How to pivot not panic in challenging times

When lockdowns were issued to contain the coronavirus, many businesses had to shut down, or pivot their business quickly. It was during this time that many leaders were faced with the challenge of what they were going to do.   

This was true for the manufacturing business, SEKISUI KYDEX whose business came to a grinding halt.

Yet, in just four days time, SEKISUI KYDEX was able to shift from primarily making plastic sheets for aviation to becoming an “essential business” producing materials for lifesaving medical devices.

In four days, 400 people were working in unison; all three plants were running 24/7 and SEKISUI KYDEX was paying bonuses and developing new products.

So how was Ronn Cort’s company able to achieve so much in such a short amount of time? This LinkedIn Live interview helps explain it.

How Leaders Pivot, Not Panic, Interview and Q&A from Vistage on Vimeo

How SEKISUI KYDEX was able to achieve success

The pivot could have never happened without the work we had done over the past 8 years to create a strong company culture.

The culture we have might not be for everyone. But it’s very clear, it’s very specific and it’s unambiguous.

That culture is structured to develop collective engagement. We want to get this entire organization built around this idea of collective engagement. We’re all in this together, nonhierarchical, as flat as we can make it.  

We want to build an organization that thrives during times of change, because we all know that the rate of change in the world today often rewards companies that drive innovation and thrive on change.

Our company is on this long journey of developing a servant leadership corporate culture. How can I help you couple that with quick response manufacturing, really placing the value on time more than labor and materials.

Using COVID-19 as a catalyst for change

Many of you probably recognize that COVID-19 was a catalyst for societal and business changes that were already underway. Think about things like remote school, remote work, shop from home, integration of technology, Zoom, Team, Slack, all these things existed, and they were moving along, but now they just accelerated.

In many respects, COVID-19 has done that for our company.

It really accelerated what we’d already been working on, which is our company culture.

How SEKISUI KYDEX pivoted in four days

Our medical device business manager called me and he shared this.

He said, “Ronn, Ford needs some support. They’re struggling to get materials and parts in the time needed to produce 50,000 ventilators in 100 days. They don’t only need our materials. They need the parts that are made from our materials.”

Ford’s challenge is this: The automotive supply base that they’d normally use is shut down. They asked if we could help.

My response to Mark was, “Mark, as you know, we do not make parts.”

He said, “Can we try?

My response to Mark was, “You can try. But, I don’t know.”

With that implicit give it a shot, he made a call to arms to our entire company by sharing his vision on how we could pivot to making components that are part of lifesaving medical devices.

The company’s response to the challenge Mark articulated was beyond anything I could have imagined.

These 100 work-from-home people completely focused on the 300 individuals working on our factory floors. That now became a force of 400 people collectively engaged in making components for ventilators, which was well outside the scope of our capabilities. If I’m honest about it, I was a little bit terrified.

Because I was thinking about all the organizational finance, quality manufacturing personnel, ERP, IT, supply chain, invoicing, safety, contract issues. Then we would need to address that we had never done this before. Nevermind all the new vendors that we had to bring on to achieve this.

Create a common purpose by saying, “Yes, we can.”

Watching the team embrace our culture, I was inspired to make a small but important personal change.

I did this by using a technique I recently heard about at a Vistage meeting right before COVID-19. That is, I changed my usual response when approached with challenging ideas from “Yeah, I hear what you’re asking but,” to “Yes, and…”

When people would ask me, if we could change or even blow up our long-held routines, my answer was almost always, “Yes, and…”
By saying “Yes and we can. We should, we might, we will,” it did a few things.

It emboldened our employees to embrace completely new systems, and in many cases better systems.

It encouraged collective engagement from cross-departmental collaboration. Department silos disappeared almost overnight.
It rewarded innovative ideas and allowed us to fail fast and fail cheap.

Most importantly, this was a big one, it reduced the fear that we were all feeling.

We had a common purpose now. We were depending on one another. No one had all the answers, not even the company president.

The simple but heartfelt phrase of “Yes, and,” meant that the first prototypes were out the door in four days from learning of the project.

Now, SEKISUI KYDEX makes components for lifesaving ventilators. I’m pleased to report, our current metrics are 100% on time and zero rejects.

Needless to say, I think everyone in our company has learned at least two things.

Number one, culture matters. The team is closer than ever, even though they’re geographically farther apart.

The second thing we learned was, we can make the parts.

3 tips for leaders in challenging times

Every leader struggles with their own unique challenges, especially right now. Here are three tips for leaders during these challenging times.

1. In every crisis, there’s an opportunity

In every crisis, there’s an opportunity, even for a company that makes plastic rectangles, I’d never in a million years thought that we’d be making parts for ventilators. Go back in January and tell me that was our mission, I’d say, “It’s impossible. We can’t do that.” There is an opportunity in the crisis.

2. Lean into your people and your culture

This one’s absolutely clear for me, lean into your people and your culture, whatever that might be. They might surprise you. They might delight you. They might disappoint you. But you really need to know what your culture is. If you like what you see, feed it.

If you don’t like what you see, work on it. But lean into that culture.

3. Reach out to your network of peers

One of the things that was really important to me was reaching out to my own network. It’s hard to be lonely at the top. I’ve never really felt that because my business network really is truly a group of people that I see as trusted advisors.

They know what questions to ask me and you know how to ask those questions in the right way. They helped me uncover the real issue I’m trying to solve. They don’t always answer the question. But they answer the question in a way that makes me realize that I’m processing the wrong issue.

I am very fortunate to have those friends in my network. Because it can be lonely at the top, as they say, especially in times of crisis and the challenge of reinvention. I recommend that if you’re going through crisis and reinvention, don’t do it alone. Find a good network, like Vistage.

Category: Leadership

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About the Author: Vistage Staff

Vistage facilitates confidential peer advisory groups for CEOs and other senior leaders, focusing on solving challenges, accelerating growth and improving business performance. Over 45,000 high-caliber execu

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