Gaining A Competitive Edge With Sustainable Procurement

The shipping warehouse bustles, workers moving supplies and materials in, sending products and packaging out. Everyone’s rushing to meet tight timelines and keep customers happy. You’re hitting the daily milestones, checking off must-dos on the list. Yet a constant question haunts your thoughts: are operations as efficient as they can be?

It’s not only about cutting costs, not anymore.

It’s about the trash piling mountain high in landfills, the litter clogging up streams, and forests falling to chainsaws and fires. Rising temperatures and oceans too, hurricanes growing stronger.

Sustainability has moved from a high-minded goal for some, to a necessary pursuit for all. Packaging is part of the greater equation. And that means procurement is a vital variable for packaging companies and their clients.

Reduce waste. Increase efficiency. Produce better outcomes. Through optimizing your procurement process, and helping your clients optimize theirs, it’s possible.

It won’t be easy, but great accomplishments rarely are. That’s why we’re going to cover some strategies and concepts that will help you build a sustainable procurement process and create the team buy-in necessary to run an environmentally friendly packaging company.

Leveraging Procurement to Champion Sustainability

Sound, effective procurement will allow you to keep costs low and protect your competitive edge. Done right, procurement can also help you become more sustainable.

Writing in FleetOwner, Matt Clark sums up procurement and competitive advantages nicely:

“The fundamental purpose of all sourcing and procurement activity is to utilize the external market and suppliers in an optimal manner in order to gain a competitive advantage. Every item or service being sourced should contribute, directly or indirectly, towards competitive positioning.”

Elsewhere, Mr. Clark discusses the need for strategic sourcing, which we can define as a “systematic approach to purchasing items needed for your business.” He further outlines four key objectives for sourcing in a strategic manner:

  1. Reduce overall costs
  2. Eliminate waste and wasteful processes
  3. Make your organization and yourself more efficient
  4. Provide visibility into what is going on

Accomplishing the above can go a long way towards sustainability. Reducing costs may first pop into the mind of many procurement specialists. With sustainability, however, the other three points are just as crucial.

Reducing waste and increasing efficiency improves your environmental footprint while also increasing competitiveness. Yet cutting waste is easier said than done. Writing for North Carolina State University, Rhonda Sherman, a Solid Waste Specialist, suggests:

“The most direct way to cut your disposal costs is with source reduction: that is, by reducing the amount of waste your business produces. You have less to get rid of if you purchase and discard less material. By analyzing your business’ waste stream, you will probably discover that you can eliminate much of the waste your business produces.”

Picking through your own trash to identify where you generate waste may not sound like much fun, yet it’s a great way to discover opportunities to increase efficiency.

Reducing waste helps improve efficiency, but there are other steps you can take as well. “Lean procurement” -championed by manufacturers like Toyota- can help you reduce waste, encourage efficient procurement processes, and support responsive suppliers. What might this look like? In his article “Applying Lean Thinking to Procurement” Paul A. Myerson writes:

“By applying Lean principles to procurement and purchasing processes, businesses experience multiple benefits throughout the supply chain.”

Akin to lean manufacturing, lean procurement is demand driven. In light of this, Mr. Myerson further suggests that:

“The companies in a supply chain work more closely together to sense and shape market demand by sharing information and collaborating with each other. By doing so, they achieve greater and more timely visibility into demand.”

Remembering Matt Clark’s fourth point -improving visibility- both internally and externally, helps with tracking sustainability campaigns and gleaning insights from your efforts. To increase transparency and thus visibility, Sydney Wess suggests:

“Enveloping sustainability into a formalized procurement policy will provide your company with a foundation of sustainable expectations to guide your decision-making surrounding the supply chain. This policy, once rolled out to your staff, will showcase your transparency on the topic, encouraging all members of the team to take more actionable steps toward sustainability in their roles relating to procurement.”

So far, we’ve talked mostly about how you can reform procurement processes to encourage sustainability. As we see above, however, sustainable procurement also means making environmentally friendly decisions.

Instilling a Sustainable Culture Among Your Procurement Team (and Others!)

Your procurement department is people-driven. While artificial intelligence and other technologies enable data-empowered decision making, employees are still making the key choices. And when it comes to procurement, you should never forget the human side.

To encourage sustainable choices, you must establish a strong sustainability culture. As University of Virginia management professor Tom Bateman writes in GreenBiz:

“Your sustainability culture can be strong or weak. A strong one exists if people share a belief in sustainability’s importance and behave in ways that support it — including making decisions that balance long-term considerations with short-term needs.”

Many packaging leaders take sustainability seriously. However, efforts may fall short if other employees fail to buy in. Phillip Barlag warns in “3 Hidden Killers Of Sustainability Programs”:

“Sustainability as a corporate program often finds itself isolated and not true to the core of the business. When this happens, people outside the sustainability group don’t really know what these initiatives are, why they exist, and most importantly–why they should care.”

When it comes to procurement, this could prove especially troublesome since managers and ground staff are often making key choices, not the C-Suite. Your procurement team (among others) needs to embrace the sustainability process.

So how do you build a company culture that encourages everyone to go green? Paul Polman & CB Bhattacharya argue that:

“The key to creating a vibrant and sustainable company is to find ways to get all employees—from top executives to assembly line workers—personally engaged in day-to-day corporate sustainability efforts.”

Mr. Barlag echoes these sentiments:

“Have conversations inside your company and involve as many people as you can. The more input you get, the more likely you are to get buy-in.”

Your company doesn’t have to go it alone either. Discuss sustainability with your suppliers. But also talk sustainability with your competitors! Writing in Fast Company, Phillip Barlag suggests:

“Companies can and should compete in the markets, but as it pertains to sustainability, demonstrating to your people that even your competitors have something useful to say on sustainability will set the tone for a culture of honesty and openness.” Of course, not every competitor will share their secrets. You can encourage openness by sharing sustainability insights yourself first. Sustainability requires leadership, and throughout your procurement process and in the larger market, you can lead by example.

What does sustainable procurement have to do with executive recruiting? EVERYTHING! Leaders who champion sustainability can turn procurement into a strength and ensure buy-in at every level.

Chase & Associates 
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Change Is Constant, Vibrant R&D Keeps You Ahead Of The Curve

Forty years ago, computers were still a niche technology. Now, a computer stares back at you on the desk, another one, your smartphone, buzzes in your pocket. Go to grab your morning coffee, and you may find your cup automatically brewed. Decades of research and development have turned even the humble coffee machine into a simple computer.

The packaging industry also looked quite different 40 years ago. Some of today’s most pressing problems were barely a consideration. Online shopping was all but unheard of as people flocked to malls and big box stores. Scientists discussed sustainability, but urgency was often lacking. And while packaging provided branding opportunities, it wasn’t as  vital a distinguishing factor as it is today.

Now, the biggest brands use packaging to drive home their values and brand story. Apple’s packaging carries the same clean, uncluttered feel as its iPhones and Macs, for example. Head to the company’s website, and their emphasis on sustainability, recycled materials, and cutting waste is laid bare for the whole world to see.

Ultimately, we can view packaging as a strategic asset that empowers companies in pursuit of key values, such as sustainability. Yet progress doesn’t simply occur but is instead something we must strive for. Companies must invest in research today if they’re to develop tomorrow’s advanced packaging materials.

Cut-Throat Competition Demands Enlightened Research

History tells us of the Age of Enlightenment and various other golden eras the world over. Hundreds of years from now, people may look back to today as an Age of Innovation. As Matt Jones points out in Forbes:

“We live in an age of unprecedented innovation. Many of the world’s biggest companies and most ubiquitous technologies were unimaginable a decade or two ago.”

Research and development play a crucial role in innovation, but what drives R&D? Hark back to an Econ 101 class and you might recall markets and how competition drives them. The strong survive and thrive, while the weak perish. Companies don’t invest in R&D as a feel-good exercise but instead to improve their competitiveness.

Writing for McKinsey, Tom Brennan, Philipp Ernst, Joshua Katz, and Erik Roth state:

“At the core, they [companies] hope their R&D investments yield the critical technology from which they can develop new products, services, and business models. But for R&D to deliver genuine value, its role must be woven centrally into the organization’s mission.”

In regards to packaging, many of tomorrow’s most successful packaging firms will be the companies that invest in R&D today. Companies that fail to invest, on the other hand, may stagnate. Tom Brennan, Philipp Ernst, Joshua Katz, and Erik Roth conclude that:

“As organizations mature, innovation-driven growth becomes increasingly important, as their traditional means of organic growth, such as geographic expansion and entry into untapped market segments, diminish.”

The packaging industry is mature and “traditional means of organic growth” are often hard to come by. Yet through R&D, companies can enjoy innovation-driven growth, standing out even in intensely competitive markets.

Consumers can’t be forgotten amid the churn. Indeed, R&D should aim to satisfy consumers’ wants and needs. In Jenni Spinner’s Packaging Digest article “Consumer research propels packaging innovation,” shopper research expert Caroline Capel notes:

“When it comes to packaging, our overriding message continues to be to start early with consumer research for the best chance of success.  By examining consumer perceptions from the initial stages of development, companies are better able to ensure their strategies are successful; not only meeting consumers’ needs but also ensuring they engage with products more positively and, ultimately, purchase more.”

Markets and consumers will spur R&D, but to what end? Pumping up sales numbers is no longer enough. Now, the scope must be widened to consider the needs of the Earth itself. Fortunately, R&D may help us achieve sustainable aspirations.

Make Sustainable Dreams a Reality Through Innovation

It’s impossible to say where specifically research and development will take the packaging industry. The most innovative packaging products ten years from now may be things no one’s thinking about right now.

Still, it’s a safe bet that sustainability will drive many developments. Why? Quite simply, consumers and indeed our world demand it. Writing for PackHelp, Phil Forbes puts it this way:

“Many of us were brought up with the phrase ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ in our vocabulary. Today, it’s essential to your business that you reflect these same values. Not only to help the environment, but also increase brand loyalty amongst eco-conscious consumers.”

Already, sustainable packaging is a major focus for many organizations. Back in 2019, Rose Shilling sagely noted:

“One after another, food and beverage companies have declared plans to cut waste and move toward the ultimate goal: packaging materials that are reused over and over. Packaging suppliers and designers are engineering solutions to drive this shift without compromising on processors’ other priorities for product quality, manufacturing efficiency and more.”

Take a long walk along a local stream and you may find plastic soda bottles and other packaging bits floating in the water. It’s no surprise then that food packaging companies are investing in more sustainable packaging solutions. Indeed, through the “Paper Bottle Project,” Coca Cola hopes to go plastic free by 2022, an ambitious goal. Thomas Shambler outlines the project:

The initiative aims to develop eco-friendly plastics called PEF – which is made using plant sugars. Those will be used to line compostable cardboard bottles (similar to the plastic inside your take-away coffee cup – but one that biodegrades) and replace the need for regular plastics.

Shambler further states:

Studies have shown that PEF made from plant plastic decomposes almost entirely after just one year in a composter. It would take a few years longer if it was chucked away normally (but, importantly, it will biodegrade).

Biodegradable packaging materials will likely play a major role in the future. That said, “reuse” may also play a crucial part. Right now, many researchers are working towards establishing a circular economy that will eliminate waste and ensure that resources and materials are continuously reused.

Yet the reality today is far from the dream of a circular economy. Writing for Sphera, Sophie Kieselbach notes that countries that accept trash for recycling ultimately:

“…dispose of superfluous waste in endless landfills where part of it ends up as ocean plastic, or they burn it (illegally) in the open air, releasing noxious fumes over local settlements.”

Recycling is heavily promoted, but  it’s an inefficient process that still produces a lot of waste. Reusing materials, rather than recycling them, may offer a more sustainable approach. Regarding “reuse,” Kieselbach notes:

“It [reuse] may also necessitate more robust packaging materials that need to withstand washing and sterilization. It also needs to have well-built infrastructure to collect, wash, sterilize, refill and return the packaging to consumers.”

Reduce, reuse, recycle, indeed. Yet no matter the flavor, sustainability will be a major focus of packaging R&D in the years to come. And the right research and development efforts now could go a long way towards helping us build a greener, more environmentally-friendly global society.

What does research and development have to do with executive recruiting? EVERYTHING! R&D has always been a vital part of the packaging industry. We recruit forward thinkers for our elite clientele, and we’ll do the same for your organization.

Chase & Associates 
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(13) Insights Into How AI And Automation Will Revolutionize Packaging Now And For Years To Come

Up and down the supply chains that crisscross the country, packaging heroes have put in the sweat needed to keep society humming. Despite shutdowns in global travel and massive disruptions to supply lines, grocery shelves are well stocked, frontline workers now have access to PPE, and businesses are rising to the moment.

Make no mistake, it hasn’t been business as usual; it’s been a Herculean feat on the part of workers bustling across warehouse floors and packaging executives in hectic offices. Let’s tip our hats to those efforts.

All the while, companies are becoming nimbler by leveraging automation and AI to empower workers and help maintain social distancing. Technology adoption has increased in recent months, and packaging heroes will continue to embrace change, including automation and AI, after we beat COVID-19.

Wondering what artificial intelligence and automation could mean for the packaging industry? We wondered the same. That’s why we turned to some of the world’s brightest experts. Let’s see what they have to say.

Artificial Intelligence is Making the Packaging Industry Smarter

There’s a good chance you’ve heard “artificial intelligence” (AI) tossed around before. Maybe in your favorite sci-fi flick, or at a tech conference. But what does artificial intelligence actually mean?

One of the foundational pioneers of AI, Dr. Nils J. Nilsson, sheds light:

“Artificial intelligence is that activity devoted to making machines intelligent, and intelligence is that quality that enables an entity to function appropriately and with foresight in its environment”

From: One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence (AI100)

More recently, Brian Ka Chan put it this way:

“It [AI] includes anything that can make a decision and is not a living organism! Notice that this sets a very low bar for intelligence: any decision-making that isn’t simply random will count as intelligent.”

From: What is AI

Decision making is a key takeaway. Traditional software can analyze information on command and produce outputs. But at the end of the day, there’s still a human behind the machine.

AI ultimately aims for autonomous intelligence, or the ability to make decisions without human input. For the packaging industry, this could yield major breakthroughs.

AI delivers measurable improvements by empowering rather than replacing workers. As Ray Chalmers offers:

“AI covers a number of engineering-related goals: better predictive maintenance, the concept of zero downtime, clear traceability related to standards compliance and increased worker engagement. Indeed, “smart” devices—such as motors, controllers, sensors and more imparting improved algorithms to robots, conveyors, checkweighers and entire packaging lines—promise to engage workers rather than replace them.”

From: AI Packaging Defining Terms and Assessing Impact

It’s not just about warehouse floor improvements. Packaging has a huge influence on customers. Saloni Walimbe notes:

“In the retail space, packaging is often the first interaction that customers have with the product. It’s effective not just in attracting the customer’s interest, but also in offering a tangible way to connect with the product and understand its many aspects.”

From: How Automation Will Impact the Global Packaging Landscape

Good thing artificial intelligence can help packaging companies form relationships with consumers as well. Speaking to Kristiana Lalou at Packaging Insights, Alexandre Carvalho states:

“Thanks to smart packaging technology, every package sold can now carry a unique digital identifier, creating the opportunity for direct one-to-one conversations with consumers, as well as helping drive efficiencies across the entire supply chain.”

From: AI in Packaging: How artificial intelligence is driving the packaging industry forward

Many packaging companies rely on their sales team to drum up revenues. In the past, sales often felt like shooting in the dark, but AI can pull back the curtain, as John Boitnott notes:

“Using machine learning, these platforms analyze a variety of variables like word choice, or the ratio of time spent talking versus listening. The tools help analyze performance and coach salespeople to communicate more like your most successful sellers.”

From: 4 Ways Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) Can Transform Your Small Business

AI could also help when packaging is thrown out. Many packaging products can be recycled but sorting recyclables has proven difficult. Writing in Materials, Handling, & Logistics, Derric Brown says:

“AMP, which stands for Autonomous Manipulation and Perception, creates scalable robotic systems designed to reduce the cost of recycling while enabling “smart” recycling facilities by providing information on the efficiency of equipment and flow of materials.”

From: AI Offers a Smarter Path to Sustainable Packaging

Much of AI’s potential is tied up with automation, another important technological trend that could shake up the packaging industry. Let’s take a gander.

Automation is Empowering Workers and Improving Productivity

You may be familiar with automation. It’s been disrupting packaging for years. Need a catch up? Saloni Walimbe offers a succinct summary:

“In the modern era, technology is evolving at breakneck speed. Automation refers to the creation and application of technology toward monitoring and controlling activities associated with goods and services, from production to delivery. In essence, it refers to the digitization of tasks previously performed by human workers.”

From: How Automation Will Impact the Global Packaging Landscape

Automation holds a lot of promise for the packaging industry. Nathan Dube says:

“Fully automated packaging lines have recently been implemented more frequently due to several benefits. These reasons have historically revolved around cost savings, key performance indicators, and the streamlining and optimization of production.”

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, automation is even more important, as Nathan Dube further elucidates:

“However, today the biggest motivation for automating your packaging line is something else entirely. Putting a bold and extreme focus on protecting the health and safety of your people.”

From: Packaging Automation: A New Weapon In The War Against COVID

As machines play a bigger role in the workplace, some worry about declining craftsmanship. There’s a reason hand-made products often command a higher price. Still, David Roberge argues:

“Production line automation allows companies to leverage ingenuity and efficiency without sacrificing craftsmanship or quality. With an automated production line, you never have to worry about employees getting sick, you can rest assured that production levels will remain high, and you can feel confident knowing that the end product will be made to a consistently high standard.”

From: Why Robotic Packaging Automation is the Future

One specific automation technology, motion control, long a mainstay in manufacturing, is now among the most promising technologies for packaging. That’s why Mark Howard states in Packaging Strategies that:

“Packaging multiple products together requires synchronizing the incoming product, collating and grouping it, before transferring the product to a cartoning machine.  All of this is expected at high throughput. The efficiency of rapid changeover is one of the key advantages of motion control.”

From: Integrating Automation for Packaging Processes

We’re just beginning to understand the full impact of AI and automation. The technologies we use today may seem primitive in twenty years. Circling back to AI, Mike Thomas quotes venture capitalist Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, who believes:

“[AI] is going to change the world more than anything in the history of mankind. More than electricity.”

From: 7 ways AI can change the world for better … or worse

We can’t say for certain what lies ahead. Still, automation and AI are already empowering our workforce, increasing productivity, and making it easier to maintain social distancing. In the future, these technologies may have even more profound impacts on how we lead our lives and do business.

What does this have to do with recruiting? EVERYTHING! AI is disrupting the packaging industry, and the future promises even more change. When applicable, we find the disruptors that your organization needs to go to the next level.

Chase & Associates 
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Finding Your ‘Best Self’ In These Troubling Times

You’re in the middle of a long week, dark bags hang under your eyes. You need to finish a big project but a new hire needs help with a complex deliverable. Then the phone rings. You’re roped into a client call, troubleshooting problems and planning future endeavors. Finished, you’re out of one oven but into another frying pan. 

Hours later, you clock out, run some errands, and head home. In the living room, the kids are wrapping up remote classes and need help with their homework. Back to work you go. The sun sets. Dinner is served. Then the little ones are tucked in. Lights out, you find yourself tossing and turning through the night.

Endless problems and things to do, yet only so many hours in the day. If only you had some time for yourself. But team and family needs come before personal needs, right? Thinking about yourself is selfish, isn’t it? Wrong!

We must go above and beyond as the COVID-19 pandemic rages and other challenges arise. Yet to put in our best effort, we have to find our best selves. And that begins with taking care of ourselves.

Mental Well-Being Starts with Prioritizing Yourself

Many leaders are quick to put their company and team first. Even thinking about yourself may seem selfish, but you’re not going to perform at your best if you don’t take care of yourself. Writing on, Clinical Psychologist Claire Nicogossian points out:

“Self-care is taking time to nurture yourself through activities which replenish energy and help manage stress. It is different than self-pampering: getting manicures, pedicures, taking baths or having a massage are nice activities, but it is not self-care. Self-care is taking care of your physical, emotional, social, mental/cognitive and spiritual parts of yourself.”

Dr. Nicogossian also notes that “Self-care is neither optional nor selfish, it is necessary…” Executive leadership coach Lolly Daskal goes even further, arguing that you must prioritize yourself.

“Regard yourself as priority number one. When people are stressed, they let themselves go and forget how important it is to make themselves a priority. But if you don’t, it becomes progressively harder to replenish your physical and mental energy. When that happens, you lose clarity and focus—and that, in turn, further depletes your well-being. It’s an unhealthy cycle, but it’s one you can end. If you want to stop feeling exhausted, start treating yourself as your own top priority”

Breaking the cycle is easier said than done, but you can take meaningful steps to reduce stress. Meditation has become a go-to for many people looking to reduce stress and improve well-being. Mindful meditation is especially promising as it’s relatively easy and you can perform it at your desk. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Julie Corliss states:

“The practice of mindful meditation involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future.”

Elsewhere, Corliss points out that mindful meditation:

“…helps you break the train of your everyday thoughts to evoke the relaxation response, using whatever technique feels right to you.”

Physical exercise offers another excellent way to improve mental well-being. Of course, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a busy career, hitting the gym is easier said than done. In Psychology Today, Dr. Patricia Harteneck suggests:

“Your body releases stress-relieving and mood-boosting endorphins before and after you work out, which is why exercise is a powerful antidote to stress, anxiety, and depression. Look for small ways to add activity to your day, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going on a short walk.’

Even a quick trip to the water cooler may help you reset and recharge. Another way to improve your mental health is reducing negative thoughts. If you’re constantly putting yourself down, negativity can snowball into an avalanche. Psychotherapist Amy Morin says:

“Identify and replace overly negative thoughts with thoughts that are more productive. Productive thoughts don’t need to be extremely positive, but should be realistic. A more balanced thought may be, ‘I have some weaknesses, but I also have plenty of strengths.’ Changing your thoughts requires constant monitoring, but the process can be instrumental in helping you become your best self.”

Once you become your best self, you’ll be in a better position to lead. And when it comes to your coworkers, remember their mental well-being is important too.

Your Best Self Can Uplift Others

By taking care of your mental well-being, you’ll be better positioned to aid family, coworkers, clients, and others. A well-rested and focused leader can more easily cope with stress and is better equipped to share burdens and help employees care for themselves.

So how do you support your employees’ mental well-being? Start by sharing your own experiences and challenges. As Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol put it in the Harvard Business Review:

“One silver lining of the pandemic is that it is normalizing mental health challenges. Almost everyone has experienced some level of discomfort. But the universality of the experience will translate into a decrease in stigma only if people, especially people in power, share their experiences.”

Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol also urge employers to check in with their employees. While checking in has always been important, it’s even more so now given how many people are working remotely and maintaining social distance. They suggest that you:

“Go beyond a simple “How are you?” and ask specific questions about what supports would be helpful. Wait for the full answer. Really listen, and encourage questions and concerns. Of course, be careful not to be overbearing; that could signal a lack of trust or a desire to micromanage.”

Elsewhere, Kelly Greenwood writes with Jen Porter and Bernie Wong to suggest that employers should establish mental health employee resource groups (ERGs) where people can share their stories and experiences.

“ERGs are created to build community among people with shared identities or experiences at work. When done thoughtfully, those that focus on mental health promote diversity and inclusion and provide support for employees managing symptoms of mental health conditions.”

Just remember, as you help others, you must continuously circle back and take care of yourself. Finding your best self will make it easier for you to lead others to a mentally healthier place. As Sharmishta Sivaramakrishnan and Peter Varnum point out:

“This moment calls for a new type of leadership: one in which leaders show strength through embracing vulnerability, and exercise wisdom through creating spaces in which their teams can be psychologically safe, innovative and open about their mental health – if they so choose.”

These days, many extraordinary leaders are going to great lengths to help others and society at large. That’s awesome! But don’t lose yourself in the shuffle.

What does this have to do with recruiting? Everything! We’ve been recruiting in the packaging industry for half a century. Over the years, one thing remains true, effective recruiting is about relationships, people, real human beings with real needs.

Chase & Associates 
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Becoming A Stalwart Leader Amid Upheaval

As your cup of coffee steams on the table, you eye the front page of the newspaper and are immediately bombarded by conflicting headlines.

Stock markets are up, but the Gross Domestic Product contracted by 10% last month. And while the government is working on stimulus packages,  the unemployment rate remains high. As the pandemic rages, schools are closed, hospitals are full, the economy is uncertain, and you’re trying to make sense of it all.

Even the world’s leading economists can’t say what the future holds. So what are you supposed to tell your team? That the economy is fine, conditions will improve? Or it’s time to batten down the hatches and prepare for a downturn? There’s no easy answer.

Yet  your company is going to look to you for direction, if not answers. And you’ll  help your team come hell or high water. Excellent packaging leaders adapt to emerging challenges, and while they may not have all the solutions, they can effectively lead and communicate no matter the circumstances.

Easier said than done. While effective management is often enough during normal times, organizations need leaders to step forward.

Uncertainty Demands Leadership, Not Management

Effective management does not a leader make. A manager can use checklists, processes, and more to ensure projects are on track. And good management is often enough for “business as usual.” Yet the COVID-19 pandemic has forced decision makers to toss out their plans, and managers must now rise to become leaders.

What’s the difference? On his insightful blog, leadership coach Dave Stachowiak recalls a flight rerouted due to a blizzard, forcing the pilot to quickly shift from managing the flight, to leading it. Stachowiak points out:

“Management is following all the checklists and getting the plane safely to the destination, as planned. Leadership is determining what to do and where to go in an uncertain situation.”

Mattson Newell, from Partners in Leadership, sheds more light on the differences between a manager and leader. When it comes to managing, Newell argues:

“Effective management is a means to an end: it requires optimizing processes within an organization to generate favorable business outcomes. For the most part, doing so depends on leveraging proven skills and adhering to established policies to get the job done– in other words, working within the status quo to increase operational efficiencies and thereby generate better results.”

Unfortunately, “status quo” has been thrown out the window and effective management is no longer enough. Besides making tough choices and reacting to changing circumstances, leaders must unite people and strengthen relationships. As Newell puts it:

“Creating sustained alignment among employees is a hallmark of effective leadership — in fact, the fundamental difference between management and leadership is that leadership is necessarily human-centric. While managers build systems and processes, leaders build relationships.”

Right now, teams need leaders, not managers, who can act as guiding voices and who can respond to fast changing circumstances. This may mean setting aside plans, ignoring KPIs, and otherwise improvising. Writing for McKinsey, Andrea Alexander, Aaron De Smet, and Leigh Weiss put it this way:

“Leaders with the right temperament and character are necessary during times of uncertainty. They stay curious and flexible but can still make the tough calls, even if that makes them unpopular. They gather differing perspectives and then make the decisions, with the best interests of the organization (not their careers) in mind, without needing a full consensus.”

Okay, you understand leadership is important, but how do you identify leaders on your team? Alexander,  De Smet, and Weiss suggest looking for three traits:

  • Lived through a crisis (personal or professional) and shown their mettle and personal resilience.
  • Made a tough, unpopular decision because it was the right thing to do, despite the fact that they took heat for it and potentially burned bridges or spent social capital.
  • Willingly given bad news up the chain of command to leaders who didn’t want to hear it.

You may not find employees who currently check all the boxes, but many leaders are emerging and adapting to the crises besetting the packaging industry. And the last trait, effective communication, is something every organization can leverage to cope with the times.

Honest and Timely Communication Lights the Way

Leadership during times of uncertainty isn’t “just” about strategic decisions and navigating markets. Uncertainty is emotionally draining and stressful for leaders, employees, and external partners alike. Yet clear and effective communication can settle nerves.

A great leader can be a beacon of light,  guiding team members with reliable, clear, and honest communication. And given the state of the world today, constant communication is a must. As journalist and leadership guru Rebecca Knight states:

“As the coronavirus pandemic escalates and disruptions to business-as-usual continue, managers are grappling with the unknown. You don’t know when your employees will be able to return to the office or how different things will be when they do. Regardless, you need to be in constant communication with your team.”

Right now, many of your employees are worried about the future. Could your company be hit by layoffs? Will benefits or hours be cut? Building trust and rapport is important, and that means being open and honest with your team.

You may not always bear good news, and you may not have all the answers. That’s okay, communications extraordinaire Jennifer Benz puts it this way:

“You’re allowed to tell employees what you don’t know along with what you do know. Do acknowledge issues that you know are top-of-mind for employees (like layoffs or salary increases), but don’t delay communicating until you know every last detail—that’s how rumors get started and why employees start feeling like decisions are being made without them.”

Honesty and open communication will tamp down on rumors. By opening up communication, you can take charge of the message. And you can use the moment to drive home your company’s core values. Communication Studies and Organizational Science professor Cliff Scott suggests:

“Employees pay more attention to the messages they receive from supervisors and leaders in times of crisis. They’re also more likely to remember them. In this moment of crisis, there is an opportunity to remind them of core organizational values and communicate supportiveness as we all work through the current situation.”

It’s hard to find silver linings in a hurricane of uncertainty. We don’t know what’s on the horizon. Perhaps more storms, or maybe a welcomed reprieve. Either way, with steady leadership and effective communication, you can help your team and organization navigate what lies ahead.

What does this have to do with recruiting? Everything! The global economy and the packaging industry are experiencing upheaval. We recruit the type of leaders that have a proven track record of rising to the moment.

Chase & Associates 
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Leveraging Exceptional Remote Leadership Amid Extraordinary Times

It’s early morning and you’re arguing with the coffee machine ahead of the team meeting. Finally —caffeine in hand— you go over talking points in your mind as you rush to the conference room. Only, the “conference” room is your living room, and the meeting is taking place entirely online.

You’ve had nightmares in the past about showing up to meetings, pants off. Now, you do a double take. After fighting with your laptop over updates, you finally login but find the meeting room empty. Everyone’s out of sorts, but you take a deep breath. Now’s not the time to stumble, it’s a moment to prove your mettle.

Many of us haven’t seen our teams in-person for weeks. Even those venturing into offices and warehouses are keeping their social distance, hidden behind masks and gloves. Business and personal challenges pile up by the day, and the risk of falling ill is ever present.

With great leadership, the challenges and settings change, but the underlying keys to success often remain constant. As thought leader John Eades says in his timely article How Great Managers Successfully Lead Remote Teams:

“Our businesses and their financial stability are on the line during this critical economic period. The best way for them to continue to thrive is for people to work hard in the face of adversity. Each person is now responsible for their results more than ever, and the mindset of working remotely versus a passive mindset is paramount.”

So how can packaging experts maintain momentum in the face of adversity? Let’s find out, together.

The Foundations for Exemplary Remote Leadership

Whether Work-From-Home (WFM) is a temporary solution or a direction your company moves in permanently, the key to success rests on sound foundational principles. Remote leadership guru Kevin Eikenberry defines this foundation as the Three O’s. Speaking to Deanna deBara at Trello, a leading project management software provider, Eikenberry notes:

“As leaders, there are three O’s that everything about the role revolves around; Outcomes, Others, and Ourselves.”

In his cornerstone book, The Long Distance Leader, Eikenberry dives deeper, noting:

“To lead at your best, you must think of the Outcomes and Others components first. Although the Ourselves component sits in the center of our model, this doesn’t imply that you are the center of leadership, nor the purpose for it. You are at the core, not the center. Leadership doesn’t revolve around you; rather, you bring who you are and how you lead to bear on creating better outcomes for others.”

In another well-regarded book, From Bud to Boss: Secrets to a Successful Transition to Remarkable Leadership, Eikenberry says:

“Recognizing and accepting both the responsibilities and the opportunities leadership offers you is a significant step in your development as a leader.”

Remote work and a pandemic-defined world forces leaders to step up and shoulder more responsibility, while also remembering that others and outcomes are vital. Yet leadership is more difficult now because you can’t simply walk down to someone’s workspace to check in. Effective communication is necessary for you to connect with others.

With communications strained, it’s important to establish regular, effective check-ins with your workers. Clear communication keeps employees on task. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Barbara Z. Larson , Susan R. Vroman and Erin E. Makarius say:

“The important feature is that the calls are regular and predictable, and that they are a forum in which employees know that they can consult with you, and that their concerns and questions will be heard.”

Speaking of concerns, remember that just as your business is facing down many challenges, your employees, or “others,” are facing a myriad of challenges. As a leader, you need to provide relief whenever possible.

If you’re looking for more guidance on remote management as a leader, check out this article from Recamov.

Championing Your Employees During a Crisis

A single illness is a tragedy, but a million cases is a statistic. It’s easy to lose our grounding given how so many people are facing their own personal crises. As a leader, you must keep the needs and challenges of your employees front and center.

Remote work may have seemed a blessing at first, but offices provide many benefits. A well set up and managed workspace cuts down on distractions. Home provides benefits, including comfort, but also produces drawbacks. Barbara Z. Larson , Susan R. Vroman and Erin E. Makarius note:

“Typically, we encourage employers to ensure that their remote workers have both dedicated workspace and adequate childcare before allowing them to work remotely.”

Space is a tough to tackle challenge, especially overnight. Childcare, however, is a more pressing issue for many employees. Moms and dads aren’t just remote workers amid this pandemic, they’re teachers too. On Linkedin, remote leadership guru John Eades reflects:

“When my seven-year-old son found out two weeks of school were canceled yesterday, he beamed with excitement. He didn’t realize he would be doing his schoolwork from home, not taking an extended break.”

Parents are shouldering some burdens of teaching. We should applaud those efforts, but leaders need to keep these difficulties in mind. Your employees are often wearing two or more hats, packaging superstar and home-schooling teacher extraordinaire. So don’t be surprised if your employees are frazzled.

Another issue great leaders need to watch for is isolation. Many people are avoiding not just the office, but their family, friends, and more. Coworkers used to socializing with their fellows may now be entirely on their own, which will tax mental health.

Speaking to News@Northeastern, professor Barbara Larson notes:

“…Working from home also creates a social challenge. It separates people from their coworkers (for companies trying to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, this is the goal)—a shift that can create a sense of isolation for some people.”

Larson further points out:

“For a lot of people, it can be emotionally taxing because you’re not getting the interaction with coworkers that you normally do. Although, for people who are more introverted, this can be a dream.”

How can you combat isolation? Larson notes that some companies are holding virtual pizza lunches and other social events. As a leader, consider hosting your own social (distancing) events. Also, make sure you check in with your employees and if there’s anything you can do to help.

We’re all climbing our own mountains, trying to overcome personal struggles. As a packaging leader, you must help your team members confront today’s difficulties while also preparing your company for tomorrow’s opportunities.

What does this have to do with recruiting ? EVERYTHING! The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many packaging companies to radically reorganize operations. We have had to do the same at Chase. Being there for our clients, our team, the industry as a whole is central to our values. Change is never easy but with dedication, we will make it to other side – together.

Chase & Associates 
We Have Your Back

A Time For Reflection

There are times in life when you just need to pull into a rest stop and grab your breath. As an industry, as human beings, we have a lot on our minds. We need time to ponder and process. We need a break from the noise that is social media. 

In respect to this need, the pressing issues our world is working through, Chase will not publish a blog post this month (June 2020), nor will we be on social media with marketing posts. Our regular publishing schedule will resume on July 7th. 

Best wishes to you and your loved ones during this time of contemplation, 

Chase & Associates