At the writing of this column, the world is at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Manufacturers and the supply chain are being disrupted like they have never been disrupted before. Through it all, there are things you can control and things you can’t control.
One thing is for sure: COVID-19 is going to test everyone’s abilities, patience and confidence to lead in this moment. My encouragement to you is, like sailing through a storm, you can’t control the wind and the waves, but you can control the rudder and the direction of the sails.
With that said, the first thing you need to do is sit with your teams and ask, “What is within our control to help us navigate the current business climate and make it to the other side of COVID-19?” Remember, this will not be the last super-crisis we have, so it is important to document the ideas and plans you make so you have a ready-made plan for the next major disaster.
Here are some key elements you need to work through.
Rally Your Team
Every one of your employees has a high level of anxiety and stress during this crisis, particularly when thinking about what it could mean to their jobs. Financial security is most people’s number-one need and also the number-one stressor. Have open and honest communication with your employees about where you are and the steps you are taking to keep the company as whole as possible. You may have to use a combinations of furloughs, layoffs, pay cuts and cutting hours, but the goal is to keep as many of your people as possible.
A great idea one MTI member used was asking their management team to look into their departments to see how many hours they could cut to help meet the 80 total hours they needed to cut in payroll. They were amazed at how many employees were able to cut work to 32 hours a week instead of 40 or take a 10% pay cut to help the company in this crisis. They freed up more than 80 hours by empowering their team to help with the plan. The good news is that they retained all of their talent and didn’t have to let anyone go, thus preventing the potential opportunity for a competitor to hire them.
Communicate Up and Down Your Supply Chain
I was amazed at how many companies I talked to that were telling me their customers were calling them asking if they were still in operation during this crisis. It is important that you have some type of immediate notice to send to all of your customers and suppliers, letting them know that you are fully operational and open for business (if there are no restrictions in your area). You don’t want people to not send business your way because they assume you are not open.
Stay Tuned in to Your Trade Association Information Channel
Having real-time information and best practices at your fingertips during a crisis is a must. You need to have the ability to make quick changes to keep costs in line and business flowing through the door in an efficient manner.
MTI immediately created a central part of their website focused on resources for the heat-treating industry. It includes COVID-19 best practices for plants, links to key documents and replays of the weekly live webcasts that MTI hosts on its Heat Treat Live show. Make sure to stay tuned in, informed and tapped into the resources that your trade association is providing. They understand your business and your needs as well as anyone.
Train, Train, Train
It is proven that well-trained employees have better morale, feel confident in their jobs and incur less error rates. There is no time like the present when employees have some time on their hands. Feel free to look into MTI’s six certificate programs in metallurgy, safety and management at www.MTIAcademy.com.
Start Talking About “What’s Next?”
At some point, COVID-19 will end and the supply chains and economy will begin to grow again. The time to brainstorm and create new ideas to succeed when it returns is not when it comes back but NOW. Ask the following questions:
- What did we learn about our operations from beginning to end during this time?
- Did the supply chain change in any way?
- How can we do business differently to maximize throughput and minimize costs?
- Did we recognize any areas of our operations that could be automated?
- Did any new markets open up for us during the crisis?
In this moment, don’t lose hope. Don’t give up. Keep the passion, and lead your team into “what’s next” because “what’s next” will be good!