Diversified Industrials

Leadership Is More Important Than Ever for Manufacturers

Companies across the manufacturing economy are obviously facing enormous business challenges and uncertainty with regard to the current and potential impact of COVID-19 on their operations and financial performance.

This is nothing like the typical issues that manufacturing companies face, such as supply chain disruptions, labor issues, trade issues, operational incidents, or demand shocks. It is more like all of them combined times a large, but unknown multiplier. During this time, we find ourselves throwing out the typical crisis management playbook and focusing on what really matters – employee safety and business continuity – two core strengths of successful manufacturing companies.

Because many of the institutions that we have come to rely on for guidance and clear information in times of uncertainty have been slow to respond and provide the necessary leadership, this time more than ever, it has been incumbent on industry to step into this void. Corporate leaders have, for the most part, been quick to react. And every decision and action taken over the coming days and weeks cannot be understated because employees trust their employer more than any other institution. This trusted relationship provides leaders with a powerful platform to engage not only their own employees, but other key stakeholders. This is particularly true in manufacturing where supply chains are so interconnected and no one part can stand alone in normal times, let alone in time of a severe industry-wide dislocation.

Stepping up and using their leadership platform is also critically important for companies right now as we operate in an environment where information is difficult to control, misinformation is pervasive, and stakeholder perceptions develop quickly. The quickly evolving environment also means that clear, frequent, and honest communications from leadership to all stakeholders are particularly important right now, especially because most of those communications will convey difficult decisions that will have a direct impact on the company’s stakeholders. Quarterly town halls with employees, an annual partner summit, and a quarterly conference call with investors are insufficient. Instead, leaders will need to open more direct and much more frequent lines of communication.

Longer term, leaders also cannot lose sight of the fact that this time of challenge and uncertainty will end. And when it does, the manufacturing economy will rebound. How quickly this happens and the trajectory of the recovery will be determined to a large extent on the actions that leaders take during this crisis. Those manufacturing companies that stand firmly with their employees, customers, supply chain partners, communities, and investors, even if it means absorbing some level of financial hardship in the near term, will emerge stronger from this crisis and sustain their competitive advantage well after it ends.

One last personal reflection …

During a call last week with one of our CEO clients, as you would expect, I described the actions that we were taking to protect our employees from COVID-19, shared some examples of how we were working with our clients to manage the unprecedented challenges that we are all facing together, and assured her that we were fully prepared to take on some new exciting work with her organization despite our teams working remotely. However, during the course of the discussion, I also shared with her that we announced promotions earlier in the week and how exciting it was to have a number of our people, including members of the team supporting her organization, taking the next step in their professional development. Her enthusiastic response, and the fact that she sent a personal congratulatory note to our team member, reminded me that we cannot forget the good that continues around us despite the challenges and disruption that we are all facing together, a lesson that I took to heart. Before ending my workday, I shared this learning with my broader industrials team, congratulated our promotes, and thanked all of them for the opportunity to work alongside them to deliver tangible results for our clients and drive our business forward even in these unprecedented times.

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