stepping up in the face of adversity

Teaching your entire team how to use new software is a challenge. Onboarding a large number of new employees when you’re already busy is a challenge. Figuring out how to improve your performance and reassure a demanding customer is a challenge. Needing to drastically reorganize how you work as a result of a pandemic is a challenge. Now imagine all of those things occurring simultaneously. This is what Pneutec successfully overcame this year.

Back in the spring of this year, Pneutec had their hands full. Their key customer increased their expectations for both quality and production, and Pneutec was struggling to keep up. They hired several new employees and were scrambling to train them and make sure they could perform at a high level. They introduced a new order management system, aimed at improving service and making things more efficient, but they were so busy that they didn’t have enough time to train everyone to use it properly. In the midst of all this, COVID-19 happened.

When the lockdowns started in March, Pneutec was of course willing to follow national measures to ensure the safety of their people. However, this meant that work schedules had to be reorganized and the number of people in their clean rooms and warehouses at any given time had to be reduced. Workloads increased, teams could no longer communicate face-to-face, and issues started to arise. Not ideal when you’re trying to improve quality and ramp up production!

“We went from a normal, functioning company to a very hectic company due to COVID,” says Henri Huizer, one of the team leaders in the clean room. “A lot of things all happened at the same time and it was really difficult to deliver what the customer demanded of us.” Claire van Slooten, HR Manager, adds, “We were on an unstoppable train. It was a challenge to keep everybody on board, motivated, and healthy.”

The entire organization pulled together to address the situation. New leaders were added. Experienced colleagues made time to train the new hires. Extra trainings were organized to make sure everyone knew how to use the new order management system and tap into its full potential. Extra meetings were organized to keep everyone aligned. They started communicating more openly with the customer about steps they were taking to improve. Team leaders started talking more to resolve issues and encouraged their teams to simply focus on doing their jobs well and not worry about pressure coming from the customer. Everyone worked hard. And in the end, all these adjustments led to drastically improved performance.

“Given where we were, it would have been very easy to point fingers, but instead everybody came together,” Henri says. “We all wanted to do the best we could. When I see where we are now, it is really rewarding. All the energy we put into it was worth it.” Claire adds, “Everyone had to be flexible and put in extra effort. It was a challenging time, but it was also nice to see how engaged everyone was and how much they care. I’m really proud of my colleagues and all they’ve achieved.”

With the big problems behind them, the team has been able to start looking ahead. “At first we were just trying to catch up and deliver for our client,” says Claire. “Now that things have gotten better, we are figuring out how we can keep improving, build a strong organization that’s ready for further growth, and develop our people. This includes a more structured approach to hiring and a strengthened focus on quality and the Aalberts values. What we did was good, but we have to do even better to become best in class.”

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