How should you set your supply chain up for coronavirus recovery? Find out the steps here.
With the majority of the world still in lockdown, no detailed blueprint for economic recovery, and no vaccine in sight, the end to the coronavirus pandemic still seems a while off. But reassuringly, there’s signs that we may now at least be in the recovery phase, with many European countries contemplating easing restrictions, and the US announcing they may do so in May. With these reassuring steps, supply chain managers the world over, many who felt blindsided by the speed and force of coronavirus disruptions, are keen not to make the same mistakes again. So they’re now asking themselves the critical question we all need to know the answer to: How do we set our supply chains up for coronavirus recovery? And when we do enter the recovery phase, how do we ensure it’s successful and ideally, fast?
Step 1: Ensure your cash strategy is fit for purpose
Early on in the crisis, many optimistic leaders predicted that our economies would simply bounce back in what they called a ‘V’ shaped recovery. But as the pandemic has unfolded, it’s become clear that this is most likely not going to be the case. Economists now predict that we’ll have more of a ‘U’ shaped recovery, where business and consumer spending slowly return over time, although activity is still expected to be significantly subdued until a vaccine is found.
This leaves most companies, and as a result, most all of us in a tight spot. The uncertainty of it all means that you may need to adjust your cash strategy to ensure it’s fit for purpose.
Adjusting your cash strategy may take many forms. One strategy is to try to ensure you have more cash available by adjusting your accounts receivables strategy, for example, trying to get invoices out and paid more quickly, and removing barriers to debt collection.
Another method is to adjust your accounts payable strategy, although if you do so, ensure you do it strategically. Take this opportunity to analyse your suppliers. Who provides the most strategic value? Can you strike a more favourable deal? If you can, ensure you negotiate, for example, perhaps you will give more business to a certain supplier in exchange for favourable payment terms? Analyse everything and strike the delicate balance between looking after suppliers and maintaining your business’s cash reserves.
Step 2: Identify and assist at-risk suppliers
Conserving cash is the first critical step in coronavirus recovery, and the key one when it comes to pure business survival. But recovery, when it comes, will be about much more than that.
By now, most of us have realised how resilient – or not – our supply chains really are. Hopefully, we’ve all had time to look deeper into our supply chains, and map the manufacturing capabilities of each of our suppliers, looking into exactly what part is made in what location. Beyond that, hopefully we now understand – if we didn’t before – the exact dependencies of our products and what needs to happen when, and from where, in order to give our customers what they need. If you haven’t yet undertaken this analysis, now is the time to do so.
Assuming you have, though, you may have encountered suppliers who are now struggling, or who will be struggling in the near future. Even if your suppliers may not have told you as much, signs that a struggle is indeed present include incomplete or delayed deliveries, changes in debt covenants, or sudden changes in your key contacts.
As any supply change manager would know, protecting your suppliers is key, and now, more than ever, you may need to do what you can to help. If you’ve identified a supplier who is struggling, try to help by committing to orders or even exploring credit options, such as lending against future orders or applying your company’s credit to loans. In extreme cases, you may even need to look at an equity investment scenario if that supplier is critical to your production.
Step 3: Look after your people
Cash and suppliers may be fundamental to our day jobs. But what would those look like without … us?
As any seasoned leader understands, your people are critical to just about anything you want to achieve, and especially a ramp up after a prolonged period of stress and uncertainty. And while, with the current job market, you’re not likely to lose staff if you don’t make an effort right now, when recovery is in full swing, the difference in productivity between disengaged and engaged and motivated staff (which can be up to 22%), can be monumental.
But what’s the best way to look after your staff right now? Experts recommend:
- Be realistic, kind and flexible: With the current crisis affecting the lives and livelihoods of most of the world, now is an extremely stressful time for all of us. Be clear about what you need from your staff, but also be kind and realistic about what you expect them to achieve, and be flexible about when you need it.
- Offer mental health support: Right now, the WHO (World Health Organisation) estimates that one in four people are experiencing new or heightened mental health issues due to the crisis. If you can, offer your staff counselling support or direct them to government resources so they can seek help, if needed.
- Give upskilling options: While having a high workload right now can be stressful, so too can not having enough to do. If your team isn’t that busy, do your best to reassure them that their jobs are safe (if possible). Beyond that, endeavour to offer upskilling options. These options don’t need to cost a lot or even take long – here are ten critical skills your procurement or supply chain team can learn, for free, for a $0 budget.
Step 4: Look after your customers
How you treat your staff during a crisis will determine whether or not you’re able to retain them in the recovery period and beyond. Likewise, how you treat your customers is just as important.
With significant disruptions to supply chains, freight and logistics worldwide, there’s a high chance that at some point, you may disappoint your customers. There’s two key ways you need to manage this: through communication, and through prioritisation.
For the first, communication, you need to do your best to determine, far ahead of time and with your own suppliers, what delays might exist or what changes in orders you foresee. Once you know, let your own customers know and keep them regularly updated on progress. As always, it’s better to give a worst-case scenario and then delight them when orders do come through faster than expected.
For the second, prioritisation, if you’re facing considerable shortages and you can’t find an alternate supplier, you may need to prioritise your most valuable customers. Look at factors such as profit margins and key customer segments when figuring out who to prioritise, or alternatively, look at allocations to certain customers if required.
Get prepared – now
Recovery might seem a while off, but it’s closer than you think. Make sure you take these steps, now, to ensure you’re in the best place.
Is there anything else you’re doing to plan for recovery? Tell us in the comments below.
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