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Managing Supply Chain Risks Effectively

This article discusses the significance of managing risks in supply chains, covering known and unknown challenges, fostering a risk-aware culture, and aligning employee risk attitudes with organizational goals to enhance adaptability and resilience in global supply chains.

Supply Chain

Over the last decade, numerous organizations across diverse industries, such as pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, electronics, and automotive, have confronted unforeseen vulnerabilities and disruptions within their supply chains. These disruptions have resulted in costly recalls, often amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. Additionally, both government entities and private businesses have grappled with cybersecurity breaches, leading to the loss of valuable intellectual property due to weaknesses in their supplier networks.

At the core of these crises lies a common challenge: the lack of robust processes for identifying and effectively managing the escalating risks within supply chains, especially as global interconnectivity continues to expand. Emerging threats, such as cyber-ransom attacks, now coexist with more traditional supplier risks like supplier bankruptcies. The complexity of supply-chain risk management has been further compounded by globalization. Even products as sensitive as defense systems incorporate raw materials, circuit boards, and related components that may originate from countries where the system manufacturer may not have been aware of their supply chain involvement. This heightened complexity introduces additional potential points of failure and raises overall risk levels.

This challenge extends to the realm of cargo shipping, logistics services, and freight companies, as they are integral components of the supply chain ecosystem. Effective management of supply-chain risks is critical not only for the organizations directly impacted but also for the entire network of cargo shipping, logistics service providers, and freight shipping companies that play vital roles in the global supply chain.

An Organized Strategy for Managing Supply Chain Risks

We recommend that organizations start by thinking of their risks in terms of known and unknown risks.

Known Risks

Known risks are those that can be easily identified and quantified, making them manageable over time. For instance, consider the risk of a supplier going bankrupt, which can disrupt the supply chain. This is a known risk because its likelihood can be estimated by assessing the supplier's financial history, and its impact on your organization can be measured by considering the products and markets affected by the supplier's potential failure. Even emerging risks, such as cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the supply chain, can now be quantified using advanced systems that analyze a company's IT infrastructure.

To address these risks effectively, organizations should invest time and effort into forming a cross-functional team. This team's primary objective is to compile a comprehensive inventory of all potential risks that the organization may face. Subsequently, they can develop a robust risk management framework that identifies the appropriate metrics for measuring these risks. The framework also defines what constitutes a favorable outcome for each metric, providing a clear benchmark for success. Additionally, it offers a systematic approach for continuously monitoring and tracking these metrics over time.

Furthermore, the cross-functional team plays a crucial role in pinpointing areas where risks are difficult to understand or define, especially in cases where there is limited visibility into certain tiers of the supply chain. This analysis helps to provide clarity on the scale and scope of unknown risks, empowering organizations to gain a better understanding of these potential disruptions within their supply chains and take proactive measures to mitigate them.

Unknown Risks

Unknown risks are characterized by their inherent unpredictability and difficulty in foreseeing. Take, for example, the abrupt eruption of a long-dormant volcano that disrupts a supplier previously unknown to be within your supply chain. Alternatively, consider the exploitation of a cybersecurity vulnerability deeply embedded within the firmware of a critical electronic component. Predicting and preparing for scenarios like these is a formidable challenge, even for the most risk-conscious managers.

When dealing with unknown risks, the primary focus should be on reducing their probability and enhancing the organization's responsiveness when they do inevitably occur. This is crucial for maintaining a competitive edge. Establishing robust layers of defense and fostering a risk-aware organizational culture are key strategies that can provide this advantage.

Reducing the likelihood of unknown risks involves implementing proactive measures that may include diversifying suppliers, conducting comprehensive supply chain mapping, and exploring alternative sourcing options. However, the unpredictability of these risks means that prevention alone may not suffice. Therefore, organizations must prioritize building a responsive infrastructure that can swiftly detect, assess, and adapt to unforeseen disruptions.

An organization's culture also plays a significant role in managing unknown risks. A culture that promotes risk awareness encourages employees at all levels to be vigilant and responsive to potential disruptions. This proactive mindset empowers individuals to raise concerns, share information, and collaborate effectively in times of crisis.

Unknown risks are characterized by their unpredictability, making them challenging to anticipate. To mitigate these risks and sustain a competitive advantage, organizations must focus on both prevention and responsiveness. This involves building strong defense mechanisms and fostering a culture of risk awareness that equips the organization to adapt and respond effectively to unforeseen disruptions.

Managing Known Risks

Organizations can employ a blend of structured problem-solving techniques and digital tools to proficiently oversee their known-risk portfolio, following a four-step approach:

Step 1: Identify and document risks

The standard approach to risk identification involves a comprehensive assessment of the value chains associated with major products. This entails a meticulous examination of every aspect within the supply chain, including suppliers, production facilities, warehouses, and transportation routes. Any identified risks are documented in a risk register and subject to continuous monitoring. It's also important to note that during this stage, any segments of the supply chain lacking sufficient data and requiring further investigation should be duly noted for future analysis.

Step 2: Build a supply-chain risk-management framework

Each risk recorded in the register should undergo a comprehensive scoring process based on three key dimensions, forming the basis of an integrated risk management framework. These dimensions encompass the potential impact on the organization should the risk materialize, the likelihood of the risk becoming a reality, and the organization's level of preparedness to effectively address that specific risk. To align with the organization's risk tolerance, predefined thresholds are applied to the risk scores.

Ensuring the use of a consistent scoring methodology across all risks is paramount. This consistency facilitates the prioritization and aggregation of potential threats, aiding in the identification of high-risk products and value-chain nodes with the greatest vulnerability to failure.

Step 3: Monitor risk

Once a solid risk management framework is in place, continuous monitoring becomes a cornerstone for successfully identifying threats that could potentially harm an organization. Thanks to the advent of digital tools, even the most intricate supply chains can now harness the power of monitoring to detect and track key risk indicators.

For example, imagine a large organization operating in a regulated industry. It proactively identified 25 leading indicators of quality-related issues within its various plants and contract manufacturing partners. These indicators encompassed a wide spectrum of factors, including structural elements like geographical location and years in operation, as well as operational performance metrics like "right first time" rates and deviation cycle times. These 25 indicators were thoughtfully weighted to create a comprehensive quality risk-exposure score, which was then systematically tracked on a routine basis.

Effective monitoring systems are tailored to the unique needs of each organization and encompass perspectives related to impact, likelihood, and preparedness. Consequently, one organization may choose to closely monitor manufacturing line deviations to predict quality issues, while another might rely on real-time Caribbean weather reports to assess hurricane risk at facilities located in Puerto Rico. Regardless of the approach, establishing an early warning system to track top risks is imperative. This proactive measure maximizes the chances of mitigating, or at the very least minimizing, the impact of potential risk events.

Step 4: Institute governance and regular review

The ultimate critical step involves the establishment of a robust governance mechanism to conduct periodic reviews of supply chain risks and formulate mitigating actions, ultimately strengthening the supply chain's resilience and adaptability.

An effective governance structure for supply-chain risk management typically takes the shape of a cross-functional risk board. This board comprises participants representing various aspects of the value chain and often includes line managers who hold dual roles as risk owners for their respective functions. This dual responsibility empowers them to take charge of both identifying and mitigating risks. Additionally, the risk board is typically supported by a centralized risk management function staffed with experts capable of offering guidance on risk identification and mitigation.

A well-functioning board convenes at regular intervals to evaluate the primary risks within the supply chain and define strategies for mitigation. Following these deliberations, participants take ownership of executing the mitigation actions pertinent to their specific functional areas. For example, if the board decides to assess and onboard a new supplier for a critical component, the procurement representative on the board assumes responsibility for executing this action.

Within many organizations, the risk board may also propose recommendations aimed at enhancing the supply chain's agility and resilience. These recommendations can encompass various initiatives, such as supply network reconfiguration, innovative methods to reduce lead times, or collaborative efforts with suppliers to optimize their operations. Augmenting supply-chain agility serves as an exceptionally effective mitigation strategy, equipping organizations to enhance their readiness in the face of a wide array of risks.

Managing Unknown Risks

Unknown risks present a unique and formidable challenge due to their inherently elusive and unpredictable nature. They resist conventional methods of prediction, quantification, and integration into established risk-management frameworks designed for known risks. In our extensive experience, successfully mitigating the impact of these enigmatic unknown risks requires the simultaneous implementation of two critical strategies: the construction of robust defenses and the cultivation of a pervasive risk-aware culture.

Creating Strong Defenses

Recognizing the inherent unpredictability of unknown risks, organizations must prioritize the establishment of robust defense mechanisms. This entails the development of proactive measures, redundancies, and contingency plans aimed at minimizing the potential consequences when these unforeseen risks inevitably materialize. For instance, organizations may opt to diversify their supplier base to reduce dependence on a single source, maintain adequate safety stock to weather unexpected disruptions, or establish alternative supply routes to enhance resilience.

Building A Risk-Aware Culture

A culture that prioritizes risk awareness not only aids an organization in building and sustaining robust defensive measures against unknown risks but also enables swift and effective responses when such unforeseen risks emerge and pose a threat to operations.

  • Acknowledgement. Both management and employees should be empowered to share adverse news and impart valuable lessons from errors. Encouraging this transparency creates an environment where expressing and addressing concerns is not only accepted but actively encouraged. Culturally, it is vital for the organization to avoid becoming disheartened or engaging in blame-shifting when confronted with a risk event. Instead, the organization should unite in a cooperative effort to swiftly resolve the issue harmoniously.

  • Transparency. Effective leadership entails the clear definition and communication of an organization's risk tolerance. Mitigating risks often comes with additional costs, making it crucial to establish alignment on which risks require mitigation and which the organization can accept. Moreover, an organization's culture should encourage the open sharing of warning signs related to both internal and external risks.

  • Responsiveness. Empowering employees to promptly recognize and respond to external changes can be facilitated by fostering a culture of ownership. In such an environment, team members feel accountable for the outcomes of their actions and decisions, facilitating swift adaptation to external shifts.

  • Respect. It is essential to ensure that employees' risk appetites align with the organization's goals, preventing situations where individuals or groups pursue actions that may benefit them personally but ultimately harm the broader organization.


Global supply chains, including those in cargo shipping and logistics services, are now a permanent fixture, and the associated risks are here to stay. Our expertise highlights the utmost importance of organizations establishing comprehensive programs to effectively manage both known and unknown supply-chain risks. Leaders should acknowledge that risk management extends beyond the implementation of processes and governance structures; it necessitates cultural and mindset shifts. Employing these strategies enhances an organization's capacity to reduce supply-chain disruptions and crises while maximizing the benefits of their supply-chain strategies, especially in industries like freight shipping and freight companies where logistics play a critical role.

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