Imagine this. You get hit by a huge order that must be delivered at three times your normal speed. How do you mobilize to make it happen? This is not just a scenario it is a real-life situation that my company experienced recently. Many companies would have simply thrown up their hands and said no. Small businesses often believe that they do not have the depth or resources needed to deal with unusual spikes but I believe the opposite is true. Smaller organizations can respond and we do.
No is not a word I like and failure to try would have meant disappointing a great client. So we pressed ahead. That might seem risky but I believe operationally excellent companies can pull out all the stops to meet great challenges. Here are a few things we did to deliver that might help the next time you experience crunch time.
Communicate: We sat down as a group and I explained the need to over-perform. Employees get numb to the many fire drills that occur and eventually stop caring about rush jobs. However, if they understand the need and the reward for success they are more likely to perform. You must present a compelling reason for putting in the hours. Does the client contribute significantly to your bottom line? Has the client experienced some difficulty, natural disaster or unusual circumstance? Will helping the client insure loyalty and more business in the future? If you present a good business case employees will respond. Those who don’t might not be a good fit for your company long-term.
Disrupt your normal work flow: Unusual situations require creative thinking. Can you adjust work schedules? Ask people to come in early, leave late? Can you delay some other work to schedule this project? Are there some daily activities that you can eliminate or streamline for a short time to free up people to step into new roles? People get so used to a typical workday that they might not know what they are capable of achieving until challenged. It is important to solicit ideas from employees about the plan to perform the work.
Leverage resources: Do you have partners or freelancers who can step in to assist? Can you leverage relationships with suppliers to get faster delivery? Can you try out a supplier that that has been working to get your business and offer them an opportunity to get in your door? Do you have some product in reserve for another client that you can shift into production? Try to get creative with your resources but don’t sacrifice quality.
De-brief: Once you have delivered, try to capture the learning. In our case, we discovered that we have individuals who were able to step outside of their day-to-day duties to take on new tasks. And, they enjoyed the challenge. We decided to expand our pool of free-lance talent so that we can be even more flexible in the future. We reassessed our available equipment and decided that it was adequate to meet rush jobs.
No one likes a fire drill but it is inevitable that you will get unusual requests or ones that seem impossible. How you respond makes a big difference? It can earn you a client because you responded when no one else could to make things happen. It can cement and deepen relationships with existing clients. And it can teach employees valuable business lessons. Of course, the best plan is to plan for the unexpected… early and often.