Most of us have only considered business conditions as stark as these when studying the Great Depression way back in grade school. Certainly we never expected to experience these times again, during our lifetime, even as we learned over and over that history tends to repeat itself.
I, for one, was not prepared for this historical redo. And I doubt many of you were either. So now, as the lifeblood that is cash has drained from our industry, I am reminded of watching candy-bloated piñatas burst at my kids’ birthday parties. What candy fell to the ground was quickly scooped up, with all partygoers scrambling for the loot. Often this exercise created ill feeling among otherwise friendly kids. Similarly, the companies in the metalforming-industry supply chain now must fight tooth and nail for every dollar out there.
This horrible and uneasy situation is making combatants out of business partners, and is straining the supply chain to near-breaking point. Out goes once-popular business mantras “the customer is always right,” and “we strive to make our company easy to do business with.” In their place we hear, “pay up or else,” or “drop your prices or we’ll shop our parts and move our dies.”
Today, suppliers are forced to threaten and even take legal action against their most-valued customers, and vice-versa. These actions put at risk long-standing business relationships, some of which were forged by a handshake generations ago.
Horribly stressful times indeed. Times where you can’t bear to look a business owner in the eyes for fear of sensing his angst and sorrow, and not knowing how to react. And yet, we must face the challenges of today and tomorrow head on, look each other in the eyes and acknowledge our hurdles, and find a way to clear them.
Acknowledge strained customer relations with much more than e-mails and voice-mail messages. Take the time, and invest the money, to visit key customers face to face. Acknowledge the problems you all face, empathize with each other and work together to formulate solutions that all can live with. A little give and take—okay, maybe a lot of give and take—will go a very long way toward strengthening the supply chain that you are linked to, so that the chain will be able to pull the heavier load coming down the road when business picks up.
At home, within the walls of your own company, acknowledge the survivor sickness that likely infects many of your remaining employees. Numerous articles and books address the psychological impact of downsizing on the survivors, who often feel, among other emotions, guilt, depression, stress and paranoia. Human-resource professionals find that workforce reduction and the increased workload dumped on the survivors often leads to reduced productivity, decreased cooperation and teamwork, poor customer service and infighting.
Don’t let any of those results happen to your company. Begin by acknowledging the feelings of the survivors. Do not pretend that everything is or will soon be “fine.” Allow people to express their emotions, experts advise, openly and honestly. Creating an atmosphere where employees suppress their feelings will make things worse.
“Survivors have an unquenchable thirst for information,” writes David Noer, author of “Healing the Wounds: Overcoming the Trauma of Layoffs and Revitalizing Downsized Organizations.”
Respect people’s health, their feelings and their general well being. And, above all, communicate with them openly, honestly and frequently.
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