The current global demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) has created a severe shortage of PPE across the world. And while regular distribution channels ramp up, we have seen several creative ways some individuals and companies are making changes to support our COVID-19 response, including obtaining and producing protective gear for our caregivers. What is also interesting is how some manufacturers are looking at ways to bring manufacturing onshore, changing their production models and seeking ways to produce more efficiently and cost effectively. Another opportunity for our industry is to look at offshore manufactured products and bring that manufacturing back to the United States and Canada for production. But to do that we need to embrace the concept of change management.
In this current pandemic, we’re being forced to finally face how organizations learn; and frankly, for many of us, we are having to change not only our organizations but also our homes which now include home schooling for our children. Even during the financial crisis of 2008, there hadn’t been sufficient market forces to compel organizations to persevere their way through all of the obstacles of change, and those same organizations failed to change their “mindsets” and shift from their deeply entrenched traditions.
We now know that our world can be turned upside down without warning by tsunamic forces outside our control. This leaves us with no choice but to change. It’s also clear that, after this crisis abates, there’s no guarantee that the forces of social and political instability, market upheaval, technological shifts, and demographic churn are going to stop. It is absolutely clear that organizations need to develop their capacity to respond to radical disruptions that can, at any moment, attack with unrelenting combinations of speed and complexity. We see this in the conversation around “offsite construction” and those who are trying different ways of accomplishing a different tactic in delivering components, panels, modules, etc. to the construction site.
So, what’s our role in the LBM/Component/Modular industry to address this need? Organizations can’t adapt the collective and individual performance of their workforce without the learning and development team. I have often said that the LBM/Components industry has been slow to change in some respects, a point I made even in an automation article I wrote in 2000. And, here we stand in 2020 with many who are still questioning the role of automation or making the investment in automation in our businesses. Even so, we as business owners must lead our teams to develop the organizational capacity to perform effectively at the speed of change. We need to learn Performance Agility: an organization’s capacity to respond to adaptive challenge—whether opportunity, threat, or crisis—through the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills.
The first step in getting there is to extend our reach into the performance zone; let’s call it our workflow learning where knowledge and skills are actually applied and where experience is acquired. We can’t risk failing to do this right now! This is where we must go for the sake of our organizations. Their long-term survival depends upon our doing this. There can be no development of adaptive capacity without this.
What do I mean by workflow learning? It is the process of learning our needs and reacting to them while working. Traditional learning approaches require our teams to stop or pause their work to learn and then transfer that learning into how they perform in their flow of work. To the degree that you are developing and integrating knowledge-enriched skills into your existing skill set as you perform your work, you are experiencing workflow learning.
Why Workflow Learning?
Reason 1: Only in the workflow can an organization intentionally develop the adaptive capacity of its workforce. Any object or situation experienced by a person in the flow of work is unlikely to recur in exactly the same form and context. Another way to think of this is, as our associates effectively respond to a reoccurring situation, they are developing their ability to adapt more quickly.
Reason 2: Real skill development occurs while continuously performing work (in the workflow). Stopping work to learn without extended learning support into the workflow is costly, risky, and highly ineffective. But, be aware that some teaching/learning does need to adapt to safety first.
Reason 3: Performance improvement occurs only in the workflow. The most efficient environment for developing experience and judgment is the workflow.
Reason 4: Successful workflow performance increases self-confidence, thereby fueling greater engagement. This in turn leads to more effective performance in our operations.
Reason 5: The intrinsic motivators for learning—Attention, Relevance, and Need—are at their highest levels in the workflow.
Reason 6: Effective learning takes place over time—real learning doesn’t usually occur in a one-time event. Think of how you learned a skill in sports or camping/fishing where you would perform a skill over-and-over until it was firmly understood. I remember as a young Cub Scout and then in Scouting having to learn skills such as tying knots and the best way was to tie the knot over-and-over. My brother Alan was infamous for being able to erect a tent blindfolded in a very short period of time because he practiced and became that good at it.
Right now, you can make the choice; we have a singular opportunity to rise up and contribute, strategically, at a level we have not before been privileged to achieve. This strategic action plan will require us to extend learning’s reach into the workflow. I’m not advocating that all learning should occur in the workflow, but we must recognize that change management considers all types of learning, including the workflow. We should be advocating in our businesses that, because organizational performance agility occurs in the workflow, we need to extend our reach into that most remarkable learning environment.
The good news is that we actually know how to do this, because change management principles have been around for years and many of us have pursued a cohesive organizational learning and performance support strategy that encompasses a critical range of strategic capabilities (including workflow learning), tactical capabilities (such as performance centered design), and technical capabilities (for example, the ability to track, measure, and report impact). Remember, you can be the difference between profit and loss; success and failure; surviving or not surviving. It can and needs to be a silver lining during these most challenging times. If any of us at the 4Ward Solutions Team can be of assistance to you and your business, please let us know. Our team has assisted companies with change management hundreds of times.
From all of us here at The 4Ward Group of Companies, it is our hope and prayer that each of you and your families are kept safe and protected during this time. May God bless each of you, our leaders who are making critical decisions, and our country.
Ben Hershey is CEO of the 4Ward Group of Companies including Consulting Solutions, Labor Solutions, Offsite Solutions, Design Solutions, and Accounting Solutions. When the industry needs an actual expert, they turn to 4Ward team with more than 150 years of combined experience. 4Ward Consulting Group is the leading provider of Management and Manufacturing Consulting to the Structural Component and Lumber Industry. A Past President of SBCA, Ben has owned and managed several manufacturing and distribution companies and is Six Sigma Black Belt Certified. Ben has provided consulting to hundreds of Component Manufacturers, Lumber Dealers, and Millwork Operations in the past seven years. You can reach Ben at ben@4WardConsult.com or 623-512-6770.
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