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How Not To Waste A Crisis

Besides keeping the financial wheels of the business turning without any revenue, another major challenge is to keep its employees engaged and positive during these unprecedented times.

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The country-wide lockdown in the face of the coronavirus pandemic has forced most businesses to shut down their facilities and enable their employees to work from home wherever possible. Though this may work for- say a tech company where the product can be delivered virtually, it is not so simple for a manufacturing firm. Besides keeping the financial wheels of the business turning without any revenue, another major challenge is to keep its employees engaged and positive during these unprecedented times.

Although this crisis has posed various challenges, it has given an important resource - Time – and companies in manufacturing, organized retail and services have realized that it is important to leverage this time by conducting a series of activities which will help us to emerge as a stronger company after the lockdown ends. Consider the following examples.

A speciality steel manufacturer has partnered with a Japanese Steel Corporation recently and as an Indo-Japanese company is standardizing and improving its problem-solving approach by making it more systematic. It started by assuring the employees that there would be no lay offs. Live video trainings are being conducted on the topic with the aim to cover all employees of the company. Standard documents on VA methodology have also been prepared.

To solve day to day problems when the plants opens up, department are compiling all the issues faced by them in the following process

=> Evaluate and Classify the issues into A/B/C/D categories based on standardized criteria

=> Make cross functional teams (CFT) by involving all employees (even workers) => Assign 1 or more issues to each CFT => Monitor progress and provide feedback

=> Finalize and document solution plan

=> Implement plan on plant start-up.

Next, employees are being asked to think about actions 2 levels up from where they are working. This activity has enabled the employees to step into the shoes of their supervisor 2 levels up in the organizational hierarchy and share their suggestions/improvement ideas or how they would do things differently. This has helped the organization to get new ideas for improvement, know that the employees agree with certain ideas which are already in the pipeline and expedite the implementation of these ideas.

Department heads and senior management are maintaining regular contact with employees through call or video call to take health feedbacks and share regular updates. It has been observed that this has helped to maintain a sense of positivity and enthusiasm among the employees.Also, the employees are encouraged to improve their physical health by controlling their diets and following daily exercise routines.

To top it all up, there is a daily interaction with the Vice-Chairman/Managing Director over video concalls on a daily basis with the aim to reach out to each and every employee. The objective of these interactions is to- share the management’s views on the current scenario, gauge

the motivation and enthusiasm level employees, and also receive feedback from the employees on- how the activities being conducted are helping the organization to emerge stronger.

A privately consumer electronics retail chain has committed to reducing the salary of its promoters by 50% for the full year, while maintaining the salary of the employees for two months with negotiate cuts for the remainder of the year based on discussions so that the firm is able to handle the expected reduction in topline of about 20%. The promoters talk to the top management team daily to guage motivation levels; in addition there are 5 one on one calls scheduled with front line employees with the promoters to take them through the dos and don’ts during a lockdown. This is helping to rekindle relationships with employees throughout the firm. Store employees are being incentivized to take training on related topics like merchandising, sales plans, negotiations and customer service with a view to improve customer feedback which is already high.

The firm is asking its employees to come up with ideas to prepare a SOP on disinfection and social distancing once operations resume. This is helping provide concrete ideas in a very short time frame that can be acted on and that have the buy in of the employees.

A technology provider that helps educational institutions provide distance learning platforms to learners around the country is, similarly, setting goals to upskill its employees and helping them choose courses – which are a part of the goals for the coming year. Being an SME, it has assured its employees that their salary will be safe for 2 months at least. The promoters are dipping into their own savings for their monthly expenses and have announced that they will take no salary for the full year.

A precision castings manufacturer that supplies critical castings to customers in India and abroad is also using the time to get its employees trained on new technologies that are on the anvil. Meanwhile, the salaries of all the workers are protected while the staff and the management is taking a pay cut of 75% for the year to tide over the downturn. Employees are working an an SOP for the workspace and machinery post the lockdown.

So, reach out and communicate intensively with your people and use the opportunity to get a better feel for what is happening in the organization; use the time to upskill the employees; participate and share in the pain and get the troops involved in creating the new future and help them maintain good health and morale!!

May the tribe of such enlightened leaders and managers increase!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:
coronavirus outbreak pandemic lockdown

Prof. Arvind Sahay

Chairperson, India Gold Policy Center at IIM, Ahmedabad

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Sachit Jain .

The author is Managing Director, Vardhman Steel

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