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ROI

Peter Bigelow

Now, just how many people can we move off the floor?

This past year was most unusual, distracting and challenging, and many of those distractions and challenges appear they will remain with us well into the first half of the year. As industry begins to focus on post-pandemic planning, however, much has been learned over the past year that can and is being applied to planning for the future.

Possibly the most significant thing learned is technology can – and does – work! A generation of manufacturing and technology leaders knew little of platforms such as Zoom, WebEx, etc. Through baptism by fire, we have become believers in virtual interaction, its effectiveness and value. Equally significant is the realization that for many business functions, including those in manufacturing, remote working – aka working from home – works and offers much more flexibility than the traditional structured workplace.

Manufacturers have by necessity reconfigured shop floors to accommodate social distancing, cleaning protocols, and all that has gone with the Covid pandemic. Adding space between production lines can accommodate social distancing. But while effective, it has proven costly. Splitting shifts is another tactic. Employees may be willing today to change schedules to keep a job; however, it is not ideal in the long term. Meanwhile, in the office environment social distancing is accomplished via interactive technology. Further, many claim the efficiency and flexibility from employees working remotely and communicating virtually has been significantly better than they imagined. The office environment success and flexibility from harnessing virtual communication technology has not gone unnoticed by the manufacturing manager.

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Peter Bigelow

Businesses can’t plan for everything, but with the right prep they can adapt.

December is finally here. Mercy knows it seems to have taken forever to bring this most unusual year to a close. I keep pondering the question customers inevitably ask during a supplier audit: What contingencies are in place for “unforeseen and unthinkable” disasters and events? If anyone had asked me a couple years ago to come up with a plan to deal with a global pandemic I would have thought them to be crazy for asking. And yet, that was 2020!

The one takeaway from this crazy year is you can never plan for everything. Paradoxically, good planning makes it easier to deal with the unimaginable.

Business planning takes numerous forms. Most people think first of the financial budget planning, usually led by finance and account staffs. Visions of building a budget, whether bottom-up or top-down, as a tool to measure specific activities against comes to mind. This type of planning revolves around predicting core operating activities that are repeatable, predictable and highly measureable. While important, if not essential, for the operations folk to run the “business as usual,” that budget is only one aspect of planning.

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Peter Bigelow

The pandemic created a unique environment for finding talented employees.

Looking back about a year ago, the challenge that kept you awake at night was people. More precisely, where and how to find people to hire – people with talent, a work ethic and interest in a long-term career manufacturing electronics. 2020, of course, has brought a slew of new concerns, and made us adaptable to what is described as the "new normal." But surprise! Right up there with how many face masks, hand sanitizer and Plexiglas partitions are available in the stockroom, staffing remains the major concern for business leaders.

The focus on people certainly has taken some twists and turns through this year. During the first six months, many were focused on how to retain the workforce they had. To be sure, potential health issues, social distancing, work-from-home protocols and other necessary obstacles displaced new talent acquisition, and jolting headlines on unemployment claims, especially in the hospitality and retail sectors, forced business leaders to consider when the next shoe would drop and the order board would dry up. Thankfully – or maybe luckily – most manufacturing, and especially electronics manufacturing, has remained surprisingly “normal,” and customers, employees and suppliers have recalibrated as necessary.

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Peter Bigelow

As communication shifts online, time management becomes a group effort.

Time management, the operative word being management, is never easy to master. Scores of books and lectures elaborate on how to stop the interruptions, focus on the important, and liberate one’s ability to get things done. Even so, the challenge has become even more elusive over the past year.

Until recently, time management focused on how to reduce interruptions from various activities and events, such as unwanted phone calls, perpetual cubicle chats, and the length and focus of conference room meetings. Historically, those were leading contributors to inefficiency and wasted time. That was then; this is now.

Communication has become email-centric. Phone tag is no longer the corporate sport. A typical workday commences by sorting the email inbox, vetting the important ones, and then doing the same in the spam folder filled with six zillion missives, many from finance ministers of countries no one has ever heard of. Face-to-face interaction, however, has remained tied to the corporate conference room, where at any time different combinations of coworkers, customers and suppliers meet to solve some problem or communicate about new or changing opportunities.

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Peter Bigelow

Just as Covid-19 jolted supply chains, it also disrupted how we communicate.

Maintaining effective, open, timely communication can be one of the biggest challenges facing employees at every level. The executive team sets the vision, strategy and tactical goals. Managers and supervisors are tasked with communicating and converting that message into understandable, reasonable, attainable and ultimately successful initiatives and efforts. Employees, in turn, communicate their issues, problems and ideas to accomplish back to the higher-ups, who refine the goals, so the organization moves forward profitably, satisfying customers.

On normal days, good communications can be daunting and complex. And the past several months have been anything but normal.

In-person communication offers the advantage of body language to accentuate the spoken word. The parties involved can literally see eye-to-eye. A speaker can scan a room to see how their message is received and recalibrate as needed. Workers can lean back from their desk or stand over a cubicle wall to ask a colleague a question and receive a quick response. A team can huddle on demand to communicate a problem and brainstorm a solution. How does that work when you and your staff are forced to communicate virtually?

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Peter Bigelow

We must retain our new agility even after the pandemic ends.  

Nothing makes you flexible like a crisis. Yet, as rough as it can be for a person to quickly shift gears, it is significantly more daunting for a corporation to do so.

The entirety of my working career, the mantra of any good business consultant or culture guru has been be flexible and embrace change. Whether an organization is implementing a TQM (total quality management) plan or struggling with financial survival because “plan A” no longer works, embracing flexibility and rapid change is never easy – and often unsuccessful. The larger the organization, the harder it can be. Embracing change and becoming flexible often only occurs when no other option remains, or in short, extinction awaits.

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