Keep Moving Forward


For non-essential businesses, it is the worst of times. Facing an extended stay-at-home order challenges our ability to continue producing or distributing physical products, our effectiveness in collaborating on technical projects and the individual motivation of our team members. So, how do we balance cash conservation while still taking care of our employees and making the most of this time?

For businesses that can continue to work and produce with their teams working from home, the challenges center on workstyles and communication. Leaders in these organizations can succeed largely by maintaining structure and routine - scheduling regular check-ins, using visual face-to-face team collaboration tools, ensuring there is a clear flow of work from person to person with deliverables, timelines and accountability, just like in the office.

For businesses that rely on equipment, tools and workflows that are physical and largely operational, the situation may be more stark. If unable to produce or generate revenue, even the most creative and lean businesses will have cash constraints that may necessitate the lay off or furlough of many employees in order to survive a shut-down. However, being able to start up again and perform as well or better than before will depend on having the right people ready to return to work. Three questions can ensure your success:

  1. Who are my very best and most critical employees?

  2. What value-adding projects will benefit the business after the shut-down?

  3. How do I marry these projects and the employees I cannot afford to lose?

You may be asking, “Is there really a risk of losing employees when unemployment is skyrocketing?” For great employees, yes, absolutely. There are sectors that are booming in this economic climate and they will need and will have the resources to hire the cream of the crop at every level to support their demand. If your best employees are idle and afraid about what the future holds, they may err on the side of caution and choose the financial security of their families over loyalty to you. Giving these key employees the opportunity to deliver strategic and engaging value-adding projects will ensure they remain financially secure and focused on the future of your company, not someone else’s.

So, what kinds of operational projects can you give these employees that will not be make-work, but will truly deliver stronger performance after the shut-down? That depends on your industry and business, of course, and only you can answer it, but here are some project categories and thought starters:

  • Planning – What growth is planned for the company? What new markets do we plan to enter or could we enter? What do those plans mean for us operationally? Do we have the needed capacity? How quickly can we bring new products and services online? How will we increase the capacity of our current operations? Will we need new facilities? What do our operating plans, staffing plans and capital investment plans look like for the next five years?

  • Sourcing – What is happening with your suppliers? Are they stable? Will they weather this storm? Do alternate suppliers exist? Do we have key components where cost reductions are needed, through re-design or counter-sourcing?

  • Equipment – Is your equipment properly inventoried and asset-tagged? Do you know how much usable life remains for each piece? Is any maintenance due or past-due? What is the ROI on equipment you don’t have but have been wanting to acquire? Do you have a capital equipment plan that is tied to the company’s business plan?

  • Training – What are the key positions that put your business at risk whenever someone leaves? Are they well documented? Where and how are they documented? Is the information available via smartphone app? Which functions would benefit most from at-your-fingertip how-to instructions?

  • Measurement – Do we currently get a daily flash on operational performance? Does it include revenue, production output, raw materials and labor costs per production unit, quality performance? Does it come from actual source data or does the data from multiple systems have to be pulled into Excel and manipulated and analyzed before it can be turned into useful decision-making information? What are the key metrics we would want on a flash report? Where does the needed data live? Can the data extraction and manipulation be automated? Can visual dashboards built that are available online and via smartphone app?

Projects developed based on the answers to the questions above can be tackled by small work teams of your key employees with appropriate project structure, leadership, and coaching. Following the guidelines from the beginning of this article on managing teams in a work-from-home environment, you will keep your best employees engaged and lay the groundwork for dramatically improved operations after the shut-down.

Author Credits – Jan Hanson is a Strategic Partner and Operations Expert at MERU. She has over 30 years of experience both providing operations advisory services as a Partner at a large consulting firm as well as leading organizations as a CFO and COO, focusing primarily on the consumer products industry