As manufacturing leaders continue to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis, the topic of the latest Manufacturing Leadership Council Critical Issues webinar – Digital Acumen: Does Your Leadership Team Have What It Takes? — was especially timely. Three panelists discussed the importance of leadership to recover from the pandemic using the tools of Manufacturing 4.0.

In his opening remarks, MLC co-founder David R. Brousell said that manufacturers that had already begun to implement M4.0 were more prepared to succeed throughout the crisis than those that hadn’t.

“It has become clear that manufacturers that had embraced the digital model prior to the pandemic were in a far better position to adapt to rapidly changing market conditions and in some cases swiftly pivot production to equipment and products needed to fight the pandemic than those companies that had not embraced the model or had not embraced it strongly enough,” he said.

He also cited findings from an MLC survey, where 70% of manufacturing leaders said previous levels of digitization were important to their ability to respond rapidly to the crisis and 46% termed that importance essential. Full results of the survey will be published next month.

Read on for the top 3 highlights from this webinar.

  1. Societal impact is a driver of Industry 4.0 and COVID-19 recovery

Even before COVID-19 impacted nearly every aspect of economic and societal activities, many organizations already considered societal impact a key indicator of success.

One of the panelists, Tim Hanley, interim James H. Keyes Dean of the College of Business Administration at Marquette University, cited The Deloitte Industry 4.0 Readiness Survey, which asked executives how they’re enabling their companies to succeed in the age of Industry 4.0. Conducted before COVID-19, the survey is even more relevant now that leaders have relied more heavily on digital strategies to ensure their companies’ survival throughout the pandemic.

The survey found that 34% of executives ranked societal impact as the most important factor to measure success across their companies, higher than any other category, including employee and customer satisfaction. Furthermore, 73% of CXOs reported having changed or developed products or services to generate positive societal impact.

“We see four drivers to success in the world of Industry 4.0,” said Hanley, who is a former Vice Chairman and leader of Deloitte’s industrial products practice. “The first is a real focus on making a societal impact while also creating new revenue streams. Now, in this world of COVID-19…the creation of new revenue streams is increasingly important.”

  1. Digital, data and decision making will accelerate business continuity

Companies’ ability to embrace digital technologies and leverage them for better decision making will help to accelerate their recovery from the impact of COVID-19.

Another panelist, Kevin Prouty, group vice president of energy and manufacturing insights at IDC Manufacturing Insights, showed a graph demonstrating how companies will move through the various stages of the crisis from the beginning, to the slow down and recession, to targeted investments and, finally, recovery.

“Companies that are digitally capable are going to move across this [curve] much more quickly,” Prouty said.

Prouty said embracing digital opportunities to facilitate recovery from the pandemic comes down to leadership and sound decision making.

“This is all about what we call resilient decision making,” he said. “That is, the ability to make decisions for your operation that are more tightly linked to your market, but to be able to do it more quickly and more efficiently. And there’s a huge digital component to that.”

He said leaders have two key action items to recover from the crisis and promote digitization across their companies: 1) unite IT and OT to manage the data and support systems that will facilitate better (and faster) decision making; 2) understand where the data is, how you’re managing it, how your organization is using the data.

  1. Embracing digital and managing through the crisis require special leadership qualities

The final panelist, Tony Rogers, Ph.D., senior consultant and executive coach, talent solutions at Manpower, outlined how leadership can propel companies to where they want to be in their Industry 4.0 journey, as well as speed up their ability to bounce back from COVID-19.

“The pandemic has accelerated this question for us: how can our leadership shape a culture that is willing and able to adopt new technologies that we need for future manufacturing?” Rogers said.

He outlined four key leadership qualities that executives must learn, embrace, and practice right now:  authority, transparency, empathy, and curiosity.

  • Authority: use authority to provide clear direction on collaboration between both teams and individuals, mobilize everyone to generate solutions, and reward experimenters.
  • Transparency: be transparent about your excitement for the future, what you know (and don’t know) about your companies strategies to adapt, communicate personal areas where you need to grow and change (“I think we’ve seen right now that the leaders who are showing up well and dealing with COVID-19 are being open,” he said.)
  • Empathy: explore others’ views, anticipate, and acknowledge feelings, provide empowerment (It’s so important that right now you dig deep and acknowledge and normalize the hope and dread that people are feeling,” he said. “A crisis is when it’s most important to really uphold this vital aspect of your role as leaders and make a positive difference in peoples’ lives.”)
  • Curiosity: pivot to new opportunities as new information emerges, adapt people’s skills and styles, leverage diverse ways of thinking about products and services, and partner with HR to upskill and hire for learnability.

Rogers concluded by asking attendees to think about one question: What action will you take now to inspire whom, more deeply, efficiently, and authentically?