At certain times of the year people in our shop aren’t working as much as we would like them to be. We want them to be busy. We have plenty of work year around. And it’s nice to have some downtime, but we don’t want people to get “soft” when things slow down. How can we best use the quite times?

Thoughts of the Day: Quiet times in the business are a great opportunity for reflection on what works well and what could be done better. Imagining the future is essential for any production that intends to stay profitable. Make time for training in order to upgrade skills and boost efficiency. Use the time to celebrate and prepare for what’s next.

Use the downtime time to focus on pride, quality and profit.

Do an overall assessment. What parts of the operation work smoothly and efficiently and what could be improved. Set up meetings for people who are usually so busy “doing”. Ask them to reflect on each part of the operation that they interact with. Encourage people to come forward with suggestions. Watch for people who exhibit ability in the way they approach problem identification and solutions. Think about how to develop that ability further in the coming year.

Ask people in your organization to talk about what changes might be on the horizon. This is a great time to get people from marketing and field sales to come in and meet with people who are “in the back” doing the work, on the receiving end of the orders and challenges posed by the people at the “front of the house”. Encourage the different teams to build bonds by talking about what might come up next year. Think about the most challenging clients and how best to meet their demands. Use the meetings to clear the air between groups who so often have very different objectives. Focus on building up communication and collaboration across departments, bonds that people will be able to pull on when things get hectic.

Plan for the upcoming year by engaging people in the shop in a dialog about what customers are likely to want in the coming year.

What’s likely to be different and how can the company best produce that while making a good profit. Engage everyone in the discussion. Put everyone on the same mission, to deliver a top-quality product, on time, to a customer who highly values what’s been produced, while yielding a great return on the investment needed to produce those goods or services. Use downtime to tackle your list of training needs. What will help people in the shop to get better at what they do? Identify courses that require travel, and courses that can be implemented onsite. Figure out who should attend what educational opportunities. If you don’t find standard courses to meet your needs, consider working with your local college or trade school to develop a program customized to your company’s needs.

Think about taking field trips to look at and learn about what other companies do well. Remember that people in the shop are often hands-on learners who do well when looking at real life solutions.

Go the extra mile to celebrate things that worked well during the year.

Use the celebrations as opportunities to build camaraderie and loyalty. You can organize short programs at the beginning of the day to thank everyone for their contributions. Use half day and full day programs to recognize teamwork and outstanding contributions. Hold a “family” day for employees to show their significant others what they do at work. Help people store up goodwill they can draw on when the shop goes back to full-tilt busy.

Looking for a good book? Production and Operations Management Systems, by Sushil Gupta, Martin Starr.