Why Flexibility Matters

It's time to stop scheduling meetings with C-suite executives to discuss problems and solutions for frontline managers. The answers should be determined by the employees facing the challenges.

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Editor's Note: Mark Dohnalek is President & CEO of Pivot International, the Kansas-based global product development, engineering & manufacturing firm.

The old ways of doing business are no longer sustainable when advances in technology are happening at an exponential rate. This coupled with a higher bar in consumer expectations – the ability to adapt to change quickly and execute with speed is vital for manufacturer and supply chain success. Whether it is called flexibility or agility, executives who fully grasp the need to tear up the “this is how we've always done it” book and embrace new processes are the ones who will be ready as we get closer to the next decade. Here's why.

Demographics in our workforce are changing. Baby boomers are walking out our doors into retirement and Millennials are walking in for what could be 40 years in our industry. Manufacturing was once by many as dull with warehouse walls lined with time-clocks and floors filled with apron-draped assembly line shift workers. Not anymore.

Our industry is now the bright light at the center of innovation and excitement where robots are designed and brought to life, driverless cars are invented and built, and 3-D printing moves ideas into working prototypes at speeds once considered unimaginable. But this can only be done when executive accept and embrace the need for flexible decision-making in order to compete.

It's time to stop scheduling meetings with C-suite executives to discuss problems and solutions for frontline managers. The answers should be determined by the employees facing the challenges. It's time to invest in training our managers, supervisors and department heads with the skills required to make on-the-spot decisions and empower them to do just that. This attitude agility and positive approach is necessary to stay competitive and grow.

The flexibility pathway must include accepting that traditional 9-to-5 workdays are not part of modern-day careers. Even the typical first, second, and third shifts will need to be more adaptable, as well. Creativity in how you structure your operations and staffing will help you attract top talent to these jobs. This will mean an openness toward flex-time programs, executive shadowing, virtual departments working with collaborative software platforms, etc. Get started on ways to offer these new generations more appealing career options at your company.

Flexibility and fast action is necessary with today's customer relationships. Demand is ever-increasing, and it's also ever-shifting; customers have more choices and when they speak it is mandatory that manufacturers and supply chain entities listen. With online reviews and social media, customers have a powerful voice – but this is a good thing for flexible companies. You have never had a better opportunity to fix, adjust, adapt, deliver and even exceed expectations to drive loyalty and retention.

Flexibility gives us the chance to meet unexpected challenges without buckling. There are many reasons that production might be delayed, or a key employee is absent from work. With flexibility built into a manufacturer's system of operation, those emergencies or setbacks can be overcome, simply because the company has more options to work with. For example, a flex-time work week could help an employee make up for an unexpected absence later in the production cycle or if a production schedule change is needed if there's a supply chain partner delay in delivery or material sourcing.

The world is an ever-changing, ever-evolving place, and a manufacturer that is able to adapt and change with it will be more successful in the long run. The days of rigid structure in manufacturing are fast coming to an end. Be ready…it's already here!

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