It goes without saying that the last few months have pushed everyone hard. Company owners and HR managers have watched the news and monitored daily government announcements to see what and how they should respond to keep staff informed, safe and calm.
This heavy level of responsibility has been daunting at times and very time consuming. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this article, we are by no means out of the woods. The pressure is still on, but at least now there are systems in place to keep employees feeling like things are a little closer to normal. Watching the world news offers a sobering view of what is happening in the world with number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 still increasing.
Most of us are very glad to live in Canada, a nation that has managed to “flatten the curve” putting us all a little more at ease. But uncertainty about the economy, the future and adjusting to what has been coined “the new normal” still weighs on us all.
People are top of mind.
I find it interesting through the many conversations I have with manufacturers and suppliers that consistently “people” comes into the discussion. When we surveyed members in April about how they were coping in this new normal, repeatedly comments came back about valuing people. Speaking with owners and HR managers, they have told me that the responsibility of managing HR through this crisis has been very difficult. Some companies had no choice but to temporarily lay off staff, other companies permanently laid off some staff and streamlined their processes.
If there is one word that sums up all that has happened – “unsettling.”
Most business owners know the strength of their business is based on the strength of their people. It has been good to hear about the lengths companies have gone to take care of their people. Many kept medical benefits running while staff was laid off, many spent time reassuring their employees and developing game plans to keep everyone working.
But lest we forget that before COVID-19 hit, our industry was facing a massive skilled labour shortage and Canada was at record lows for unemployed. While that has suddenly and dramatically changed, its still not easy to get people and in some instances, companies saw employees choosing to stay on CERB rather than return to work. According to the CFIB, the CRA was investigating complaints of employees refusing to return to work stating it was unsafe. In every instance the CRA found companies were fully compliant and took a tougher stand with people taking advantage of a program intended to help and not hurt small business.
Companies have gone to considerable expense to not only comply with new regulations, they are working hard to keep their employees safe and to protect their companies from the risk of closure due to outbreak. Keeping employees focused and productive has also been challenging, with many employees experiencing family challenges with daycare etc. But our industry was deemed essential and that meant companies had to keep going. It was during these very difficult times that company owners and HR managers could see the true value in their employees who stuck with them and, unfortunately, those who would not.
Before COVID-19 hit, CKCA was working on an assessment tool with the help of Chris Leonard from the Kaizen Institute in BC and Amrita Bhogal, People and Culture at Sunrise Kitchens in B.C. The original tool was to be released earlier this year, but COVID-19 had us all change our focus. Amrita was one of those HR managers who had to quickly pivot and focus on her company and her people. Rest assured we will launch the assessment tool once it is tested and ready.
Chris Leonard of the Kaizen Institute is a wealth of knowledge about people and culture. I reached out to Chris because I was curious why we were getting feedback from our members that “being lean” and “valuing people” were often cited as lessons learned to move forward from COVID-19.
Chris’s response is below:
“In answer to your main question, during an economic downturn or in this case an economic shock, the need to reduce waste and improve productivity will be heightened. Those that have a more holistic view of Lean or Kaizen will also understand that investing in their people right now is a vital part of stabilizing their business. When you implement Kaizen or Lean into an organization, employees feel empowered and more in control of their job and future; at the moment many employees are feeling powerless and that things are happening out of their control.
Sustainable improvement always starts with people; more specifically the people who actually add value and do the work in your organization.” If you are one of the many companies investing in your people, well done!
Taking care of your people IS taking care of your business. Whether its COVID-19 or some other crisis, resilience, ingenuity and the ability to pivot are very much dependent on the loyalties you forge with your employees and how you engage them in your company.
CKCA believes in Kaizen too!
We know the answers to today’s challenges can be found from the expertise and insights within the industry. So stay with us, join us and participate in our on-line events including webinars and forums. Together we keep the industry moving forward.