Investing in Communication and Processes
Mike Vassil 04.29.2020
Over the past few weeks life has changed drastically for all of us, in ways we never could have imagined. In my role as Director of Operations for Okuma America, I’m responsible for managing people with a wide variety of job descriptions, and together we’ve been juggling new circumstances brought on by the coronavirus outbreak.
Most of the folks on my team are what’s considered “essential employees”, which means they remain working onsite, strictly observing social distancing measures. This includes employees in shipping/receiving, facilities, board repair, spindle exchange and our machine options departments. The remainder of the operations group is working remotely from home offices. Though we’re not all physically working together in the ways we always have, to remain productive we’re focusing on two key areas: supporting our people as highly-valued members of our team, and taking opportunities to streamline costs and processes.
The Critical Importance of Communication
In a crisis situation one of the most important areas that must be addressed is communication. Sharing accurate knowledge across the organization is of critical importance, and speed is of the essence. As events unfold, often at a rapid pace, we must find ways to get information to people fast enough to satisfy their concerns or fears. Of course, it’s important to wait until you have the accurate facts in hand. But acting on that knowledge when you have it is essential.
To accomplish this, we’ve doubled down on internal information sharing. I have chats set up with certain groups of employees and I communicate with them on a daily basis. We’ve also accelerated the frequency of department meetings. Before, monthly meetings were suitable for our needs, but now we meet weekly to address shifting needs and new scenarios that are out of the ordinary. With a rapid amount of change over a short time span, communication is key to keeping all of this “newness” on track.
Communication is key to keeping all this “newness” on track.
SEEK OPPORTUNITIES FOR COST SAVINGS
As the challenges of the pandemic became apparent, many companies transitioned to a cost savings mentality. At Okuma, under the umbrella of operations, we have two areas that carry significant costs: facilities and supply chain. We closely examined these areas to uncover ways to smartly reduce monthly expenses.
Some areas we’ve investigated include looking for pricing efficiencies with our vendors (with respect for these valued partners) and looking for ways to consolidate deliveries to our facilities. For example, can we limit the number of deliveries we receive coming into our office from 5 days a week to 2 days a week, with no impact on our business? Can we use our field service folks, who are very highly skilled, to work on things inside our facilities at a time when travel to customers is more limited? In an uncertain business climate, cost reduction and cost prevention can have significant impact, and we’ve been able to implement some good efficiencies.
Another area we’ve been working on is fine-tuning processes and procedures. Now is a great time to take a step back and question: what’s the right way we should do this, what’s the most effective way to do it, who should do it, and how often should we do it? Once the processes themselves are optimized, we create documentation and make sure we have training materials in place for someone new coming into the position. This is one of those areas of trimming “soft costs” from the business, and it’s hard to pinpoint results in exact numbers. But if we make 20 procedures better, we know we’ll come back stronger when business ramps up again.
Through all of this change and evolving of processes, we’ve leaned heavily on our very capable IT team, who I like to refer to as “the smart people.” We’ve been partnering with that group to help us drive efficiency gains, and a higher-level understanding, and use of our systems.
If we make 20 procedures better, we know we’ll come back stronger when business ramps up again.
INVESTING IN PEOPLE AND THE PROCESS
I tend to fall into the category of leadership referred to as the “authentic style.” This means I stay close to my teams and try to listen to them, to be present, and find out what they need to be successful in their jobs. Now more than ever, it’s important to understand the value of staying in touch on a professional and even a personal level.
When I think about it, none of this sounds too complicated, does it? But there are a lot of nuances in the interactions, and you need to commit time to your people and the process. Time and time again, I’ve found this to be well worth the investment.
About Mike Vassil
Mike Vassil is Director of Operations, Okuma America Corporation.
Connect with Mike on LinkedIn.