Dealing With Fluctuating Workloads

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How can you, as a leader deal, with the fluctuating workloads that might be impacting your team?

We know that some companies are dealing with dramatically increased production volumes, while others are dealing with a drop off in production right now. Assuming things are settling in to either slowing down or speeding up, how does that impact you as a leader? How can you help your team respond?

First, let’s look at work slowing down. If production volumes are dropping off or your customers aren’t placing as many orders, and it’s anticipated to stay that way, there are a few things you can do with your team.

First, you need to adjust the people and the resources to match the level of orders you are getting in. I know it seems like the right thing to do is to keep everyone fully staffed, but unfortunately that hurts your company’s profitability, which impacts its ability to buy new equipment, invest in capital, and it also impacts your long-term success.

No company can afford to keep staffing too high versus the amount of workload that it has. If the slowdown is only temporary, you might not want to lose some of the talent you have on your team. If this is the case, look for opportunities to assign people to other tasks. Maybe not specifically tasks that generate value in terms of end customers, but certainly the tasks like maintenance (painting, cleaning up or reorganizing), or maybe even Kaizen, or continuous improvement projects, designed to make the project and your department even more efficient.

Now, if it’s more permanent, then you have to be aware, if you don’t choose to downsize or restructure your team, your team’s will have a tendency to slow down to ensure the workload fills the time that’s available. You might not even notice it. I know I’ve been fooled in the past with some of my staff still looking busy, even if sales had softened or dropped many years ago. So, don’t be fooled. Your team will probably start to slow down in order to avoid making it obvious you are overstaffed. As a leader, part of your job is to make sure you have the right amount of labor for the amount of work your team has ahead of it.

Now, let’s look at a more positive perspective, that is when production volumes are increasing. We know some of our customers are actually ramping up and it’s expected to continue that way. What a good problem to have.

Keep your team ready to respond to any pace of work. Share on X

To start, you may be faced with the reality that you might need to add new team members, and you want to do it the right way. For example, sometimes when companies get so busy, they hire so rapidly they don’t pre-qualify the team members, and then they deal with a lot of employee issues, unnecessary conflict and motivation problems later on.  Taking the time to go through the screening process may be your time to pick from a labor force where you have more choices. Taking your time to pick people the right way, and of course, get them up to speed the right way will be beneficial.

You should also keep testing the limits. As you’re increasing production, look for ways your company can be even more prosperous by finding ways to do more with less. Sometimes it’s actually better to run a little short-handed as you’re ramping up to see what people are actually capable of. If you do that, you might set a new benchmark for performance. This increased profitability helps your company’s longevity, and helps you afford capital equipment investments going forward.

An industrial woman engineer with headset in a factory, working. Copy space.

Also, this is a great opportunity, if you’re ramping up, to cross-train your team for flexibility. The reality for many companies is demand will fluctuate depending on the product line and the time of year. What if your team was so well cross-trained that you could just move them where the work needs them the most and take them away from where it doesn’t need them as much? That would give you tremendous advantages as a company and for you as a leader.

If you can master the art of speeding up when demand increases, and the art of slowing down and adjusting your resources to match the customer orders you’re receiving, this is a tremendous skill to have as a leader.