This article looks at how Coats Group Plc's finance team in China responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. Managing the situation in China was more difficult than expected for the following two reasons.
1.The pandemic started during the Chinese New Year holidays.
2.China was at the epicenter and the first country to experience the outbreak.
As the outbreak coincided with the Chinese New Year holidays and colleagues were on leave in their respective home provinces, timely and relevant communication was a challenge. This was compounded by China being the first country to experience the outbreak which caused a degree of panic. Updates and guidelines from the government changed rapidly and made implementation challenging.
The finance function in China focused on the following key areas when dealing with situation:
- Timely closing of books
- Supporting operations
Timely closing of books
The factory and offices were opened after the monthly reporting deadlines. Hence the team has to manage the closing remotely and it was not prepared for that.
In our initial communication with team, we clarified that health and safety was the top priority and that Coats would support employees under all circumstances.
This relieved anxiety, allowing people to focus on creating a solution to the problem. Thereafter we focused on regular communication with teams to ensure that people knew what and how things needed to be done.
We also ensured that people have necessary tools to work from home.
The next step was prioritization. Everything could not be achieved in the limited duration. We prioritized what could and couldn’t be achieved. For example, cash application could be completed but invoice settlement could not be done. The team also evaluated the risk on the accuracy of the financial reporting for these activities and focused on key numbers. Finally, the team engaged with group stakeholders to inform them of the agreed approach.
As soon as the factory resumed, the first action was to ship goods to customers but the warehouse was short of staff. All the available team members including the finance team supported the warehouse to help in picking and packing goods in order to expedite delivery.
What worked well
Communication: The human resources team set up a WeChat group and communicated with other teams regularly.
Commitment: Where possible, people came to the factory to collect what was needed to continue to work remotely and to arrange to have items delivered to people working from home.
Flexibility: This include flexibility in working hours, the ability to work from home, the focus on critical items
Trust: High levels of trust among managers and employees were maintained and everyone focused on doing the best they could.
Team work: Colleagues across departments worked together to do what was needed.
Operations resumed in our China factories after a relatively short period of time. This turnaround was possible because of the collective guidance and support of leadership and the dedication of all employees. This “success story” can be attributed to management teams who lead by example. Issues were investigated while actions communicated and solutions were effectively implemented. This was a result of mutual trust across Coats and further supports team work.
Sourav Seksaria is Finance Director & Business Partner at Coats China.