Resilient Manufacturing Reinforces Reliability, Service, Purpose
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Resilient Manufacturing Reinforces Reliability, Service, Purpose

Photo by:   David Salas
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By David Salas - Atramat
Manufacturing Operations Director


Many people are talking about things we need to change due to the pandemic and, certainly, there are things we have to change, but there are others that we not only need to keep but actually reinforce. Can you imagine what is needed to keep manufacturing operations working while almost everybody is working from home?

While home office can be a reality for some companies, or at least for some functions within them, without impacting their core responsibilities and service offered, there are others that cannot take advantage of this option. For these companies, physical presence is required. This is the case of manufacturing in the healthcare industry. If you need to transform incoming materials into a finished good, you need to be where the required installation and equipment are located; otherwise, the process cannot be executed.

In regular operations, we need to work hard to keep our people not just focused but motivated in terms of what they are doing every day. When things get difficult and uncertain, this becomes an even bigger challenge. In my experience, this is when leaders need to be not only empathetic but resilient. When leaders in the organization exhibit resilience, others are able to replicate it and the whole operation becomes resilient.

Why resilience?

Manufacturing in the pharma and medical devices sector requires high levels of concentration to ensure people’s safety, regulatory compliance, the right quality standard and the service level customers expect. The best way to ensure this happens is through motivated people who strongly believe in the purpose of their job, enabling a reliable operation. However, when disruptions threaten our safety and we feel uncertain, there is an impact on people’s self-confidence, the purpose gets blurred and, therefore, the manufacturing becomes unreliable.

Despite adversities, we need to ensure the manufacturing remains reliable. First, we need to accept and recognize that we all are vulnerable. By acknowledging this, an automatic self-defense instinct arises; we protect ourselves. We also can learn from our experiences with adversity, which provides the lessons needed to overcome every time we face a new challenge, further enhancing our experience. A demanding individual effort is required to move forward no matter what is threatening us or when we experience setbacks. The skill to successfully start over again is resilience. Without it, we will continue but with hesitation around each action and decision we take, negatively impacting our service to customers and patients.

Lack of concentration will trigger a weak follow-up, misunderstandings and mistakes, which could impact quality, leading to the product’s rejection. This, in turn, will require revisions, creating delays and a failure to deliver on time. Actually, if quality problems are not detected because of poor concentration, we might even ship a defective product to our customers, potentially leading to complaints. We might also contravene our regulatory compliance, which could, in the worst-case scenario, stop commercialization of our products in some markets. Finally, mistakes could prevent us from meeting due dates for high-priority projects, delaying their completion and, in some cases, increasing costs.

When we view this as part of our individual capabilities and see it also in other colleagues, we can rebuild trust. On top of that, if we see our leaders behaving in the same way and, by example, encouraging us toward our purpose, then we become self-confident again, reinforcing as a team our focus on that purpose and the importance of what we do.

Reliability in manufacturing requires not just proper facilities and equipment, it requires well-prepared engaged people to make things happen, and even more so in adverse and uncertain times. Hence, resilience is a key skill to be encouraged in an organization. Among other elements, Brent Gleeson, author of the bestselling book: Embrace the Suck: The Navy SEAL Way to an Extraordinary Life, wrote in Forbes: “You can’t build resilient teams without resilient leaders.” I personally agree since just through the example of those who are guiding us and striving to overcome the same adversities we face, we can believe in the importance of what we do.   

The CCL (Center for Creative Leadership) recommends eight steps to enhance resilient leadership:

  1. Develop a broad network of personal and professional relationships
  2. Socialization
  3. Regular exercise
  4. Seven to eight hours of sleep at night
  5. Mindfulness
  6. Embrace new perspectives
  7. Savoring emotions
  8. Practicing gratitude

Another good insight on resilience is provided by Marcus Buckingham, co-author of Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World, who wrote an interesting article in Harvard Business Review called, What Really Makes Us Resilient? In it, he points out that resilience is not connected to gender and that the more tangible the threat is, the more resilient we become.

In manufacturing, good service to our customers is a consequence of the degree of reliability we can achieve but this is not possible if people do not overcome adversity, setbacks and fear. We can work with people who have deep knowledge and experience in their field but if they are not resilient, their abilities will not be 100 percent present in their job whenever they feel afraid or defeated. This is why we need to develop high levels of resilience in our organizations. People who are able to overcome will always make a difference, maintaining their sense of purpose and focusing on reliability to deliver the promised service to customers and patients.

Photo by:   David Salas

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