Ch-Ch-Changes: A Mentor’s Warehouse Memoirs.

Change;  To become different.  To make (someone or something) different.  To become something else.  It doesn’t sound like or come off as a very intimidating word, yet when people in the workplace hear it spoken, change, it can cause large scale ripples in the peaceful serenity of life. No matter what language it’s said in, Cambiar (spanish), Veranderen (dutch), Muuttaa (finnish) or Ndryshim (Albanian) it’s still change, and people fear change which is interesting since we are all constantly changing every day whether you know it or not.  New information changes your opinions, moods change your outlook and your body changes as it ages as each cell completes it’s normal preplanned chemical reaction.

Change is necessary to adapt and survive and Change can create more change.  The written word had to wait for about 4500 years before the printing press came along but only about 1000 years between the presses invention and computers.  Change can be for the good but Change for the sake of change is not good when it comes to the job and people.  The secret I learned well before people people were saying employee engagement, was to get people involved in the change.  When employees have input in change and the scope of change you prevent 10,000 rumors from floating through the plant creating negative vibrations.  People don’t fear the change when they can discuss it and exchange their ideas on it and now feel good because they’ve helped the change.  The worst thing you can do is force change, it then becomes the battle of trying to get your child to eat their vegetables.  They won’t do it even though it is good for them.

Once upon a time there was a young man, happily working in the warehouse as a non-exempt employee getting his 40 hours a week with occasional overtime.  Arriving at work one morning, even before he could have a cup of coffee, due to circumstances beyond his control, was thrusted into the realm of management.  CHANGE!  The previous warehouse supervisor, a very well liked person who had been working there for quite a while had allowed something very wrong and was unceremoniously shown the door.

Our protagonist was given this opportunity as it was explained, based on his previous work history, suggestions and productivity and the company also wanted to take this opportunity as well to “change the culture”.  He was now unknowingly himself, to become an instrument of change as well as the victim of change and most importantly, he survived this first change.

When you become the new supervisor on the block, whether promoted from within the ranks or an outsider hired in, like any new quarterback or new team player you must learn the play book while keeping the team performing and executing properly.  You also simultaneously have to gain the trust of the team as well since people don’t know what kind of manager you are and especially since some people already dislike you just because you replaced Mr. Fabulous and you’ll never be him.  Some will believe the rumor you worked behind the scenes and pushed for Mr. Fabulous’ release.  Some will be very happy thinking they’re friend moved up from the ranks is now in charge and they have his ear and one or two will come to you right away to give their opinions on which employees are productive and who’s not.

One thing about the perception of Change is that when you’re promoted you don’t need to change your personality to be a supervisor – You are the same personality today as you were yesterday and you still speak to people as you did before and it’s what got you the promotion.  There are positive changes to come, your job knowledge will increase,  experience personal growth and new confidence in yourself which will reflect in job performance.  Yea, I know there are things you’ve wanted to do for a long time if you ever got the opportunity and you are just chomping at the bit to change.  Wait to make those changes as you don’t want to create a panic and you want your changes to succeed so you will need to get everyones buy in.

On you first full day, gather your staff together in a convenient area, bring the donuts and introduce yourself to them and remind them what a great job they’ve been doing and look forward to everyone’s continued success.  Your commitment to workplace safety and use of PPE and working as a team as well as your open door policy and willingness to listen.  There is no such thing as a stupid question or suggestion.  Depending on the company rules and guidelines I also like to introduce the concept of cross training and weekly safety tailgates in my first group meeting.  Here are some more tips to help you get through change.

  • It takes 21 days to develop a new routine.  Until you’re comfortable remembering on your own make yourself a check list of the daily task that you now need to perform; Check the sick call line, poll staff for OT, time cards, check forklift inspection sheets.  Put it in any format that you’re comfortable working with.
  • Let individual staff members take you on tours of the warehouse or show you how they do their assigned tasks and be sure to listen.  See it from their point of view, it’s helpful and will give you ideas on what if anything needs to be changed to help them improve performance.
  • Keep a 3×5 notepad in your pocket.  Never know when something will set off the bulb over your head and you want to write it down right away before something interrupts you and the thought gets lost.  It’s also good to make notes of what good things you catch employees doing so you have something for their appraisals.
  • Not every body works exactly the same as you do.  When you did that job you set certain expectations for yourself daily.  Don’t helicopter manage if they do it differently but still achieve the goal.  Remember you want employees to grow and develop.
  • What other departments does yours interact with daily?  Purchasing, customer service, transportation?  Sit down with them and see what their pet peeves and previous issues are and not just with the department heads but the worker bees in the department as well.
  • Learn what department goals your boss wants to achieve this year and how they blend with the company’s overall goals.  Especially what do they mean when telling you they want to “change the culture”?  I was told up front once names of people I could have terminated immediately.  You have to stop and think; why do they want these people gone and why haven’t they done it.  I declined since I didn’t know what if any key areas they covered and if they were underachievers due to the company’s fault of poor training.  Since it was my group, I would see where the lapses were and correct them.  If you do make drastic changes for the culture, Is upper management totally committed and assisting with the change.  What do they perceive as the areas for improvement and what  key indicators do they use to base performance.
  • The only immediate change(s) I would make at this time is correcting any glaring safety violations or issues that can cause immediate harm to employees.
  • Remember to enforce the rules evenly with everybody.
  • Watch, listen and watch.  Each warehouse has it’s own rhythm, it’s own unique tempo and movement from the receiving dock to put-away to replenishments and ultimately picking and shipping.  Along this flow are there any areas of concern in regards to safety hazards, equipment use and sanitation concerns.  Once you have this down and fully understand it then you can look for opportunities for improvement.  Make sure to speak in the language your boss and his boss will understand, that is in $Dollars.  How much the changes will cost.  How much will be saved by the changes and how soon will it pay for itself?
  • Don’t let your ego get in the way.  Present the ideas to the staff and get their feedback, see what holes they can find in the plan and in many cases they’ll surprise you with ways to improve it.
  • Don’t listen to the people who tell you it can’t be done or we’ve tried that before.  That may be the main reason for the culture change since previous management didn’t consistently maintain new programs.

There may be times you do fail, just always be honest about it and learn from your mistakes and then move on.  Dwelling only creates doubt and you’ll loose confidence.  Remember life is one long roller coaster ride full of laughs and scary drops.  Believe in yourself and you’ll do fine on the ride.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s