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Situation Critical: Keep Your Head

By AICC Staff

May 20, 2020

WomanThis is the first time, in my recollection, that the world has been at war against a common enemy in the form of a pandemic. Most people are quietly doing reasonable things and working for the health of family and community. There is also a noisier group investing in toilet tissue and losing their heads. My grandfather had hours of adventurous poetry committed to memory, and one that he often recited has come to mind this week. It is a verse by Rudyard Kipling that begins:

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you …

The poet went on to describe multiple situations in which presence of mind would win the day. He closed with these lines:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Recalling those words, I am encouraged to keep my head, to plan for the worst and hope for the best. Most important is to keep the long view and our core values. We know that, at this point, doing the right thing to curb the spread of the virus will be detrimental to the economy. And we need to do those things anyway, because we value family and community over prosperity. Confident that this is true, I trust that most remain committed to exiting this crisis stronger than we entered it.

The mixed blessing of busyness is that it can be an excuse for delaying focused improvement efforts and raising team members’ capabilities. At this writing, backlogs are full, but it is likely that our essential industry will be faced with idle time before this crisis runs its course. Some will send workers home to reduce labor costs. In doing so, they may risk losing their hard-won employees to e-commerce fulfillment centers that are hiring workers to respond to increased demand. Others will speculatively pack warehouses to keep workers busy. Those who take the long view will redeem the idle time to do some things they have aspired to all along: They will grow their team’s effectiveness. Here are a few activities that will help teams come back stronger.

  1. Grow problem-solving capability. Though many may be working from home, they can convene via online platforms for problem-solving and prevention. This may be the time to grow the quality process or get that food-safety certification. Assign cross-functional groups to develop solutions for your top five problems. If possible, include your expert vendors (they’re lonely).
  2. Map the order-entry process to get accurate information to manufacturing more quickly, and shorten the timeline from sales order (design request or estimate) to the production handoff. There is a Value Stream Mapping course on AICC’s Packaging School that will guide the team to map the current state of this process. Then, they can create a desired future state and an action plan to remove delays, extra steps, and redundancies.
  3. Practice changeovers. As any team drills on fundamentals, crews can be assigned to practice changeovers. An e-learning from the Packaging School called Setup Reduction will show the way.
  4. Implement cross-training. While others are reducing head count, make employees even more valuable and adaptive through cross-training. Create a matrix for essential duties, and use those trained in multiple processes to reduce overtime and the negative impact of illness, vacations, training, and other absences. Consider a continuous run schedule even if shifts are consolidated.
  5. Organize for success. Use the principles of 5S to make any administrative or production work center more effective. Make it easy to keep clean, orderly, and safe. Make expectations and measures of productivity clear and visible. Remove obstacles, and be certain that the tools needed for the job are prepared and easily accessible. The Packaging School course for this is titled Create a Visual Workplace.
  6. Assign an individual training plan for team members. Even those working from home can access e-learning in English and Spanish on a wide variety of packaging topics, including manufacturing, safety, leadership, process improvement, sales, and customer service. Contact me for a custom training form and suggested courses.

Keep your head when those around you are losing theirs. Your presence of mind is a safeguard against short-term gains and resulting pains. As Packaging School faculty, I am happy to work with you and the AICC staff to provide you with resources to come out of this crisis even stronger.

width=150Scott Ellis, Ed.D., of Working Well provides the brutal facts with a kind and actionable delivery when a leader, a team, or a company needs an objective, data-based assessment of the current state of operations and culture. Training, coaching, and resources develop the ability to eliminate obstacles and sustain more effective and profitable results. Working Well exists to get you unstuck and accelerate effective work. Scott can be reached at 425-985-8508 or