How can I use the current situation opportunistically and introduce some changes that previously would have been considered unrealistic? For example, upgrading my talent pool; entering new business areas and shedding old ones; upgrading my web presence to better serve newly empowered customers; innovating; responding more rapidly to fast changing situations; restoring goodwill amongst my workforce, and many other concerns.
My immediate challenge is to return to the "new normalcy" in a time constrained environment.
I am the CEO of a medium size manufacturing company with thirty thousand employees operating at five different sites. We had been manufacturing a variety of finished products and have built up a solid customer base over the years because of the quality and pricing of our product lines. Like most domestic manufacturers, we rely on a steady stream of supplies produced overseas (mostly China). When the pandemic hit, we had to "lay-off" nearly all of our employees and staff. Most filed for unemployment and some individuals are actually receiving more money unemployed than they did working. A couple of our senior managers have elected to retire thus providing some workplace opportunities for upcoming aspiring managers. Most of our customers have stopped ordering products and are in the same "boat" as we are. The supply chain is in disarray. All in all, things are a mess.
To make matters worse, we are under considerable time pressures to develop and implement a plan for return to normalcy that addresses all these questions
- What will my workforce look like?
- What capabilities do we have?
- What has happened to our customer base?
- What has happened to our supply chain?
- What businesses do we want to be in?
- Where will we put our scarce resources?
Now is the Time To Act
As I ponder the responses to these questions, I keep thinking that our return to normalcy should really be coined "a return to a new normal". While the events of the past several months have been catastrophic, they nonetheless have offered us new opportunities to explore new ways of doing business. Most of these potentially new initiatives would have been unrealistic just a few months ago. But I sense that now is the time to act. To me, these are the changes that will define the nature of our new normalcy. Consequently, I fully intend to seriously consider pursuing some (or all) of the following initiatives to make time our ally:
- the pace of change continues to accelerate; we have been lucky to survive thus far. But it's one of my biggest concern that our current Business Unit structure is too slow to respond to fast changing customer and market demands. I want to establish several Task Force structures and charge them with dramatically improving our response time to changing marketplace demands.
- I want a Task Force to explore new market niches that we are uniquely positioned to pursue. For example, I want one task Force to explore developing and fielding new product lines that we can rapidly produce to fulfill existing national needs. The time to strike is short and I want to be ready.
- Time is money. By rethinking our process flow after we have introduced new structures, I think we can actually achieve cost savings instead of settling for some cost avoidance savings.
- The use of Agile methods has proven successful but has encountered some problems when we have tried to scale the concept up to the organizational as a whole. A primary concern in this regard has been the apparent loss of control by senior management over the process as a whole, which wastes all the time we meant to save through self-organization. The success of self-managed teams is dependent on the sharing of context across the team. I want to introduce (or restress) the role of the next higher manager in the management system (some people call this the Manager-once-Removed role or the manager's manager). By formalizing this role, the organization can benefit from the advantages of using self-managed teams while still retaining a modicum of control exerted by the MoR – the best of both concepts.
- Project management is subject to time pressures as well, and the true principle is unfortunate but simple – the present will always drive out the future. Thus, we can't saddle the current operational unit with the additional task of managing future efforts. Secondly projects vary in terms of their underlying complexity, which means projects take more or less effort to accomplish in a given timeframe according to the complexity of work required to accomplish the project. We need to consider establishing a new organizational entity, focused on innovation and new project initiatives, separate from our current business structure.
The following systems are critical to all companies no matter what their size: compensation system, the planning system, the task assignment and reporting system, the talent pool management system, to name just a few. These systems have to be managed just like processes need to be managed. We need to revisit our current systems in light of the changes occurring in the emerging economy.
- People – This is our most important resource. Without good people working to their full individual capacity, our organizations will not be able to cope in an era of constant change. The pandemic has provided me with an opportunity to upgrade our current talent system.
- I intend to tap some of my younger high potential talent to lead the special task forces and project groups I intend to set up. This way, I keep my traditional managers focused on current operations while I challenge my high potentials to think out of the box.
- Even my traditional managers will need some additional training in task setting over remote communications to define the work objectives. Very few companies ever spend any time focused on the task setting process. I intend to change this.
I am more and more convinced that the vision of "return to normalcy" is not good enough. Instead, we need to focus on "returning to a new normalcy". The world is different now and we need to acknowledge and embrace these differences. Change has always been around us but the pace of that change is accelerating and we need to be better prepared to handle it.