4 Strategies Manufacturers Can Adopt to Increase Agility
In turbulent, transformative times like these, the term “business agility” seemingly appears everywhere. And though it’s easy to imagine even the world’s largest tech companies or consulting firms making a sudden pivot, it’s harder to picture a manufacturer with a factory full of heavy equipment doing the same thing.
So what does business agility mean in the context of manufacturing or construction? It’s less about the speed and scope of changes being proposed and more about communicating effectively across large, dispersed organizations. When disruptions break the supply chain or cause demand to plummet, manufacturers must be able to encourage an information flow across all corners of the enterprise. Agility depends on the free flow of information and the ability to guide a team directly.
The good news is that manufacturers are used to disruptions. They regularly deal with supply chain issues, sudden regulatory changes, or shifting market dynamics. Adaptation is in their nature.
The bad news is that COVID-19 puts a unique strain on the industry that makes agility more important yet less accessible. Specifically, factories and construction sites that have had to either scale back or shut down in response to public health requirements can’t exactly pick their work up remotely. Teams are spread out more than ever and cut off from core assets — and that includes everything from machinery to data.
These are circumstances manufacturers don’t have contingency plans for. Meeting the moment will require extensive brainstorming, aligned leadership, and quick and decisive action — but none of those things will be easy with stakeholders scattered to the wind.
All of this means manufacturers need a new concept of business agility along with a fresh sense of commitment.
Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen heavy-duty industries forced to shut down suddenly and reopen as quickly as possible. While opening, they’ve had to integrate new social distancing requirements into all aspects of operations and vastly expand health and safety measures. In some cases, they’re even learning how to stop sharing pens and clipboards. And those are just the implications for operations.
Unstable economic forces mean that supply and demand could be in flux for the foreseeable future. Granted, some manufacturers are booming right now — but others have seen business crater, and the long-term fallout of this pandemic remains to be seen. Manufacturers must reexamine (and in many cases revise) their plans, strategies, and fundamental business assumptions. Everything is up in the air.
On top of everything, this pandemic is accelerating the shift away from in-person interactions toward digital ones. Relationships with customers, suppliers, employees, and all other stakeholders are evolving because of the need to socially distance. More than that, though, this health crisis has underscored the fact that digital environments are more efficient, convenient, and customizable than the alternatives. This could prove to be a tipping point for digital transformation throughout the manufacturing industry.
It’s hard to overstate the pace of change right now. The degree to which some manufacturers have already responded is impressive; we’ve seen liquor producers start making hand sanitizer and sports equipment manufacturers adapt assembly lines to create face masks. Agility is possible in the face of this crisis, but manufacturers must take the initiative.
“Business as usual” stopped being relevant with the first COVID-19 cases, and there are serious questions about whether we’ll ever return to normal. That means something different for every manufacturer while still placing the same obligation on all of them: Stay agile or get swept under.
Building the Basis of Business Agility
Manufacturers need to grow agile as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, moving fast while staying coordinated is never easy. Apply these strategies to help guide your transformative efforts:
1. Share information in real time. People need answers right now, whether that’s about health and safety measures, new workplace practices, changing strategies, and everything else that’s been uprooted by the pandemic.
The less accessible this information is, the more disorganized things become. Sharing information in real time so everyone has the answers they need on demand keeps communication issues from making a bad situation worse. Strive to be as transparent as possible and to make information highly accessible.
2. Identify information bottlenecks. The pandemic exacerbated the existing information bottlenecks in organizations and created a number of new ones. Analyzing how internal communication works — how information flows through an organization — identifies where these bottlenecks are and suggests how they can be resolved.
Better access to information (of all types and at all levels) helps accelerate and improve decision-making. Before COVID-19, 86% of companies surveyed said frontline workers need more insights at their disposal. That priority is even higher now.
3. Lead from the bottom up. In any fast-changing scenario, insights from the front lines are what matter most. If executives ignore the ideas and perspectives of workers who are actually in the thick of operations, they miss both the red flags that require attention and the innovative ideas necessary to meet this moment. Information needs to flow freely and broadly within an organization, from one-on-one and small group communication all the way up to corporate messaging. Instead of giving lip service to this priority, make sure there’s a direct pipeline.
4. Create new touchpoints. Information from outside the organization — from customers or suppliers — is also immensely valuable right now. It’s vital to business agility because it helps a manufacturer explore how it can pivot without alienating the partners it relies on. Take those outside insights seriously and solicit as many as possible. Convenient digital touchpoints make it easy for others to supply complaints, suggestions, and praise, all of which inform a manufacturer’s next move.
Remember that agility is all about alignment. Any company — manufacturer or otherwise — can evolve on the fly as long as it can move as one. Communication is what cements that connection and helps achieve unity across the board.
Daniel Sztutwojner is chief customer officer and co-founder of Beekeeper, the single point of contact for your frontline workforce. Beekeeper’s mobile platform brings communications and tools into one place to improve agility, productivity, and safety. Daniel is passionate about helping businesses operate more efficiently. He has a background in applied mathematics and more than eight years of experience in sales and customer success.
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