Tips for Staying Productive in an Economic Downturn
When Will Goss accepted his current lab management position at Champion Technologies, Inc, in Fresno, Texas, the thought of a national economic slump never entered his mind. Fast-forward to fourth quarter 2008 and Goss, along with the rest of the nation, is facing a challenging workplace. Uncertainty on Wall Street, a crumbling housing market and high unemployment rates make daily headlines across the country as they impact individuals and businesses alike.
Exactly how does a lab remain productive during an economic downturn? According to Goss, if a strategy is already in place, steps need to be taken to enforce it.
“At Champion, we have processes in place on efficiency improvement, so there hasn’t been a lot of pressure yet from management to cut back,” said Goss, who is section manager, Analytical Services at Champion Technologies. “However, I work in what is considered probably the one bright spot of the nation’s economy, the oil and gas industry.”
Champion Technologies is a fast-growing specialty chemical company that offers innovative and environmentally acceptable solutions to oil and gas production problems.
When management wants to develop and implement cost-saving processes, many experts say to consider the following.
Continuous Innovation: Build a culture that responds to market shifts or changes, so that products and services that can leverage existing business operating assets are ready to launch.
Business Assets: Create business asset (facilities, customers, capital equipment/instruments, HR talent, A/R and operating expense) and capacity utilization tools that measure return on investment.
Leadership Environment: Create an environment where your staff is driven to maximize business assets to improve profit performance and customer service.
Flexible Workforce: Structure your workforce so it is more flexible. This allows you to ramp up and down more evenly as work volumes ebb and flow based on the rhythms of the business.
Build a Team: Maintain a core group of employees who are committed and knowledgeable; invest in leadership and professional development and financial acumen for your staff; reward them for demonstrated behaviors in these areas financially and with career/professional advancement.
At Champion Technologies, Goss created a “Skills Matrix” exercise. He is proud of his well-equipped and diversified lab, so he asked his employees to identify their skill levels according to equipment and technique. Employees ranked themselves on what they know, what they need to know, and what they have a desire to know. Once he charts his employees’ skills, Goss reviews the profile of the lab.
At a glance, he knows in what areas he has plenty of expertise. He also knows where gaps exist.
Each lab has to determine its ideal skills balance. Perhaps it is having at least one expert and a few super users and proficient users in each technique. Goss states that while his exercise identifies skills strengths and weaknesses, it also allows the opportunity to create training and cross-training programs for employees.
“This is a very valuable tool to develop,” Goss says. “If an employee resigns, bench depth exists so we can easily identify what expertise is lacking. In addition, the advantage to the employees is that they have the benefit of having back-up support and of knowing what they need to ‘get ahead.’ This exercise has increased communications and productivity in the lab.”
Another option for labs is to use staffing companies such as Kelly Scientific Resources (KSR). Staffing companies recruit, prescreen applicants and handle all the paperwork so employees arrive ready to work on the first day.
“There is great economic value in using a staffing company,” says Goss. “I am confident that when I use KSR I am getting a high-quality employee. Also, I don’t have to spend my time sorting through thousands of resumes posted on a job board.”
In an ideal world, labs have open communication with customers to identify their exact needs in a customers’ anticipated fashion. That is, lab management puts itself in front of the customers’ anticipated needs by getting a current view of the direction they are moving in their product/ business life cycle. The earlier a lab can have these conversations and data, the sooner a resource plan can be modeled that supports the business objectives. The modeling exercise allows lab management and its subject matter experts (SMEs) to determine where potential bottlenecks may occur and build into the plan measures to ensure that bottlenecks are avoided.
The work of lab management is changing to keep pace with the demands of the global workplace. By planning ahead and providing true customer service, labs will continue to efficiently operate well into the future.