don’t nail that portion all the way through, the client experience becomes really poor. And I think I think most shippers don’t put enough emphasis on client experience and how that’s really solved through, you know, operational improvements that should be made in your business.


John McClymont 

Yeah, for sure. And they’re totally different. Like when I was in the B2B space, right? It was a little bit easier. One thing that we used to share with the teams was that a customer didn’t see anybody from the organization as much as they saw the salesperson. Sorry – the delivery person, right? And what that ended up doing was really changing the way that you thought about that delivery and to your point, thought about that customer interaction.


Parcel shipping is very similar, right? More and more you’re seeing customers that default to online, especially for their like… I like to make the distinction between like the sort of transactional versus the experiential or the emotional type purchases. And more and more is gone of the transactional business has gone online. So very often people may not go into the store.


You know, they might go one out of ten times or they might go, let’s even say five out of ten times 50% of the time. But that also leaves that other half of your interactions with the customer, completely, this, you know, cold brown box-dropping kind of experience that has so much opportunity when you’re talking about trying to keep attention in a three second world.


Caleb Nelson

Yeah. And I oftentimes you know, feel like there’s some significant dangers that brands and even manufacturers or B2B clients face when they settle for the status quo in shipping, in logistics. What are some of those dangers that you typically see? Like why is it so negative to settle for, you know, “it’s just the way we’ve always done it?”


John McClymont 

Well, I think, you know, the first thing I touched on initially, but you know, your innovation, right? If you really feel that you’re just having to walk someone else’s process or that you have to behave according to these you know, sort of predetermined rules, you’re not necessarily going to think of all of the different ways that you might be able to like wow and surprise and get sticky with your customers. Right? Because you’re like, “well, major large carrier doesn’t do X. I can’t do X.” 


So I think that that’s one of the, you know, one of the big things. But other than that, I think these days especially, it really can cause you to either lose opportunity for improvement, right? Reduce the cost, or you might actually just get yourself into a particular flow or a process that really isn’t great for your product, which then means it kind of erodes either the product sort of experience or the perception of potentially the quality of the product in the consumer’s mind.


And those are all things that you know, you really don’t want. You know, you’ve got to really be excellent with creating that initial feeling of satisfaction and sort of meeting the customer’s needs that you don’t really want to give an inch on the things that might make them be like. And here’s another way I feel let down.


Caleb Nelson

Yeah. And I as a consumer, it’s interesting for me to see when the brand and kind of either the whether it’s a high end brand or a brand that fits a specific “who they are” in the marketplace, whether it’s an adventure brand or a sports brand or, you know, something that is that you’re paying a little bit more for.


It’s interesting to see when the operations or your client experience, your interaction with that brand doesn’t match the brand output, doesn’t match that brand experience. And I think to your point earlier, there’s a lot of brands that focus on you know, that the product gets a lot of attention or the marketing gets a lot of attention, but operations tends to get put to the side and dealt with last when in reality, that is what your experience is from the consumer standpoint.


And so when you go into a lot of these companies and help kind of shake up what they’re doing, what’s the first step like? What do you focus on? 


John McClymont 

Well, so the first thing I do, I really try to make sure and understand, like, what are you trying to achieve, right? Like, are you clear and do you know what it is that you really want to do?

And then more importantly, it’s like, well, why do you want to do that? Because I think it’s important to make sure that any one that is looking to build capability or make a change, they’re really clear on, hey, this is a, you know, like a pivot point or this is an inflection point. And I’m going to change it. And I want to change it because I don’t like the way that it runs, or. I want to do it differently. So I think it’s really important to make sure that their “why” aligns with what they feel they want to change. One for success in general, right? I think that just, you know, make sure that you’re all headed in the right direction. 


But more importantly than that is to actually make sure that there hasn’t been misunderstanding right about, “hey, this is going to fix this problem.” And it’s like, I don’t think that that’s going to fix that problem or maybe not to the degree you think it’s going to fix that problem. So that’s definitely the first thing. 


And then after that, you know, it’s really connecting with the people who do the work. I’m a huge proponent of getting that feedback, whether it’s directly from a warehouse floor, from the drivers or whatever, because everybody likes to kind of embrace the whole organization kind of feeling or all of the partnership feeling. But you really have to walk that if you’re going to make significant improvement because the people that are actually there day to day, moving the product along the line, getting it to your consumers hands, they know all of the things that really aren’t great about how you execute or where the pitfalls are.


And if you want to have a lot of success, you know sort of destroying that status quo, you have to be brutally honest with yourself about where you suck. And I don’t see that to be. You know, I’m saying that to be a little bit sort of forceful with it, but because those are the areas that are going to hurt you even more as you try to either build on them or make changes to them.


Right. It’s the shaky parts. It’s the things that aren’t really that great that kind of work today. But if you try to put even more weight on them are probably going to really, you know, erode the process or break it.


Caleb Nelson

Yeah. And I think the idea of what you just mentioned, the idea that having a brittle operations process versus an elastic operations process, yes, there is change that’s required to go through that, but the change is 100% worth it.


And I talked to a lot of individual companies that say, you know, “look, change is hard. And I’m not if it’s if it’s a lot of change, I really don’t want it.” Versus if you ask them, “hey, is there room for improvement?” They would say, “absolutely, there’s room for improvement. 100%.” And I think identifying and seeing it as there is room for improvement and it’s not this scary, you know, big, hairy, audacious goal that you’re trying to tackle, and it’s going to be so painful for you, but that the juice is worth the squeeze. And I think ultimately a lot of brands need to be reminded of that. And what it comes down to in my world at Sifted is really kind of the data, understanding the data and the analytics behind the data to then say this is why and then let’s track according to that.


What are some of the the common mistakes that you see? You know, on a regular basis where operations have just been lacking? Is it just kind of the adage of, “well, it’s just the way we’ve always done it?”


John McClymont 

When I’m doing those interviews, the faster I get someone to give me that answer, the bigger the opportunity you typically find, right?


Because that usually is very indicative of sort of irritation in the system or just like, you know, where things don’t work really well and there’s a lot of brute force applied. But it’s interesting what you said about the frame because that really is probably one of the biggest mistakes that a lot of people make because you’re right, if you go to them and say, hey, what specifically do you want to improve what isn’t working that well, people have a tendency to get defensive, right?


Like, “oh, you know, like we do that really well.” We’ve invested tons of time in all of this. And it makes sense because they know everything in their head that they’ve done to make it better. They know at one point it was even worse, most likely, and they’ve already made it better. 


So you’re kind of like up against the fact of like, “don’t challenge my successes” Like, “we did so much. We used to be way down here.” But the biggest thing is saying, if you were going to start your business again today, what would you do differently or what would you change? And then all of a sudden people will start talking because then they’ll bring out the laundry list of things that they still wish they could fix so that, you know, that is really, you know, something that you want to make sure that you’re floating those things up to the surface.


But you’re right. The biggest challenge is just people sticking with processes that worked at a period of time and probably actually drove a lot of value for the business, but then not still going back and being like, well, do we still need to do that? I mean, how many reports do people get, for example, that they may not need or how many setups got created for a particular customer that you’re not really sure if you still have to do, for example?


So you know that regular cadence of just going back. And then you know, the other big thing is that I think a lot of organizations deal with just ongoing pressure, right? They’re just there’s there’s to your point, there’s so much market change, there’s so much pressure to perform. So I think that the other big thing is people building very quickly because building shiny new objects and shiny new services or whatever are always well received.


People love the new. But it’s building them on, you know, foundations that really aren’t going to support where they want to get to. And I think that that’s the biggest challenge is like I’m going to have this really shaky foundation. And you know what, on that shaky foundation you are going to build here and you might get to here, but you really want to get up here.


And when you do that, that’s when things are going to really start to collapse. And then what ends up happening because you’re so far down the road, you end up having to throw more money at it and more money at it because you’re essentially brute forcing the problem at this point. And you get stuck into this really dirty loop of I don’t really have time to fix that.


I can’t afford to fix it. I can’t afford the downtime. But because you can’t afford to fix it, you then start getting in this really start cycle of not being able to scale properly. So it gets into a really difficult chicken and the egg kind of process. 


Caleb Nelson

Yeah. No, I I love that. And I think that’s, that’s, that’s right on.


I think you have to go about it almost like walking a fine line or a tightrope. And I really love the the idea or the thought of, you know what, if you had a magic wand, you could wave a magic wand if you had unlimited budget, if you if you could pinpoint areas in the business that need further improvement, what would you detail out versus you know, you’re doing it wrong.


And I think when you hear that you’re doing it wrong, a lot of individuals would say, “hey, man, well, time out. You should have seen what it was like three years ago.” 


John McClymont 

Exactly. So those are like two. So I have two really fundamental questions. 


I ask people if it’s really more about improvement and fixing something that, you know, they’re generally content with, but want to make it better.


It’s, you know, what would you, you know, what would you fix if you started over? If people are in a little bit more of a capability building mode or they want to build out some new capability, I actually change the question and I ask them, what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? Because that gets into the really interesting and innovative stuff because typically the fear of failure or that requirement for certainty of being like, no, I have to show my boss like we’re going to do this and like I have to be able to put it out on a timeline with milestones and achievements.


It really limits people’s creativity because the more that you need certainty the more you’re going to just default to doing you know, either things that are that, you know, with the outcomes is going to be or that are well-established in the market. So you essentially get some variation of what you already have or something that someone else is already doing So those those two questions together are really interesting ways to get people speaking outside of their comfort zone, because typically everyone will be happy to be like Well, what would you do if, like, you knew you couldn’t fail?


And then they’re like, “Oh, here’s my, here’s my platinum plan that would, you know, have is like the number one retailer in the world.”


Caleb Nelson

Yeah. I love that. And I think getting individuals in that mindset is half the battle. And then they get excited about, okay, what are some ways that I can help kind of truly make some transformative operational improvements here?


Yeah, and I know for me as a consumer, I’ll give you an example. This is something really small, but kind of pisses me off every time it happens. And that is, let’s say, go onto a company’s website and buy something from them and you know, in 24 hours I get a notification that, hey, my item is shipped I always get stoked and like, okay, where’s it coming from? What’s the estimated delivery timeframe? And I go onto the, you know, track my shipment and I see that it’s just “label created.” I don’t know if that’s ever happened to you, but oh, it always bothers me 


John McClymont 

100%. So I’m working with one org right now. The first thing I said to them is like, I just need to go into your ecom platform. There’s something I need to turn off, which is like sending the shipping notification when operating at label creation. 


The interesting problem, though, is that some of them will even have a when it hits a mail stream kind of option. The challenge with that is it sounds really great, except different carriers have different handshake requirements about what they consider in the mail stream.


So yeah, so for example, some of them you can say, okay, not when the label’s printed. It’s like, great, I get past this problem. But then for them when it hits the mail stream is when you actually, like, do an end of date clothes and the pick ups are arranged. And now they’re like, Oh, well, we’re coming to get it today or tomorrow.


Now it’s in the mail stream. But from a consumer’s perspective, it unfortunately gives the same stupid message about like, oh, an electronic document has been created or whatever, right? 


Caleb Nelson

Yeah. And for me, you know, for that one that I just indicated it’s been four business days and it’s still label created and that is a terrible client experience. It just is. And, and I think anything, you know where you can show that not only did we fulfill the order and the order is boxed, but when you get a, “your order is on the way,” it’s truly on the way. Label creation and actual in-transit are two totally different things that I think a lot of brands need of you to focus on.


But it’s small it’s, it’s small things that I think haven’t given that that brands or shippers haven’t put enough attention into that. If they make these, it’s not a massive tweak. I mean, like you said, go into the shipping management system and make a couple adjustments there, but it makes a huge impact for the end user and I’m sure you’ve got tons of those examples. 


John McClymont 

Yeah, exactly. And you know, the the other interesting thing and this is just like a flip of like when you’re talking about, to your point, that customer experience that’s becoming more and more important than ever. Right. And why am I going to spend my dollars with you versus you, you know, as everyone’s feeling the pinch of the economy and things like that.


But your point, it’s not just about the option in the first time about, hey, I’m going to change the settings so that that won’t ever come up, but it brings up the inverse opportunity to also manage the customer experience, because you could have two problems. So right now, they printed something for days ahead of time. They know, you know, so to speak, because that’s how the setting is for there’s an opportunity to communicate with you and say, “hey, been a delay, been this and not whatever,” and at least keep you involved in the process because now, right now you’re just like having the button mash all the time and hit refresh and see what’s happening.


And that’s no fun. But then on the flip side, it gives them that ability to also work with their partners, whether it works well, I say partners, assuming a 3PL, but it could also be obviously an internal operation why? Why is there a four day gap one way or another, whether you know or not, that becomes problematic because no one should be hitting execute it on a task that isn’t going to be remotely touched for four days or five days or whatever.


Right. Because that just that just creates more risk in the system about, well, that label did get printed. What happens if those roll of labels for those ten, 20, 40, 50 orders, you know, Bob put them behind the coffee machine for whatever reason and no one realizes where they are and it’s just creating more confusion.


Caleb Nelson

Yeah, I kept thinking that I’m one of I don’t know how many clients that they have on a daily basis, it’s out there. There’s also small tweaks like when you go to track your order, you know, oftentimes I’ll go to track my order and then it will bring me to a landing page that says, put in your order number. Then I have to go back to my email, copy that order number, go back to their home page, paste that order number, and hope that it’s done right.


There’s just small things that I would bet that, you know, is such low hanging fruit. You can absolutely improve that client experience through and through. 


John McClymont 

Oh, yeah. Big time, you know what I mean? And that’s why one of the, you know, one of the, the ways that I’ll sort of interact with a brand, especially if it becomes an ecommerce project, I’ll actually go on and buy their stuff like before I actually tell them or I won’t say what’s whatever, you know what I mean?


You buy something and you go through their process and you’re like, Do you actually know this is what happens? This is what happened. This was the delivery experience. This is what I needed and this is what didn’t happen, for example, or did happen. You know, you know, it’s important to obviously call out the wins as well, right? You know, you want to be rounded that way.


But it’s a great way to just just walk it, right? You know, physical brick and mortar retail regularly. You have, you know, sort of district people or regional people, for example, that will walk stores, that will do audits. You have all kinds of sort of a structure behind that process. Your eComm really doesn’t need to be that different.


There’s ways that you could be testing orders, whether it’s testing your partners, whether it’s testing your internal teams, just testing your communication test, testing your customer service team. Right. For all kinds of things, just to constantly see like, hey, how are we performing? 


Caleb Nelson

Yeah, I love that idea of an audit and test. It’s not an I think operations is oftentimes treated as a set it and forget it situation but like I said, I think you get into situations where your operations are brittle and if you apply a little bit of pressure or a little bit more volume or a little bit more growth to those operations processes, they’re going to crack and break and having something that is constantly elastic instead, you know, it can scale is my business skills and it won’t cause for significant, you know, client disruption I think is really important. 


I’m curious, you know, what what’s some final advice you would give to shippers, brands, anybody that’s listening and being like, “you know, look, I think I’ve got a gut feeling that my operations isn’t up to par, isn’t up to, you know, best in class.”


What would your final advice be for some of those brands and shippers? 


John McClymont 

Honestly, I think, you know, you have to be able to try to surface and have the conversations, right? So if you have the capability and you have that culture internally that you feel you can really get great feedback, then have regular sessions where you push. If not, you know, there’s people like myself or whatever where it’s like even coming in to be like, what do you think or what do you see?


00:24:41:03 – 00:25:10:23


Because the thing is, I’m going to come in as an example, or someone else would come in completely different experience, completely different frame of mind. I’m not going to have necessarily the baggage, let’s say, of all of the great things that got you to where you are. That’s kind of underpinning the reasons why you haven’t gone further. So I think a lot of people really have to have a bit more intention about trying to seek out those opportunities because, you know, the whole concept of people saying like a low hanging fruit like that’s great that that’s there.


But that also means you probably have some challenges with your customer service or your customer experience that shouldn’t be there in the first place. The real quality in that next level of really driving and experience that is a differentiator isn’t the stuff that everybody is seeing. It’s the stuff that’s a little bit more baked into your processes that everybody’s writing off.


So I really do encourage people to seek some different type of perspective because that’s really going to you know, they may not have the answer and it may not be about getting the answer, but it’s like that person or those people may only need to say one thing or part of something that starts getting, you know, the balls in motion, so to speak, to actually, you know, push you down the road thinking about different things and thinking about things in different ways especially.


Caleb Nelson

Yeah, I think that is brilliantly put. Honestly, I think that there’s a lot of individuals listening to this that will probably be nodding their heads along with that. I would second and encourage those, those shippers and brands to be able to say, hey, look, let’s just test it, let’s bench test it, let’s, let’s audit it, let’s go through it, let’s get a third party perspective on it.


And I think a lot of shippers know their end of it. They know their process really well. They might not know how their process compares to others. And what best in class processes usually look like and small things that can make a huge, huge difference. 


Awesome, John. Well, thanks so much for joining the show. Let our listeners where they can get in touch with you. Spotlight yours. 


John McClymont 

Yeah. Awesome. Thanks. So easiest is just the website. So operationalinnovations.ca. I am Canadian so “.ca”. or you can email me directly. So [email protected] and of course LinkedIn, I post all the time industry content, supply chain logistics and you know, the DMS are always open for people to reach out and connect that way as well.


Caleb Nelson

Awesome. This has been super valuable and again, if anybody’s listening that is not following you on LinkedIn, please do. So you provide some seriously impressive content. I’ve, I’ve gained a lot of you know, positive nuggets of information from what you’ve posted, so keep doing that. 


John McClymont 

Awesome. Thank you very much. 


Caleb Nelson


Yeah, well, thanks again.


Well, thanks again for listening. Sifted is going to be at Home Delivery World in June, If you’re going to be there, reach out to me! [email protected]. We’d love to set up some time to chat, meet in person. As for LeaderShipping, you can find more episodes on all major platforms like Spotify, Apple Podcasts, but be sure to subscribe so you never miss a new episode. And I say this everytime, but it really does help out if you leave us to review or write a comment on what you want to see for future episodes, that would be really great. You can also view episodes on Sifted’s YouTube channel and check out sifted.com for more info. We’ve got some really great marketing material as well as newsletters that keep you up to date on an ever changing personal world.


Thanks again for listening and happy shipping!


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