I have been working in the converting business since 1985 and I have never seen so many external inputs converge on the industrial sector at one time and hope I never do again. It has made business planning and proactive activities, let’s just say, exciting.
- Covid-19 – Pandemics are obviously rare so planning for that is an adventure all by itself. The last major pandemic was the Spanish flu in 1918 so no one alive today could help us learn from that experience. That said, the world is a very different place today with many more people and a lot more travel so what was learned during the Spanish flu would not have been that helpful anyway. And it wasn’t. The high level of social conflict that we are currently experiencing hasn’t helped either. I hope that goes away soon.
- Supply Chain Disruptions – The drastic slowdown caused by the pandemic and the subsequent flood of demand that has occurred as the pandemic has waned has created shortages in a wide range of raw materials. We have seen specific raw material shortages in the past, but the breadth of the recent shortages has been shocking. I have participated in many meetings with both customers and suppliers that I would have never gotten involved with in the past. It is amazing how much time and energy this has required out of so many of our associates.
- Inflation – We have had periods of inflation to match this current time, but they are rare and happened a long time ago. The 1970’s were comparable to today, but that was before my 35 years in the business. I was in high school and my experience with inflation at that time was waiting in line to get gas for my 1972 Toyota Corolla. We supply lots of sku’s to lots of customers, so this pricing pressure has also created an incredible amount of extra work for the associates in our company.
- Finding Personnel – This has happened for several reasons, but mainly because of the high number of people that decided to retire due to Covid 19. The tenure at our company is outstanding and has helped us weather this storm, but when we have had to find new people, it has been difficult. You can tell people that you have a good company culture, but until a person gets to experience it, they really don’t know. Furthermore, every company is going to say that.
- Recession Concerns – There has been a lot of talk about a coming recession. Any election will ramp up and potentially exaggerate that kind of talk and the recent election was no different. We have experienced some slowness in certain segments, but not companywide. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.
I am not sure when or if this convergence of inputs will ever happen in the future. And frankly, I am not sure it has ever happened in the history of this country. These inputs have made decision making interesting to say the least. Some of these events are exact opposites. Planning for a business slowdown or recession and struggling to find people to hire at the same time makes no sense. We have done more reacting to events than planning and being proactive in the last two years than we ever have. It has not been our normal way to operate and has caused undue stress for everyone on our team.
We recently tabulated our engagement survey results and I am thrilled that we have maintained the high levels that we have experienced in the past. We use the Gallup 12 question engagement survey that has been around for a long time. We use this data to see how we compare to other companies and to see if our trends over time are performing adequately. Do we have some areas that bare watching, yes, but overall, we feel very good about where we are. The burdens on our associates in all departments has been very high due to all the external inputs I mentioned above. As we all know our associates are our most important asset, so navigating the extra stress is critical. It requires good communication from the department heads especially due to the combination of working on site and off site.
The past couple of years have created issues that call for difficult conversations with customers and suppliers. It has also created opportunities for success. Challenges can turn into successes when we effectively partner with our customers and suppliers. I think the title of this article, Interesting Times, sums up the last two years. It will be interesting to see what the future holds. Have a fabulous holiday season.
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