A Guide For Your Own Intelligent Warehouse.

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In days of yore, warehouses used to be nothing more than a dumping ground for bodies.  That’s right folks, a company would dump their misfits, malcontents and ne’er-do-well right into the warehouse grind as a “last chance” to demonstrate they could still be productive employees.  If they couldn’t cut it here, they weren’t worth saving.  That’s how unimportant warehouses were perceived back then only to be worked in as punishment like an Australian penal colony.  It was also one of the last bastion for men as a warehouse was a manly place and only real men worked there, horsing around like kids and playing games in their locker rooms.  It was a time when smoking was good and a hard drink was necessary to start the day, seat belts didn’t exist in cars, you didn’t have to be politically correct as ethnic jokes were SOP daily and to work in a warehouse you only needed to rely on your brawn.  You could just check your brain in at the door;  as a manager told me once in the very beginning of my young warehouse career, “I didn’t hire you to think.”  As long as money was made, all was right with the world and so that’s how things operated for years, mindless zombies doing as they were told, losing limbs, losing lives, endless hours on their feet, no PPE of any kind, and your only recourse was to go with the flow and be assimilated.

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Then, slowly the winds of change began to pick up speed until they brought in a STORM.  The baby boomers were coming of age and a new consciousnesses began spreading across the land.  People asked why? It was like the renaissance had begun all over again as it whisked us out of the dark ages.  Why do we treat people differently?  Why do we do it this way?  Just for asking these simple questions people were beaten and called horrible names and were cast out as blasphemers and told “because, that’s the way it is.”  But this time there were many more voices to ask those questions and on top of that, even had the gaul to demand answers as well!  Soon Civil rights and then women’s rights were issues as this new awareness of fellow human beings and how they were being treated emerged.  Then workers rights was soon to follow and OSHA came along, (1971) and SAFETY was born.   Forklifts were getting smaller and easier to maneuver and maintain and with a wider selection for applications of all kinds.  Then came one of the biggest changes, the desktop computer, (MITS-1974/Tandy-1977).  Things could be tracked and put on a nice spread sheet.  Expenses, inventory, transactions could be pin pointed in real time.  Oh My!

As other changes continued to modify the face of the workplace, the one significant change that occurred was how we looked at whom was working in our warehouses. Brawn was no longer an important requirement as it was before.  We focused on people who could think for themselves and understand that it was just as important for them to work safely and smarter as it was for the company.  We wanted people who could adapt to change and make swift adjustments on the fly without drop in productivity and quality.   We wanted people who could pick at the speed of light and beyond.  Of course this brought a whole new problem to the table,  how do we retain those smart safe workers to ensure continued growth for the company and consistency of leadership in the warehouse?  Let’s face it folks, a leader knows the biggest asset in their company is not the infrastructure, materials, or equipment, but the people.  Yea, the ones hired  and trusted to keep up the maintenance, move the materials and operate the equipment.  The ones in the trenches daily, making the company look good while making decisions to keep customers happy, thanks to the trust and backing to do so.  Now the why asked was, how may I help you?

So what are the best ways to find and retain these people?  When you begin the task of recruiting and hiring remember, as Darwin said, I’m paraphrasing here, selection is everything, so work closely with your HR department and give them all the details of the job that is to be performed and the steps on how it’s expected to be accomplished.  Include what kind of PPE is required to perform the job and what kind(s) of equipment is involved and related training that’ll be given.  The more information you give HR the better the selection process.  Then to begin things right, after the selection is made, laying down a firm foundation with a well developed, planned, orientation and training for new employees is crucial for theirs and your success.  I can’t stress how important this is.  I’ve worked for some large companies where their training of new staff began and ended with one sentence, here’s your workstation. You want staff to begin producing as soon as possible and not wondering what’s expected of me?  It also encourages them to stay since you’ve demonstrated you care about their success as employees.  There are many ways to put together your orientation and you can read how Michelin handles this, below.  I would also add to make sure you cover all aspics in the warehouse, especially safety, forklifts and other power equipment, security and emergency procedures, location of supervisor and manager and then set up some time with their new work mates to chat at lunch or walk around the warehouse. “Workforce:  Successful Employees Require a Solid Start.”

Retention is not much different to handle.  Unlike during the DotCom boom, expresso machines and game rooms aren’t as important today as job security and job satisfaction.  The golden rule to help employee retention we learned in kindergarten, treat people as you want to be treated.  Example?  Sure, glad you asked.  You wouldn’t like being chewed out in the middle of the dock floor for everybody to witness, so why do it to them?  When you have to “talk” to an employee do it with respect and be a coach, not a criticizer.   Listen to your workforce.  If they’re complaining about a safety issue don’t you dare blow them off.  The best way to turn off an employee is to NOT LISTEN.  Again, put yourself in their place and remember just because it’s a pebble to you, doesn’t mean it’s not a boulder to them and you want to cultivate their interest in what goes on in the company.  Get employees involved with the workplace through safety committees, quality circles and continuous improvement projects and maintenance of equipment, (they run it, they know it better than anyone).  Have impromptu discussions right on the work floor, in their office, on improving forklift skills, safety hazard awareness and let them be creative.  Once a year I would split the staff into three groups, and sent them through the warehouse and office trying to identify safety hazards I had previously set up.  The winning team got recognition and a free hour off.  Listening to them I found time was more precious than food.

Two other ways to help retain employees is to have training programs where they can improve their skills and be elegible for promotions.  One company I worked for offered spanish and english language  classes to improve internal communication.  Can also give classes on inventory control and warehouse terminology.  A good employee should be able to work at least one level down and one level up.  The training could also help refresh their skills to use a fire extinguisher or doing LOTO or how to properly escort a driver to the loading bay and please, get them involved as presenters as well.  In addition, make sure you make every attempt to promote from within.  If you have to keep bringing outsiders in for positions then you need to review your training program as employees will not stay.

Eventually, hopefully sooner, our society will finally get to the point where it is realized that all people are the same, and they all bring great points of view to the table, you just have to want to tap that source.  Human beings are precious bundles that drop in for an 80 year or so visit, make their mark by raising people to do and be better than themselves, love who you want, have a good laugh and live life.

OTHER RELATED ARTICLES:  Those Disposable People.  – Kevin Meyer (Evolving Excellence Mar 2013), The ROI of employee recognition -Jill Jusko (Industry Week Feb 2013), Success tips for middle managers. – Lisa Woods (Managing Americans .com), Change your words, change your life. – Tony Robbins (LinkedIn, Oct 2012)

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