Fortune 500 companies have myriad strategies to protect their most sensitive trade secrets. They guard them. They insure them. They enlist experts to encrypt them.
What they don’t do, generally speaking, is give them away.
But these are not ordinary times. Earlier this spring, Lear, a global supplier of auto parts based in Detroit (No. 166 on the Fortune 500), spent thousands of employee hours compiling a comprehensive manual on how to resume operations in the wake of COVID-19. Then the company gave it away for free. Lear’s Safe Work Playbook, available on its website, has now been downloaded more than 25,000 times since it was posted on April 6.
“It was back in March, and as I saw our plants in other areas of the world suspending operations, we were preparing to restart our plants in China,” explains Ray Scott, Lear’s president and CEO. “There were a lot of recommendations out there. But I felt there was not anything off-the-shelf we could take and provide to our plant managers and employees.” That kicked off a monthlong process of compiling the 84-page playbook (now in its second edition), drawing on expertise from throughout the company.
The manual granularly breaks down such things as training employees to “lead with their elbows” through turnstiles, why gloves create a false sense of security, how often to clean the vending machine, why some employees should be encouraged to eat lunch in their cars, and what to do if a worker tests positive for COVID-19. “Every detail of an employee’s day at the plant had to be considered,” says Scott.
Lear’s playbook has been used to successfully reopen the majority of the company’s 40-plus facilities in China, as well as several in Europe, Africa, and elsewhere. Now it’s the blueprint as the company begins to gradually reopen sites in the U.S. as government guidelines permit.
Furniture maker Steelcase is using the playbook, and a spokesperson says it “helped us scale our safety development work much faster.” In Detroit, Glenn Stevens, executive director of industry trade group MICHauto, says he hears from manufacturers “all day long” about how to safely reopen, and he points them all to the playbook. Stevens notes that given how interconnected supply chains are, if smaller parts-and-materials suppliers use the manual, it will quicken the pace at which industries can restart production.
Will this spirit of collaboration extend beyond the pandemic? “The auto industry in Michigan is a very close-knit industry while also being intensely competitive,” says Stevens. But at least for now, “Lear is saying, ‘We’re all in this together.’”
A version of this article appears in the June/July 2020 issue of Fortune with the headline “A pandemic playbook.”