Right now many companies are feeling a little despondent as they go into this holiday season and look to 2009. Many are looking at the possibility of or have already completed workforce reductions and now are trying to figure out how to reshape the company going forward. So while the near-term outlook appears grim, there are two ways companies can respond that are probably best summed up by two Chinese expressions. Companies can look at this situation and view it as hopelessly perilous or one that, if properly taken advantage of, can create new opportunities.
The Chinese symbol above, pronounced wei ji (actually, it is two symbols), illustrates the danger that this current economic climate presents. This symbol describes a situation that has reached an extremely difficult or dangerous point, which pretty aptly describes today’s economic environment.
However, another Chinese symbol, zhuan ji (shown above), is also used in times like these. It conveys a more positive meaning as it expresses the idea of how a dangerous situation can turn into an opportunity. The real question then becomes which of these two mindsets is your company adopting?
Overland Storage is one example of a company that is experiencing both wei ji and zhuan ji. It certainly recognizes the dangers that this current economy presents but it, in many respects, shares the view that the Chinese have in the sense that Overland is using this time to refocus internally and make qualitative improvements in its manufacturing processes.
These changes were recently put on display for a visiting Chinese delegation from Chongqing. This region of China has had its own troubles, ones that make Overland’s–and most other American companies’–pale in comparison. In May 2008, Chongqing experienced a major (7.9- magnitude) earthquake that killed more than 10,000 individuals. So not only did this region have the emotion of lost loved ones and the task of rebuilding in front of them, they must deal with the current economic crunch as well. Talk about feelings of wei ji.
Yet the attitude displayed during the Chinese delegation’s visit to Overland’s manufacturing facility is more accurately described as zhuan ji. Rather than giving up, the Chinese viewed the destruction caused by the earthquake as an opportunity to rebuild their factories and manufacturing plants to a higher set of standards to meet tomorrow’s manufacturing demands. This is what brought them to San Diego. They wanted to visit Overland and see what changes the company had made to its facilities and processes after it brought manufacturing back in-house. The delegation then plans to take the lessons that Overland learned and apply them when building their new manufacturing facilities in Chongqing.
In talking with Brett Carter, Overland’s Director of Global Quality and President of the San Diego Chapter of American Society of Quality, he pointed to three major areas that Overland changed to improve the quality of its products.
- Achieved ISO 9001 Certification. This reflects the enterprise commitment that Overland Storage has made to product quality. By achieving this standard, Overland demonstrates it is following proven business practices for development and manufacturing of its products.
- Implemented Eyelit Enterprise Manufacturing Solutions (MES Software). This helped Overland identify inefficiencies on its production line as well as visually demonstrate adherence to new ISO 9001 standards in its current products.
- Implemented a Six Sigma Green Belt. The impact of this program was felt almost immediately by focusing on continuous quality improvement as Overland saw 100 percent reduction in defective models coming off the production line while improving the reliability of products that went to customer sites.
No company should downplay the gravity of the current economic situation, especially with many economists saying the worst is yet to come in the first half of 2009. But companies can learn something from this Chinese delegation that recently visited Overland Storage and its manufacturing facilities. Both groups are using the current crisis to take steps to lay the foundation for a better future and, by adopting a zhuan ji attitude, are making the best of a bad situation.