By Ed Robinson, Regional Managing Partner, Atlanta
It’s been a hard few years; you don’t need me to tell you that. For those of us in manufacturing, we have seen our customers become more demanding and we’ve all had to work harder to manage growing complexity. Despite these challenges our industry has managed to improve. We saw productivity increase over the past two years, and profitability increased in many cases as well.
Now, the news is telling us that we are recovering. Orders are increasing and many of us are poised to expand. The pendulum appears to be swinging back in our direction and the concern of many business leaders has changed from survival to scalability. We’ve gone from cutting costs to making the right investments; from work force reduction to growth without adding unnecessary labor, and from riding it out to needed improvements. The landscape has changed for our industry again and we need to adjust to stay ahead.
From my conversations with other manufacturing leaders, I have compiled fundamental action items needed to keep the fat off as your top line recovers.
#1 – Stay Ahead of the Changes – Develop the Baseline & Monitor Your Metrics:
Identify the key metrics in your business; especially the ones that you have improved during the downturn. Watch these metrics like a hawk. Have a plan to react if you see them trending back in the wrong direction. You should have timely metrics in place for labor costs, material costs, quality performance, and delivery performance. Finally, don’t make excuses for poor metrics. Yes, your business is changing, but you don’t have to change your standards.
#2 – Focus on the Improvements Before You Need Them:
Your tendency will be to avoid adding cost and overhead, which is understandable. But as your top line comes back, you will need to invest in your business. The key will be to make the right improvements and add the right people at the right times. If you wait too long to make these investments, your decisions will be reactive, driven by crisis which never turns out well. Create a plan with trigger points for your overhead additions and stick to it. Be honest when assessing your performance; you should focus on having solid processes in place before making these additions or you will lose productivity and, in turn, profitability. Consequently, you also need to create a plan for what improvements will be needed to hit certain business levels.
#3 – Grow Your Greatest Asset – Your People:
The past few years have been tough for your employees, as well. You’ve asked them to do more than ever and likely have not been able to reward them for it. I have read that as much as 50 percent of the workforce will be looking to change jobs, so how can you prevent that in your business? While compensation may be the obvious answer, it is a short-term solution. Your people are likely craving success. So how can you provide that to them? Get them involved and provide them the platform, tools, resources, and opportunities to be a part of improving the business.