Time out for talking
By Ken Wong
It is always encouraging, especially in these tough times, to see sparks of enthusiasm and optimism in the face of greater competition and a looming economic decline. Manufacturers are facing even tougher challenges and are questioning what the future holds for companies and their employees. Therefore, seeing manufacturers trudge on through with the hope and expectation that things will get better is a welcome sight. Albeit a rarity right now, there are manufacturers that do see the light at the end of the tunnel and are re-gearing and refitting themselves to become more competitive. It is an especially advantageous time to re-evaluate and conduct strategic planning when times are slower. When times are busy, there is usually not enough time in the day to even consider continuous improvement initiatives.
Let’s look at a real-life example of a manufacturer that takes the opportunity to meet with the entire team for one full day to discuss ways to create strategies and to improve the company. In this specific case, Quality Interiors Inc. is a manufacturer of residential furniture and has a team of about 30 employees representing sales all the way to shipping. The leaders of the company have recognized the value in taking one full day out of daily operations to spend with the entire team on training, teambuilding and discussing goals and direction. They feel that the best way to do this is to take the entire staff out of the plant and hold the meeting in a local hotel conference room so everyone can focus on the meeting without the daily disturbances. The agenda topics for the day included suggestions from all employees, but focused around a few key topics.
Agendas are important
First, the team worked on setting goals and direction. The leadership delineated long-term and short-term goals and direction for the company, including who the customers will be and how to capitalize on the target markets. Departmental and operational goals were also set for all employees, acting as a compass pointing the way toward supporting the end goals of the company.
The group also addressed benchmarking and research. Quality Interiors could not set goals and direction without understanding the capabilities of its own operations and the current and future market trends. As the leaders (and facilitators) of the meeting, the president and co-owner came prepared with market research and a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the company. Only with good information could good discussion ensue.
Confidence in leadership was next on the agenda. In times of economic uncertainty, the strength of leadership will determine the success of a company. Whether you have all the answers or not, leaders of the company need to show that they are always in control of the situation and on top of things. This will ensure confidence in the employees that there is an action plan, even through tough times.
The day was also taken as an opportunity to deliver some training with respect to new products, new suppliers and even to identify training that would be needed in the near future. As a bonus, a management consultant was brought in to suggest strategies to improve the operation and information systems.
Employees take the floor
The best part of the day was engaging all of the employees in the discussion and having them actively participate in helping the company become more competitive and successful. The employees are the experts of the company, so who better to provide ideas for improvement to the operation, products and market focus?
By the end of the day, the entire team was on the same page with the direction of the company, and was re-invigorated and more focused on what needed to be done to weather the economic storm. Quality Interiors holds this one-day session every year.
This is the last Quality column from Ken Wong. Ken is leaving the Wood Products Quality Council for new opportunities with the Wood Manufacturing Council. Ken has been an integral part of the information team at Wood Industry, and we are sorry to see him go. Fortunately, Ken will still be applying his
considerable talents for the good of the industry in Canada, and we look forward to working with him again in his new capacity.
Thanks, Ken. — Editor
Ken Wong is QC Team Leader at the Wood Products Quality Council, Centre for Advanced Wood Processing, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.