Smiths Medical is a manufacturer of speciality medical devices. Vital work we have learned.

About 8 years ago I was introduced to their warehouse MT in Nijmegen. At that time they in sourced their own supply chain operation after years of successful cooperation with DHL Supply Chain. The question they had was to create a strategy and way of working for the operational MT. Ultimately the real need appeared to be; create a reputation of reliable internal partners. Funny enough one would expect that an organisation is more stringent to an external supplier. On the contrary; the bar was raised even higher and the DC  team really had to live up to high standards.

In a series of sessions we created the instrumental part of strategy, structure and way of working. Next to that we laid the base for the behavioural part, the way to interact with the stakeholders. Ever since we touched base regularly to monitor the progress. The DC Nijmegen showed not only good scores on KPI’s but also were able to build a track record on cooperation. Read more

After years of stability they encountered a number of changes in the organisation. And these did have an effect on their internal position. Thanks to their own stable development, for example in the MT there was only 1 change over these years, they took a pro-active approach. After a sparring session I had with some MT members we decided to name our approach ‘positioning & profiling’.

There is a beauty and a challenge in extensive experience. The beauty is that your way of working is substantiated and obvious. The challenge is that you tend to operate in a comfort zone. Then the concept op ‘Flow’ is helpful: balancing the expansion of challenges by adding competencies. It’s the key to organisation vitality; creating purposeful existence over the long term.

The approach we took is what I name the hour glass. We started with the fundamentals, narrowing it down to the targets. And from there, work on achieving it with the whole organisation, creating a flow-culture. It is linked to the Chain of Excellence: success is a result of Loyal (internal) customers, that requires engaged employees which demands excellent leadership.

The first step was our compass. Like every company Smiths Medical has a mission statement, core values and programs to communicate that. And like more technical companies it’s sound, high-tech. We wanted to add high touch to high tech. Because medical is people business. We made the Why more personal, decided on supporting core values and determined how to keep that alive.

The positioning part that gave an interesting impulse to the process. Typically, you choose one target audience, but we chose two. On the one hand the top of the organisation whose decisions immediately influence our work (as they had done). On the other hand the employees, since they are the base of results, hence our track record. Yet for both we had the same uniqueness: the certainty to take the best care of their concerns and unburden them. Which demands strengthening the trust that the MT understands and fulfils their demands; result of an intense dialogue.

There we touched on a crucial element: how to engage with our audiences. It is the moment where ‘communication’ is raised as an issue. Yet that is a container word. So again: consider first what is the aim, only then to decide on the implementation. The aim is to create certainty,  give your audience the confirmation that their needs are your concern and in the best hands. Certainty requires consistency and transparency. So the MT has to express ‘One Voice’: always the same single-minded message, built on different elements, yet all with the same perspective.

This was the base for our strategy. We had our targets, listed all strategic initiatives to reach them and prioritized them. Then we made an extra step to secure it wouldn’t be a department-owned challenge, but a collective program. So we grouped the priorities in ‘themes’; each MT member being owner of a theme and the leader being the one holding the line. Being the skewer, connecting all themes to one story.

When having done all this desk work, the time comes to make it happen. And then COVID-19 popped up. In that situation it became apparent how important pro-activity is. Of course, it took quite some adaptation and accompanying stress to organize the DC. The MT split up in 2 teams; being present at the DC, yet never in a full formation. They changed timing of the shifts, created visible separation in the DC, trained the employees in ‘clever cooperation’ and kept everyone informed on a frequent base. Keeping 1.5 meter distance in a packing area is a matter of strict discipline. You cannot uphold this over a longer period by corrective action. Employees need to understand the urgency and live up to a set of rules, based on common sense. Supported by leaders that walk the talk.

With still a lot of challenges ahead we see that the crisis hasn’t been wasted. The leaders really showed their concern to the people. Since group briefings were not possible any more, the MT started video messages combined with personal attendance on the shop floor. They created a rhythm in virtual calls to track progress on the themes and blended in the ongoing challenges. Learning is that a sound fundament gives you the agility to move quicker. Be prepared to improvise and come up with brilliant solutions to master the crisis. Again organisation vitality: adapting to situations is better if well-prepared. Challenge yourself, foresee potential risks and opportunities.

In line with the Chain of Excellence it proves that employees are the axis of healthy development. And leadership has to be supportive which means clear, consistent and transparent. In an online survey the DC personnel expressed their appreciation by scoring significantly higher than before on ‘being proud to work here’ and ‘very likely to recommend Smiths as an employer’.

A clear positioning is the preparation for excellent execution. Which gives you the confidence to share it with your audiences.

#organisationvitality #engagedemployees #leadership #hourglassmethod