Dealing with business disruptions

Dealing with business disruptions

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Ms Jo Ann Brumit learnt about performance excellence the hard way. Her efforts paid off in 2000, when her US-based precision sheet metal manufacturing company KARLEE was awarded the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for performance excellence. She shares her views on how SMEs can handle business disruptions and risks to ensure business continuity.

What are some of the major disruptive forces affecting SMEs?

Innovation, technologies and workforce evolution. By innovation, I mean something that creates new opportunities and markets, and replaces an existing ‘thing’. Think of notable innovations like the Apple’s smartwatch, which doubles as a fitness tracker.

By technologies, I mean new ways of accomplishing tasks that change or disrupt traditional methods or practices. Take self-driving cars, drones and robots, as well as sensors and wearables that replace manual applications and enhance capabilities and accuracy, for example.

Workforce evolution is a disruption that is not often thought of. It can be defined as the gradual change from simple needs to more complex needs and expectations, such as a flexible workspace or mobile, social and globally accessible tools that provide ubiquitous access to corporate resources and services.

How should SMEs deal with these disruptions?

First, SMEs need to fully understand what these disruptions mean for their businesses. They should assess the risks they pose, and also consider whether using these disruptive forces could help improve business performance. Most importantly, these forces should be included in every SME’s strategic planning and review processes, as they have the potential to disrupt long-term business plans, programmes and initiatives.

How can SMEs use innovation to strengthen their competitiveness and ensure long-term business sustainability?

Innovation should be embedded into an SME’s business culture to ensure it continuously strives to find ways to strengthen its competitiveness. Consider holding innovation team meetings quarterly or semi-annually, attending informational networking events sponsored by supply chain partners and attending global economic strategy conferences. This will provide valuable feedback on whether a business model shift is required to ensure a sustainable future.

Will adopting new technologies help SMEs maintain their market position amid rising competition?

SMEs should not blindly jump on the technology bandwagon and acquire the latest solutions being marketed without first conducting a return on investment analysis and research into how such technologies will benefit both the business and customers. Sometimes a simple software upgrade could increase customer value and help a company outpace its competitors, ensuring business continuity.

How important is having a strong leadership team when faced with business disruptions?

Leadership excellence is a key component and driver of business excellence. Strong, capable business leaders know how to turn disruptions into opportunities to ensure business sustainability. But they also understand how to lead change in a company during uncertain times, and will work with expediting teams to ensure disruptions to business operations are minimal.

How can companies build a culture of workforce excellence to ensure business continuity and sustainability?

Achieving workforce excellence begins with trust. Engaging, empowering and appreciating the workforce, and giving staff members a sense of ownership and accomplishment are key to building that trust, as well as a sustainable culture of workforce excellence. Senior leaders are responsible for ensuring this culture remains intact for business continuity.

Are there other measures or initiatives that SMEs can put in place to minimise business risks and pitfalls, and ensure sustainability in the long term?

Adopting the Business Excellence framework enables companies to take a holistic approach to managing the business. The framework requires companies to consider the strategic context that they are operating in, develop strategies for a sustainable future and constantly review to adapt and adjust to the changing business landscape.

Companies could also hold annual strategic planning meetings and quarterly performance reviews, as well as perform annual risk analysis assessments. These would ensure risk-mitigation strategies are incorporated into a company’s business model and plans. Innovation and technology strategies should also be included in annual business plans and strategies to ensure business continuity.

SMEs that do not have such processes or elements in their business operations could engage the help of industry consultants or subject matter experts to develop and implement risk-mitigation strategies and ensure business sustainability.