A Quick Guide for Your Own Intelligent Warehouse

In the not too distant past, before computers, before the internet was even a twinkle in anyone’s eye, warehouses used to be nothing more than a dumping ground for bodies, into a labor-intensive environment as brawn was more important than a brain. That’s right folks, a company would take their misfits, malcontents and ne’er-do-wells and place them right into the warehouse grind and for some, it was a “last chance” to demonstrate to the company they could still be a productive employee.  If they couldn’t redeem themselves here, they weren’t worth saving and were terminated.  That’s how it was as the warehouse was also one of the last bastions for men since a warehouse was a manly place and only real men worked there, horsing around like teens, playing pranks on each other, playing card games or dominos in the locker room full of calendars and posters with scantily clad women.  It was a time when smoking was good and a hard drink was necessary at the start and end of each workday.  Remember, seat belts didn’t exist in cars, you didn’t have to be politically correct, ethnic jokes were SOP and to be successful in a warehouse you only needed a strong back and a quick right cross since you checked your brain in at the door. As a manager once told me at the very beginning of my young warehouse career, “I didn’t hire you to think.”  As long as the company made money all was right with the world and 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 or quit.

Then the winds of change slowly gained momentum as the baby boomers were coming of age and a new consciousnesses arose across the land as people asked why? It was like the great renaissance all over again as we were whisked out of the dark ages. Why do we treat some people differently? Why do we do things this way if workers keep getting hurt? Just for asking these simple questions people were beaten and called horrible names and were cast out as blasphemers and told: “because that is the way we’ve always done it.” However, there were too many voices asking these questions at the same time.  Soon civil rights and then women’s rights were issues of the day as this new awareness of fellow human beings and how they were being treated emerged. Then workers rights were soon to follow and in 1971 OSHA was born and the modern SAFETY era began.  Forklifts were getting smaller but with more power and greater maneuverability with a wider selection of capabilities.  Then came one of the biggest evolutions in the warehouse, the desktop computer, (MITS-1974/Tandy-1977). Things could now be tracked, information stored and then printed on paper. Expenses, inventory, transactions could be found in one area. Oh My!

As these technological changes continued to modify the face of the workplace, the other significant change that occurred was who we had working in the warehouse. Brawn was no longer a vital requirement as we focused on recruiting people who could think for themselves with problem-solving and customer satisfaction skills while understanding that working safely was just as important as producing a quality product. We also wanted people who were flexible, handle multiple jobs and could adapt to change quickly while making abrupt adjustments on the fly without a 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 set of problems to the table. How do we find, train and retain these people to ensure continued growth and consistency of production?   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.

ID-100264757What are the best ways to find and retain these people? When you begin the task of recruiting and hiring remember what Darwin said and I’m paraphrasing here, “selection is everything”. Work closely with your HR department or recruiter and give them every detail about the job to be performed and all associated functions including any and all equipment that will need to be operated and what kind(s) of PPE will be required as well. The more information you give them the better the selection process and once this is all assembled there are lots of places to search for talent. Your local unemployment office, college campuses, and job fairs are all good locales but as you search don’t overlook one important resource, women.  Why not? During World War II between 12 – 20 million women were working in the defense industry and brought us the image of “Rosie the Riveter – WE can do it.” and with their help we did.  In fact, there is a new organization, Women In Manufacturing, a great resource for those who are entering this realm.  There are so many perks you can offer to attract female employees like on-site childcare, flexible hours and equal pay. It is about time that women workers are treated as equals.

After all the effort on recruiting and hiring, you want to start new workers off on the right foot and lay down a firm foundation with a well-developed orientation and training for new employees. This is crucial for their and your success and I can’t stress enough 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, in a safe manner with confidence and not wondering what’s expected of them.  The culture of training and safety also encourages workers 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, “Workforce: Successful Employees Require a Solid Start.”  I would say to make sure you cover all aspics in the facility, especially safety, forklifts, and other power equipment, security and emergency procedures, the location of supervisor and manager and then set up some time with their new workmates to chat at lunch or tour around the facility.

          witzshared.com

witzshared.com

Retention of these well trained and talented workers isn’t difficult. Unlike during the DotCom boom, espresso machines and game rooms aren’t as important today as job satisfaction and how they are treated. Listen to your workforce, be accessible and the best way to do that is to be out on the floor.  The best and fastest way to turn off an employee is to NOT LISTEN.  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 so take concerns seriously, acknowledge their issue and make sure to report back to them any new details and dates until resolved. You’d be surprised at some of the great suggestions on equipment operation or maintenance employees make that save time and money.  If a worker ever complains about a safety issue don’t you dare blow them off!  Take those with extreme concern and resolve immediately.  You want to cultivate their interest in what goes on in the company so get employees involved in quality circles, continuous improvement projects, workplace safety committees, and maintenance of equipment.  Have impromptu discussions right on the work floor, 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 choice of a free lunch or a free hour off.

Other ways to help retain employees is to offer in-house as well as pay for outside training programs where employees can further improve and develop their skills and talents to move up within the company.  One company I worked for offered Spanish or English language in-house classes once a week during lunch to improve internal communication. You can also offer in-house classes on inventory control, warehouse terminology, computers, excel spreadsheets and more.  A good employee should be able to work at least one level below and one level up.  Training could also help refresh their safety skills, to use a fire extinguisher, 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 than later, 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 resource. You wouldn’t like being chewed out in the middle of a dock floor for everybody to witness, so why would you do it to them?   Human beings are precious bundles that drop in for a short time, make their mark on the world, raise children to do and be better than themselves, love who you want, have a good laugh, watch the sunset and stop to smell the roses and live life to the fullest.  When you have to “talk” to an employee do it with respect, in private and be a coach. The golden rule to help employee retention we all learned back in kindergarten, treat all people with respect.

   warehouseflow.com

warehouseflow.com

Companies Behaving Badly – Labor of Love

witzshared & p>Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

witzshared & p>Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”Confucious

“A mind always employed is always happy.  This is the true secret, the grand recipe, for felicity.”Thomas Jefferson

Happy Labor Day.  It is an awesome feeling to be happy at work and enjoy what you are doing especially since like the quote says, it doesn’t feel like work at all.  There is no reason that everyone can’t be happy at work.  It’s all in the attitude.  Attitude towards your job, attitude towards workplace safety, attitude towards teamwork and life.  It’s attitude that has helped change how companies look at workplace safety and just as much your responsibility that it stays a safe workplace.  When you look at the earliest workplace fatality records, (Allegheny County, Pennsylvania) for July 1906 to June 1907 it is astounding to see that 526 workers died due to industrial accidents in ONE county!  It is estimated that in 1912, 18,000 – 21,000 workers died from work related injuries and in 1913 the Bureau of Labor Statistics documented 23,000 industrial deaths.  Thanks to common sense, attitude, knowledge and hard work with unions, state and federal regulators and the positive attitude of workers, the numbers have been greatly reduced however as of July 26, 2014 – 1,098 workers died on the job this fiscal year. Speaking of workplace fatalities, this unfortunately must be another episode of Companies Behaving Badly.

   via Ann Marie Powers

via Ann Marie Powers

Bothell man dies as a result of forklift accident at Lynnwood business – PREVENTABLE – Chuck Lee a 69 year old was walking through a parking lot on a Monday morning when he was struck by a forklift as well as a case of items that fell of the forklift pallet.  The forklift was driven by an employee of Goodwill who stated he saw something in front of his machine and slammed on his brakes.  Mr. Lee died the next day as a result of drastic spine fractures and blunt injury of the head and torso.  When you drive a forklift you need to have a full view of what’s ahead.  Your head should be moving left to right and back while scanning with your eyes especially in an area where they is no clear path for pedestrians to follow. If your load blocks your vision then drive backwards.  Not ALL civilians know how to deal with forklifts and unfortunately Mr. Lee may have assumed the forklift saw him and would stop.  The investigators will check on the driver’s forklift training records but a license doesn’t mean safe driver.  As part of your walk of the floor you should always watch drivers operating on the floor and give appropriate feedback in private when needed.

Retailer to pay nearly $1M following compactor fatality. – PREVENTABLE – In 2009 Roy Polanco a 65 year old worker at a Macy’s warehouse had no idea the cardboard bailer he was operating had been modified not to shut down once the cycle was engaged.  He found this out after he fell into the bailer through a unguarded section and while his screams were probably short as his body was being crushed he was also decapitated.  Any machine or piece of heavy equipment should NEVER be modified without the guidance and approval of the manufacturer.  Then after any modifications on equipment employees need to be re-trained on the modifications made. Anyone, be it CEO, manager or fellow worker who tells you it’s o.k. to disconnect any emergency stop is insane and should be avoided, in fact anyone who orders and carries out this action that results in an employee death should be on trial for murder.

Cal/OSHA $77,250 Fine For Tug Driver’s Death Highlights Importance Of Ramp Safety Compliance – PREVENTABLE – Cesar Valenzuela a 51 year old ramp worker employed by Menzies Aviation was killed when his tug hit a curb and threw him out of the vehicle. Like cars and forklifts, tugs are required to have seat belts as well, which means they’re their to be used and not as a vehicle ornament.  However Cesar couldn’t use the seat belt even if he wanted too since according to the findings of the investigation the tug had no working seat belt and in fact stated Menzies aviation didn’t think it important enough to require their workers to use those seat belts in fact they discouraged their use.  What’s even more frustrating about this needless death is that a reminder alert about using seat belts was issued in 2012 when another ground worker died in Atlanta when thrown from his vehicle.  When safety equipment is installed it’s there for a reason, use it and if someone tells you otherwise, you’re a fool for listening.  You are mortal after all.

     warehouseflow.com

warehouseflow.com

Two injured in forklift accident at Highland Rim Speedway – PREVENTABLE – Basic forklift safety teaches you never to raise someone up on the forks of a lift and that stability lessens the higher and more forward they are raised as two gentlemen found out first hand at the Highland Rim Speedway when their extended forklift tipped over injuring both.  As long as you use a forklift for what it was designed to handle, operate in specified areas only, don’t exceed its weight limits and observe posted speed limits you should have no worries operating one. It’s common sense.

1 injured after forklift tips while unloading merchandise – PREVENTABLE – Meanwhile in Calgary, Canada, a forklift operator unloading heavy merchandise off a trailer sustained minor injuries when thrown from his vehicle when it tipped over.  The trailer unit he was unloading also tipped forward and had to be stabilized before the forklift operator could be rescued.  Again people, make sure you know the forklifts weight capacities before unloading any trailer and make sure the trailer is stabilized properly to avoid tip overs.  Also make sure to wear that seat belt, in the event of a tip over you don’t want to get thrown off and possibly wind up under the 8000 pound forklift.

Hefty fines for forklift accident – PREVENTABLE – In New Zealand forklift accidents are an issue as well. The latest news is 3 companies were fined for a total of $140,000 for the broken ankle and severe gash Erica Machado received when she was hit by forklift that suddenly backed up as she was packing kiwi fruit.  The 3 companies operating and working with the packing plant, LRK Trays Ltd, Mount Pack and Cool Ltd were found not to do enough to protect their workers from this type of accident so each was fined $39,375 in addition to $20,000 in reparation to Ms. Machado.  People need to respect forklifts and forklifts need to have assigned areas to operate within.  Mixing them together is a recipe for disaster.

Worker injured at Western Sugar Plant, OSHA investigating – PREVENTABLE – Yet another accident has occurred at a Western Sugar plant. While employees were cleaning the inside of a drying cylinder, they did so in the confidence and trust that management had ensured a proper LOTO.  That is until sugar began falling and filling the cylinder as the heavy hot sugar hit one worker and pushed his head forward between his legs, injuring him.  The other workers scrambled and were able to pull him free from under the accumulating sugar since he had followed proper procedure and had a tag line on him. This was a serious break down in internal communication since someone either removed the LOTO to soon or they didn’t have one in place or production somehow sent it over to soon.  You need to protect your workers operating in a confined space and make sure everyone is free and clear before allowing any production to proceed.  I would begin a round of re-training before someone dies.

   warehouseflow.com

warehouseflow.com

Lawyer: Dickey’s Barbecue in Utah Had Another Chemical Burn – PREVENTABLE – This incident is a reminder as to why training of employees is so important and why proper labeling of all containers is critical especially in any food service operation.  Before a customer drank tea laced with a chemical cleaning compound at Dickey’s Barbecue and almost died an employee had burned her tongue earlier on the same substance when she tested the content of a sugar container to make sure it was free of the cleaning compound. At that point you’d think that management should have been aware there was a problem and inspected everything.  This is were leadership is so critical to an operation.  Not in the daily routine but the out of ordinary things that may pop up and need attention.  The chemical first got into the container when an employee trying to top off the sugar bucket poured in cleaning product.  Again, this is due to lack of training and lack of leadership.

Hamburg contractor faces $56,400 in OSHA fines – PREVENTABLE – Employees of Kevin Burke Home Improvement were found on site by an OSHA inspector working on a roof and scaffolding without wearing fall protection and were told to stop work until proper fall protection was given to all workers as needed. You’d think a company would think wow we really should do better than that, NOT!  The OSHA inspector returned the next day to find workers yet again working without fall protection gear and so was issued 7 violations, 2 of which were willful, which means that Kevin Burke Home Improvement couldn’t care less if one of their workers fell off the roof. The proposed penalty is $56,400

Death on the Job – Dallas Morning News analysis of federal data – “on average a Texas worker is 12% more likely to be killed on the job than someone doing the same job elsewhere.”  Recently Texas has been trying to steal companies from other states by offering tax incentives and other promises.  Possible the lack of safety may be one reason.  Read the report.

Feds slam California over Cal/OSHA – SIGN OF THE TIMES – Once upon a time CalOSHA had a dream of being the best at keeping the workers of California safe. In fact, their laws and enforcement was second to none and a notch better than OSHA itself.  But after years of budget deficits and the retreading of termed out politicians into state agencies and you wind up with the current sad state of affairs, lacking inspectors and lacking leadership.

Job-related accidents kill 1,100 in 7 months – TURKEY – The number of industrial accidental deaths has gotten out of hand in Turkey to the point that there is an average of 4 workers dying per day.  As the trade unions make the public aware of these statistics and try to work with the government for protection, it will not change anytime soon with the absence of workplace safety regulation enforcement.

MOM Brands Utah Manufacturing Facility Earns Prestigious OSHA SHARP Award For Safety Management Excellence – BRAVO – Yet another company proves it can be done and still respect the bottom line.

Outdoor Rubber Stair Tread – NEW PRODUCT – Do you have unsafe outdoor stairs?  Musson outdoor rubber stair treads, made from recycled rubber may be the answer.

attitude

That my friends brings this episode of Companies Behaving Badly to a close.  Please feel free to use these examples at your next safety tailgate/toolbox meeting. There are many facets to a safe workplace and one of them is YOU!  You are just as responsible for a safe workplace as is the company and management.  You can refuse to do an unsafe act, you can insist that LOTO is done before you stick your limbs into a machine and you can insist on the proper P.P.E.  Your manhood will be challenged for not sticking you neck out and being a team player but a man knows better than to place your life on a sucker bet.  Remember, gears & machines can break your bones but names will never harm you or put you in E.R.  Be a safety advocate at work, keep up the good attitude, stay safe for the life that you save may be your own.  Until September 15th.

Just Putting It Out There – Teaching Hope For Their Future

             Witzshared

Witzshared

My daughter has always been a competitor and never backed off a challenge, whether sports, work or school.  She took her drivers license road test on her 16th birthday, even though we tried to dissuade her from the chance to ruin her birthday celebration.  She wouldn’t hear it and then promptly aced the test.  Now she’s facing one her toughest challenges, teaching children they do have a future, to believe in themselves and success can come with collaboration. 

It’s a beautiful thing that is happening at the Evergreen School District in the city of San Jose, California and they have nothing to do with silicon chips or apps.   Katherine R. Smith School is preparing 3rd graders for the future by teaching entrepreneurialism. Why not, small businesses provide 55% of all jobs and 66% of all net new jobs since the 1970s.  Last year, 340 of every 100,000 adults launched a business each month, creating 565,000 startups monthly.

As our society and the job market continually changes, forward thinking educators find ways for their students to succeed in that new world, so instead of just spoon feeding them bits of information alone, they are preparing them by showing how to think, form a plan, take ownership and present their ideas.  By allowing them the opportunity to think of ideas that can be executed and achieved to build their confidence and entrepreneurial spirit you are creating thinkers, problem solvers, leaders and entrepreneurs that can discuss and resolve an issue.  How cool is that?

The great thing, is you too can be part of this experience.  Your knowledge, your skills and talents can help shape the future.  Read the letter to the public below and if you have the time, be part of it.  It’s been very rewarding for me.

letter

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.

Victory or Very Sad Day For USPS

Mitchell Court's new mailbox

Mitchell Court’s new mailbox

Guess What?!  We finally have a new mail box on Mitchell Court!  It took the USPS 82 days to resolve this issue in the year 2013 while Phileas Fogg in 1872 was able to go around the world in only 80 days!   Good thing the USPS has worked very hard on improving their customer service and customer satisfaction.  However this is not a day of celebration but a very sad day since it took a quasi-government agency 3 months, that’s 82 days not counting Sundays to fix a simple problem and simultaneously also destroyed all the efforts they put into trying to change their poor image.  The USPS spends millions on television ads to improve their image and millions more on training and yet the bottom line is this group of under achievers with NO leadership presence failed to communicate to it’s customers, failed to return phone calls and failed to take a golden opportunity handed to them to demonstrate they are not the idiots portrayed on sitcoms and movies but instead they not only fumbled it away but then picked it up and ran it right into the opposing teams goal!

Why you ask?  Why is their attitude, “Voice of the Customer be damned!” Great question, let’s take a look at this shall we?

1-Their arrogance:  It’s an arrogance that’s spawned from the lack of competition and lack of consequences.  They know they don’t have any competition other than Federal Express and UPS for overnight and express services but when it comes to the daily delivery of first class and bulk mail we’re stuck with them.  When there is no incentive to compete to be #1 or even #5 you don’t care.   No competition breads contempt for customers.  Remember the phone company back in the day?  We didn’t get choices until they were broken up and competition came in.  The three major television networks were happy with the status quo until FOX came along and gave them some serious competition for ratings.

2-Their Leadership:  Their leadership (or should I say lack of it),  sets the tone on how things will be done by how they enforce the standards and mission statement set up by the corporation.  Lax leadership causes lax supervisors  and staff who don’t care because they know they won’t be called on the carpet for the poor service.  When they see their manager not return phone calls or show concern to customers the staff follows suit.  The manager at USPS 94589 should be very proud since his staff has fully demonstrated their lack of abilities when it comes to providing customer service, especially when it came to returning phone calls for updates that they promised to give but NEVER followed through.  That alone is disgraceful.  My staff knew their goal and the consequences if they didn’t return customer calls within 2 hours.

3- Stupidity:  How stupid is it to have their supervisors give out business cards with a phone number when there is no voice mail?  How can you foster a conversation between you and your customers when they can’t contact you or can’t rely on Betty getting the message to the person you want.  That’s just stupid, but obviously it’s the USPS way.  How stupid is it to not get information out to the public as to what’s going on and when it’ll be handled and just let them fester with anger.  That’s just stupid and as dear Forest said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Keys to the new kingdom

Keys to the new kingdom

So now we finally have our mail box and getting the keys at the USPS 94589 went a lot smoother than I ever imagined, I thought I was dreaming.  What’ll come out of this? Probably nothing.  The same inept manager will keep non-managing his inept supervisors who will continue to not return phone calls.  The USPS will continue to be the butt of jokes.  They will however, wonder why they continue to lose money and fail to make a profit.  I hope congress never turns the controls over to them for the one definite thing they have proven to me is they are incapable of turning it around themselves, but they do need to stop paying out good money to consultants and lobbyist who are not working for the good of the Postal Service but for their own profits and selfish needs.

It also won’t change because too many other companies and individuals count on the USPS for their own survival.  In Fiscal Year 2011 USPS paid Federal Express $1.5 Billion dollars and Kalitta Air, LLC $549 million dollars to ship on their planes. They also paid UPS a mere $101.9 Million dollars that same year.  On their list of top 150 suppliers to the USPS Federal Express was the highest paid and Postal Fleet Services, Inc came in at #150 with a take of $8.8 Million dollars.  So as you can see there are a lot of mouths to feed.

This will not be the last post you see on the USPS from me.  They have made me a new antagonist and I will continue watching and reporting on the bad as well as the good, when I find it about the USPS, but I’ll put money on more bad.  Want to share you USPS story with me.  Email is the best way.

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)

Supermarket Sweepstakes: Part 1

Sometimes I just wonder what’s behind a corporations business strategy or if they really have one at all.  I live in Vallejo, California and it is a town of just over 115,000 and proud to say it is the most diverse city in the United States of America, (numbers are rounded up – 32% white/european, 22% African American, 25% Asian/Filipino and 23% Latino).   When Safeway placed three stores of various sizes in this town Mare Island was still an active Naval Base and the demographics at that time were higher in white/european and African American.  The base closed in 1996 which changed everything.  Safeways newest store in the area, is about 6 years old and is very close to me in the town of American Canyon, 2.8 miles from my door,

The Vallejo flagship store is on Admiral Callahan Lane in a fair sized strip mall that is old and ugly and has several vacant store fronts.  It’s a large store but was built with narrow aisles and gets seriously congested quickly when it’s busy and they don’t have a Safeway gas station.  Even though It is only 1.8 miles from my door I really don’t like going there because it’s right off a freeway exit/entrance and always hard to get in and out of the strip mall plus as I mentioned earlier, the congestion in the store.  The Safeway on Georgia Street is tiny, old, dirty looking, poorly lit inside and I only go there as a very last resort since they do have a gas station.  In fact if you read the Google reviews the only positive mentioned is to go for the gas, otherwise people have said the service there is poor to fair and It is.  One of the few times I’ve gone inside, was a Saturday evening to grab only a carton of buttermilk for Sunday morning pancakes.  What should have taken only a few moments took forever as two employees chatted with each other about their Halloween plans ignoring the growing line of 7 poor souls just trying to quickly purchase one or two items.  They also have very little parking and it’s tough getting in and out of the place when the gas station is full with long lines that they don’t try to control at all.  From my observation the only thing keeping that store open is the gas station.

I’ve been to the Safeway in Glenn cove only a few times and I find it  nice but it is the furthest away from me and not worth the trip.   However I do  find the store in American Canyon the most convenient to go to, especially since it is the newest of their fleet and was built with nice wide aisles and a good size parking lot along with a gas station.

You would think that with such a large visible store located on Highway 29 in American Canyon, the gateway to Napa and the wine country would be the proud flagship of your company.  That is why I am having issues with what Safeway is doing with this store and the opportunity they’re  fumbling away.   They must have had a customer appreciation program going on during the summer.  My wife and I must have hit the magic level of spending since as we finished the transaction the manager came over to personally thank us for shopping there and gave us a card with their direct number at the store.  What ever I needed, I can call and they’d help me get it.  So I asked her why they stopped carrying Aunt Jemima lite pancake syrup?  Her eyes glazed over and she replied, we don’t carry that anymore?  I’ll look into it.  I never heard back then and I never got an answer when on another day we must have hit another plateau as another manager thanked us again.  I asked why are you no longer stocking Libby’s corn beef hash?  The silence was deafening.  Don’t have your managers ask, if we could find everything we needed if you really don’t want to hear the answer.  Then recently, as a warehouse professional I took particular exception with a manager who told me it was the warehouses fault that there were out of Silk Vanilla light.  This was the second time it happened within a month.  Does anyone read the “shorts” report?

It’s obvious that Safeway is spending money on training managers on how to properly demonstrate public displays of affection to customers for spending their hard earned bucks there, but the real troubling issue is the overall lack of training and awareness demonstrated by managers and their employees in the areas of food safety and cleaning maintenance in this store.  A few years ago this great store developed a pigeon problem and the pigeon poop began to pile up on the store side walk.  We watched it steadily grow larger and deeper each time we shopped to the point it was a carpet of bird waste.  You couldn’t avoid it as you had to drive your cart through it or walk in it to get into the store and then wind up tracking it in.  If you didn’t know, pigeon poop can contain up to 60 different deseases including salmonella, E.coli, Cryptococcosis, meningitis or respiratory histoplasmosis (which can permanently affect the lungs), to name a few.  It was not being addressed by the store and finally it was reported to the Napa County health department whose response to the matter was fantastic and immediate.  I’m not sure what if any bonus program the managers get working at Safeway or what criteria is used, but you would hope that it would be partly based on overall presentation of the store and not just dollars taken in.  I also wonder how much food safety training do they receive and what is passed onto the working staff?  Have you seen a container of milk sit at the register, aging while waiting to be put back?

Unfortunately, signs of neglect continue to rear up of late.   In the dairy section, on the top flow rack where the low fat milk is kept, the rollers don’t operate properly.  They are caked up with dried milk and don’t roll so the milk containers don’t advance forward as they’re taken and you have to step up on the cooler doorway to reach the milk.  I’ve had to help frustrated seniors twice in the last six months to get to a container.  They also seem to have a big issue with expiration dates finding many containers of Fage yogurts and lucerne  sour cream that were two weeks out of code.  There also have been several times the produce department has had more  empty plastic bag dispensers than ones with bags and you get to play the game of “where’s a bag?”  The deli counter service is inconsistant.  Some days you could die waiting for someone to notice you and some days they’re on the mark.  I’ve found training has been an issue here as well with employee’s not understanding their Friday special pricing or the product.  The bakery is also beginning to show signs of inconsistency lately as some days they have kaiser rolls and some days not.

Service is also slowly deteriorating as witnessed on a recent Saturday in the early afternoon.  They had only two registers open and each had developed long lines of at least 5 customers.  From where one line of customers were standing they could see into the managers office, since the door was open.  The  two managers were doing some sort of paper work and talking to each other as the first page for help up front went out and then the checkers paged for help a second time and again still no response.  Customers were looking around wondering what was going on and began making comments amongst each other, “Did they let everyone go?  This is ridiculous, why don’t they have more registers open?  The managers must have felt the stares coming from the line because suddenly the white shirts finally emerged to open two more registers.  They also used to have a Starbucks in the store as well but closed it down, which made sense, since there is a regular Starbucks in the same strip mall.  They don’t seem to know what to do with the empty space though and currently looks really tacky with large displays of boxes of boxes of stuff.  I personally would have made it a cart holding area especially for those northern California rainy,nasty days.  Nice to drive a dry cart around and keep the floor dry.

Retention of customers is usually number one priority for any thriving business with finding new customers at #2.  Safeway has only demonstrated that they have become stagnant and have given up on innovation.  I don’t see them capitalizing on their location so close to wine country.  They have a great opportunity to blow up their deli and market pre-made picnic meals for people to pick up on their way to Napa for the day or even pre-made wine tasting snacks to take so you get a little food in you when hitting the wineries.  Along with continuing the reduction of brands that I prefer, at this store, which by the way I have been able to find at Raileys and this has re-introduced me to their store and it’s values which has definitely begun changing my shopping and spending habits.  Safeway wants you to believe that you can get everything you need at their store, but this is really not true since you’re more  limited each day to fewer choices and then if they have it in stock.  They want you to believe their club card savings, and gas discount rewards are enough savings to motivate you to keep coming in and over look a store, operated sloppy to reduce operational costs to support those programs.  I Strongly recommend they train their store managers to do a Gemba walk or some kind of walk around to check what’s happening in the store and pay attention to it.  With everyone looking for better pricing and service, they have many other places to go even if it means split shopping.  Safeway is betting to much on you believing they are a convenient store,  but it’s not convenient when you don’t have what I want.

How about where you live?  Have you noticed changes in service and quality?  Would really like to hear your stories.