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Staying Productive Through a Crisis

image of female business executive looking out windowThe world has changed dramatically since you heard from me last. It’s hard to remember what I planned to write about just three or four weeks ago. The coronavirus crisis affects all of us, whether it’s our health or our work or our finances. I wish you and your family nothing but peace and good health during this unpredictable time.

It’s possible you’re crazy busy right now and don’t even have time to think about what’s happening. But you also may find yourself at home with some time on your hands, and if that’s the case, I urge you to look at this restless period as one with great potential for productivity. Getting work done without the distractions of the office can be a good thing, and you may also find time for rest, introspection, and personal improvement, so you’ll be ready to take advantage of the upturn when it comes around.

With that in mind, I’m planning to stay in touch with you weekly while we’re in various stages of shutdown across the country. I’ll provide you with a steady stream of activities you can apply within your circle of influence to improve your processes and increase your value.

Use this time to rest, recharge and read about new ideas.

To start, since you may have a bit of extra reading time, here’s a new book you should check out that’s very timely for the situation we find ourselves in. When an economic downturn hits, lean principles often get thrown out the window—but that’s really the time you need them most.

Steady Work by Karen Gaudet

Karen Gaudet is a lean teacher and former regional director for Starbucks, where she was a champion for continuous improvement. In Steady Work, she draws on her experiences at Starbucks to answer the question, how do you create a standard workday when the demand is anything but standard?

At Starbucks, leaders like Gaudet often have to contend with disruptions to service—whether it’s a sharp drop (say, during the financial crisis of 2008) or an urgent need to scale up, as when a single cafe needed to increase services dramatically after the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, which brought a media onslaught to an unprepared small town.

In this book, Gaudet explains the thought process of plan, do, check, act (PDCA) to create standard work for employees in different customer demand scenarios. Inevitably, when you implement the principle of repeatable work, quality, revenue, profit, and customer and job satisfaction increase, even in extreme situations.

That doesn’t mean implementing lean is easy. Gaudet acknowledges the hurdles of the “frozen middle” (middle management), backsliding, multitasking, batching, and heroes who rush in to save the day when things go wrong (they’re a well-known symptom of bad processes). But she also illustrates what leadership, communication, collaboration, empowerment and problem-solving look like when standard work is applied successfully. Lean requires dedication, yes, but it’s necessary and incredibly rewarding—especially in troubled times.

This book is a quick read—just 120 pages or so—and I know you’ll find it worth your while.

Till next week, be patient and stay safe!