Speed but at what cost?

As I was ordering some shopping on the internet last Saturday at 10 pm, it suddenly dawned on me how demanding we can be as customers. We expect instant access to information and for our purchases to arrive the next working day, even if we place our order outside of traditional business hours. How long before these expectations are applied to businesses like FB Chain?

In many respects we already have a 24/7 business culture. Equipped with a smartphone, we’ve become slaves to email, responding to customer queries at weekends and even on holiday. But now this is extending to our operations staff too.

I recently attended a supplier day where a global industrial equipment manufacturer highlighted plans to launch 58 new models and variants over the next 14 months – more than they launched in the 10-year period from 2000 to 2010. Components businesses like us must gear ourselves up to be able to support this rapid product development.

So far, we have succeeded. We have increased the availability of technical and application design advice on our websites and regularly exchange cad files to reduce the amount of redrawing and remodelling of parts. This has allowed us to speed up new orders and even ‘steal’ business from a competitor last year who wasn’t able to provide parts for a prototype machine quickly enough.

But while quick turnaround times are great for increasing sales, we need to be careful about the demands we place on our staff. France’s new legally binding labour agreement, requiring employers to ensure staff ‘disconnect’ after working hours, may be a little extreme but if staff are consistently required to work out of hours then we will need to re-evaluate our processes for the sake of their welfare and for the health of our business. Employees can’t produce quality work if they’re pushed to their limits – if they’re not on top form, then neither are our products. Sometimes it pays to take things slow.

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