I don’t think I need to inform anybody that for U.S. manufacturing, the status quo is not acceptable. The loss of jobs, the loss of infrastructure, and, for those who are still in the game, the loss of high profit margins, are all evidence of serious challenges. And yet, in spite of those challenges, there are manufacturing companies that continue to thrive.
I talk to consultants and business owners all the time about the state of U.S. manufacturing and what it takes to succeed. Their responses always surprise me. When I talk an expert on marketing, I expect a response that has to do with better marketing. If I talk to an expert on operations, I expect an answer that’s about efficiency and getting lean. And so on. But, surprisingly, no matter who I talk to, I hear the same response again and again.
Being successful is about facing the new realities of manufacturing and having the will to change.
The question that was on my mind over the weekend was, What gets in the way of change? I don’t think it’s merely a question of will. I think the way the owners of small manufacturing companies spend their time and prioritize tasks is a also key factor.
Say you arrive at your office and you find two items on your to-do list. One of them is, “Figure out ways to address the realities of the changing global marketplace.” The other is, “Figure out how to engineer twenty percent out of the cost of a product or face losing a long-time customer to a Chinese competitor.
We all know which item is going to get top priority. The problem is, there is always a difficult customer, or a supplier who can’t come through, or a broken machine that’s holding up a line. As a result, change is never a top priority, and the business stays stuck in the same old rut.
I have a simple suggestion for anyone to whom this problem sounds familiar: Get to work late. At least once a week, instead of driving to the plant, drive to the nearest convenient Starbuck’s where no one can find you, turn off your cell phone and your Blackberry, enjoy your favorite beverage (caffeine is optional but recommended)… and think. If it helps, put your thoughts in a formal framework like SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities, threats). The point is, and I hate this cliché but can’t find any other words, you have to give the issue of change quality time – on a regular basis.So just do it. Make time to think about the big picture at least once a week. Then, after an hour or so, you can go to your office and face whatever practical problems are on your desk. Don’t worry. They won’t go away. To the contrary, they’ll be there waiting for you.