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Business Strategy Are You Planning for the Future? No Plan, No Business

Less than a week ago, I stepped off a plane from Japan—it was a business trip, but like any kind of travel, it left me looking at my life, my business, and other manufacturing companies differently. It was, simply put, an amazing trip full of information, investigation, and innovation—with, of course, a couldn’t miss excursion to Tsukiji Fish Market (if you ever have a chance, I highly recommend it). I spent the majority of my time touring factories with my travel companions, conferring about what we saw, and discussing what opportunities lay ahead for manufacturing. The trip and our experiences rolled into some really exciting conversations about manufacturing, conversations that inspired me to write this article.  

Being in your own factory means concentrating on the job at hand. You get tunnel-vision and really stop paying attention to what your competitors are doing. Instead, you focus on running your operation to the best of your abilities—that’s what I do at least, because let me tell you, worrying about other businesses doesn’t pay the bills. You have to re-focus that worry and energy and improve your own business to be successful. We all hear the whispers, see the headlines in the news, but it’s not until you’re surrounded by other industry leaders do you get a real look at what is happening in the world outside of your business. And let me tell you, it’s not always pretty. 

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What was the first thing I noticed? That too many businesses are operating with a “today-only” approach. They concentrate on what needs to be done that day—that’s it. No long-term plan or even a thought about the future. Now, this approach does pay the bills but for how long? This approach worries me because it means these companies aren’t in control of their businesses, and that they don’t have a fighting chance against the future. They’re reactionary—but why? FEAR and I see it in two areas:

The Key to Global Competitiveness is Automation 

The first is in a company’s equipment purchases. So many companies are only buying equipment to meet their current needs, and it’s the kind of equipment that can’t stand up to the demands of tomorrow. They’re treading water. Just going enough to keep breathing. The solution? Investment and automation. The future of manufacturing lies in automation, and I truly believe it is the key to global competitiveness, and yet, most companies ignore it. For example, I’ve seen companies buy machining centres without automation packages and others that will only go as far as a two pallet-system, and let’s call this what it is: the bare minimum.  

Can you hear that? Yup, that’s the elephant in the room. The excuse of cost. Now I get it, but I believe pointing the finger at cost is used as a cover for the real reason: FEAR. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of the economy collapsing. Fear of technology. I could keep going, and I bet you could too, but you get the picture. Companies that buy this way don’t have a concrete plan for the future of their organizations, and without a plan, the only thing left is being reactionary.  

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The second area is in a company’s employees. Now, this is pretty typical, but when things are busy, companies hire. When things are slow, people get laid off. This is a “today-only” mentality and is as short-sighted as those equipment purchases I was just talking about. I don’t know why so many companies take this in-and-out approach because ultimately, they get frustrated when they can’t find any good people to hire, and wait, they FEAR having too many employees. There it is. That fear again. Manufacturing companies that employ this in-and-out, fear-based approach are not in control, and employees don’t want to have any part in it. They don’t want to work for a reactionary company and feed off that fear. They want stability and a company they can grow with—not one they can die with. And that starts with planning for the future. 

It’s Your Choice: Control or Chaos

I could keep going, but if you’ve gotten this far, you get the point: manufacturers need to have a plan for the future and need to stop running a reactive business. How equipment is purchased, how employees are treated, how employees feel— that’s your measure. I know that no matter what, day-to-day decisions still need to be made, but they need to reflect your long-term plan and not be made on a whim. The choice is yours: develop a plan that brings control, a brighter future, and less fear to your business, or continue without a plan and breed chaos, instability, and less productivity.