A 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 new consciousness 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.


What 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.


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.


Just Putting It Out There – Teaching Hope For Their Future



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.


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.

A Guide For Your Own Intelligent Warehouse.


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.


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 consciousness 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 gall 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 were 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 spreadsheet.  Expenses, inventory, and transactions could be pinpointed 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 than it was for the company.  We wanted people who could adapt to change and make swift 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 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, the 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 are crucial for their 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. Do you want staff to begin producing as soon as possible and not wonder 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 workmates 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, and safety hazard awareness, and let them be creative.  Once a year I would split the staff into three groups, and send 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 eligible 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.

We Have Met The Enemy and..well you know the rest.

The American consumer makes for a very interesting mammal along with their very short term memory.  When 18 workers at Foxconn in China began jumping off roofs or out windows to ensure that their families would have a secure financial future people here reacted with such indignation, that 27 million IPhones were bought.  After all, Apple promised they would look into working conditions at Foxconn and everyone was happy again.  Two years later, an estimated 2000 Foxconn employees, who earn an average of $283.00 (1800 Renminbi) a month rioted and the public reacted by buying 5 million IPhone 5s in a weekend.  The American consumer soon had to deal with guilt again as 112 souls perished in a garment industry sweatshop fire in Bangladesh.  Their bosses locked exit doors, kept non functioning spent fire extinguishers as wall art and then insisted employees stay put, so quotas could be met in time for holiday shopping in the U.S.  This factory, Tazreen Fashions, LTD also supplied Walmart, Sears and Disney while paying their loyal workers the equivalent of about $37 dollars a month.  Just like the events at Foxconn before, there was pubic outrage,  and there was a brief discussion and then, it was like it never happened.  People still crowded Walmart for their low prices and Sears for bargins and how can you pass on Disney for the kids.

This is not an isolated incident involving Walmart.  They recently had strikes at several of their contracted warehouses in California and Illinois due to unsafe working conditions and there are bribery allegations involving some Walmart executives and Mexican authorities. There are also ongoing investigations in Brazil, China and india concerning the same matter.  I don’t know about you, but I think this says volumes about the character of a company who is  comforatble about screwing Peter to please Paul.

While these events unfolded globally, here at home there were several articles floated out there before the election on how the demise of manufacturing in the United States is caused by all the government regulations companies must follow.  They contend that we can bring back the manufacturing glory days of yesteryear in this country by simply ridding ourselves of these regulations that just happen to protect the public health, and the environment as well as workplace safety for fellow human beings.  The main reason offered by these well intentioned, honorable articles is the regulations are costing companies millions of dollars to integrate and maintain, there by cutting into their profits.  Money they further argue would be used for R&D and expansion, creating jobs, oh, and I’m sure increased executive bonuses as well.  The articles were also critical of the U.S. Government’s lack of obtaining input from or listening to the industries before implementing regulations the industry really doesn’t believe they need, because they can regulate themselves.  We’ve all seen how well that works.  Ask the 8 people murdered (my opinion) in San Bruno, California or the 11 killed on the Deepwater Horizon platform, the 900 citizens of Richmond, California forced to emergency rooms or  the 36 killed in mine accidents this year.  I find it interesting that these honorable ladies and gentlemen only solution to bring back manufacturing jobs to the U.S. is to make our country’s regulations more like…maybe, Bangladesh?

To get back to the Government not soliciting input or offering a platform to industry for one moment.  First of all, the government does solicite feedback in several different forums.  Second, I guess that 10.5 million dollars doesn’t buy as much as it used too.  That’s what the oil and gas industry spent on lobbyist in 2010 to guide politicians toward their industries point of view.  Manufacturing and distribution contributed another 55.25 million dollars over 2011-2012.  Wow.  These companies had a total of 65 million dollars to give away explaining why they don’t need regulations.  What kind of safety equipment, new processes or expansion could you buy for that?  In Bangladesh, 65 million dollars would pay three thousand garment workers for almost 50 years.

I’m tired of this continued fallacy put out there that suspending enforcement of  regulations will bring manufacturing back to the U.S., a country where consumers don’t want to pay $2000.00 for an IPhone.  When you have the resources of people that China, Bangladesh and India offer with that low labor cost how could we compete here?  Yes, you could repeal the regulations here to reduce operational costs, but unfortunately it still appears to be much cheaper to run a plant (either directly or through a third party), where there are no work place safety rules or an OSHA watching, along with the abundance of cheap labor in order to feed the American consumer appetite.  Americans have set standards for what they’ll tolerate in the workplace for themselves, yet don’t seem to care when it happens in another country as long as it doesn’t raise the price.  So is that the way we’re going to measure profit nowadays?  Has human life been converted into the equation of, how many dead can we tolerate in the course of business?  If there is a major oops we’ll just put an ad campaign together to put a positive spin on it by saying, sorry but we learned our lesson, when they haven’t?  I’m sure the $200 expense keeping fire extinguishers current and operational with an annual inspection would not cut deeply into their budgets or the training to make sure employees know how to use them will hurt profits.  Or having the factory dust collectors properly operational so they don’t choke the surrounding areas with particles of pollution is costing companies so much they have to move over seas.  Does Inspecting and keeping records on buried pipelines to ensure the public safety really cut that much into executive bonuses?  Probably that damn OSHA making sure workers wear proper PPE, and have safety guards in place to protect them from the machinery is the deal breaker.  Take it overseas, we can do anything!

It’s not a simple solution, let alone not a one solution answer for bringing manufacturing back, especially since corporate greed is part of the equation.  It’s not enough to make a profit, you must continue setting record profits, you must have the largest market share.  It’s also employee greed as well as we want more money doing a job that really doesn’t rate the pay, and we don’t want to pay for the added healthcare expenses or compromise.   It’s the companies problem.  To pay you what you want, for you to do that job with those benefits, the consumer winds up paying more now just to maintain the same level of service.  In order to continue the profit margin that’s expected at all costs, we can’t keep hitting just the consumer or we’ll lose them.  So now we must reduce operating expenses and so the jobs go elsewhere where it’s cheaper to make.  It’s a cycle we the consumer have created, and only the voice of the consumer can create the change needed.  The voice of the consumer is a powerful thing.  You’ve done it before as recently as the Instagram revolt when as much as 25% of their active members left when they changed terms of service.  You did it back in the 60’s creating change in the working conditions and pay levels for the grape and lettuce fields.  Your outcry on the poor dolphin innocents killed while feeding our need for canned tuna.  Human beings in China and Bangladesh and India are as important as dolphins aren’t they? Companies are not going to change unless there is pressure from Government regulations or their customers.  I don’t want to sound like a homer and say we should only buy American to keep American jobs but maybe what we need to do it buy with our conscience.  Human life in foreign lands means nothing in your day to day scheme of things, but it does speak volumes of our character.  Why do we wait until there is a disaster to care about people and offer money, food and clothing.  Why is good will toward man only a seasonal sentiment.  Human life is very precious.  Each individual is unique as no two snow flakes are alike and they are there for a short while to enjoy before they melt.  We should be more outraged from the loss of human life than we are on living conditions of chickens.

The garment industry in Bangladesh produces 20 billion dollars from exports to this country.  The way you shop can help make a difference in the world and demonstrate that America cares more about people than buying a cheap priced sweater.  In this day and age you shouldn’t have to kill yourself to feed your family even if you meet the enemy, looking in the mirror.

The Paper Chase

I am a baby boomer and like other generations, I have developed strong relationships with specific technologies that I was raised with, and have over the years cultivated my daily routines around.  Like my father, I enjoy having my morning cup of coffee while holding a crisp, fresh newspaper in my hand.  Even though I have embraced newer technologies to help keep current, like twitter and other online entities, there is still something comforting to me holding a newspaper in my hands, listening to the noises it makes when folded while reading the front page and the sports green section.  My Dad began every morning with the N.Y.Daily news and ended each day with the N.Y. Post even though Huntley and Brinkley brought the world to him in black and white.  If he wanted there was also the Daily Mirror, Herald Tribune and the Times available.  However, since the commercial use of radio, newspaper readership has steadily declined as each generation gobbles up the latest in new technology from television to smart phones to Ipads to get their news.   Getting the news out there is so much faster today along with high quality color photos, you can tell the world a breaking story in seconds.

So currently I’m sitting here wondering, without a newspaper in my hand,  how it is possible in this day and age, that it is so difficult to deliver a newspaper?  How is it possible that some companies, including the U.S. Post Office are looking into same day delivery of goods to your door step, but the daily newspaper can’t be delivered daily, consistently?  I live in a small town/city with a population of 117,000 that is 35 miles northeast of San Francisco, California and unfortunately this is not about only one newspaper but two and the similar issues they share.  Lack of quality customer service.

I’ve been a subscriber of the Chronicle for over 20 years and the service from the beginning was excellent.  It was consistant, it was dry and it was in my driveway.  Then something changed about five years ago.  The quality of service began to deteriorate as we began playing a new game called, where’s the paper?  It wasn’t making it onto the driveway like it used too, which by the way is a much wider and longer area than the lawn I have next to it.  The newspaper must have wanted a change of venue and now enjoyed laying on the dew soaked lawn without plastic protection, not to mention the mornings it would get soaked when the sprinkler was scheduled to run.  To make the game even more interesting, sometimes it was under a shrub, on the sidewalk, or half in the gutter and half on the curb.  Some days it wouldn’t show up at all and to keep me on my toes, sometimes they delivered another newspaper all together.  I would call customer service and ask for the paper to please go back to the driveway.  “Oh yea, we see that request on the screen” and they would apologize, give me some credit and that they’d alert the manager.  I don’t believe they alerted anyone or the manager just couldn’t care less because the problem continued, and there were never follow up calls, not even an apology from the manager himself.  No calls later on to get feedback if service has improved.  Most of the time I did get a redelivery but there were times I did not.

Then like a miracle, about a year and a half ago things were perfect again.  This person delivering was excellent and understood that people want to read their paper and not play games finding it or wringing it out.  It was in the middle of my drive way every morning in pristine condition.  Life was good.  Then, unfortunately after a year of great service, this guy must have found a better job, (he actually demonstrated great customer service) and left because the deliveries went back to the way they were.  On the lawn, soaking wet, the wrong paper or not at all.  The straw that finally broke the camels back was when I called, a week in advance and placed a vacation hold.  The paper was still delivered for a few more days past the hold date but luckily my neighbor noticed the pile and picked them up.  If you’re wondering, no the paper didn’t resume on the date it was suppose too.  So out of total frustration, I cancelled the paper.  What surprised me the most was the overwhelming silence that followed.   I heard nothing.  No sorry for the problem, no can we keep you as a customer with a free week.  Nothing. Nada. Zilch.  Not even from the distributor, sorry to lose you and what can we do to make your experience better?  They demonstrated apathy at it’s very best!

So, then I made the mistake of subscribing to the local paper, Vallejo Times Herald.  I figured local paper, they would want to get the paper to me so I could keep up on the local goings on.  But what I found is that as a small town paper they are just as good at being incompetent as the big city paper, the SF Chronicle was in getting the paper delivered.  The Times Herald can’t seem to remember to deliver the paper.  I got it for a few days and then Sunday’s paper didn’t come.  After two calls to their hot line it still never arrived.  Then it began coming again that Tuesday, (they only publish printed edition Tue-Sun) and lasted a week and then didn’t show Wednesday or Thursday.   Even the customer service clerk wasn’t sure whether I was on or off to get the paper.

So what’s The issue?  Is it “you get what you pay for” as far as quality of delivery staff?  Do they really care when they’re told a paper didn’t get delivered.  Where’s the communication between delivery and customer service?  Or is it they don’t want to keep delivering the paper?  For the Chronicle to get to my house,  27% of the subscription price of $86.00 for 8 weeks is due to transportation costs.  it adds up for the customer and I’m sure costs them much more as well.  Printed paper is a dying business and they would rather you read it all on line at a reduced price than keep delivering the paper.  I believe that’s what’s behind their poor service issues, they are deliberate and carefully calculated to scare customers from delivery of their printed editions to the more cost efficient for them, on line feeds?  They are killing the reading of the printed paper faster than our latest technologies can.  I can’t think of another explanation for such poor quality service, but with service like this, they’ll be extinct before you can say Dodo Bird.

Do you have similar issues?  I would like to hear back.


Walls are Great For Supporting Roofs, Lousy For Teamwork



Walls are great for supporting roofs.  They also offer an excellent place to put windows and they can hold pictures, paintings and holiday decorations with the greatest of ease.  They have been made of mud, twigs, stones, logs, dry wall, stucco and wood.  They protect us from the elements.  But invisible walls between departments within your organization can kill any continuous improvement program  let alone stifle any communication.

I was interviewed by three different teams of two individuals per team consisting of an outside consultant, a H.R. rep and other various management staff from the company.  They all had their long lists of questions probing my views, experiences and existence.  They all expressed the need for “changing the culture” and were looking for the “right people” to fit in and hope you “enjoy working lots of hours”.  The company was ready to move to the next level and they were looking for the horses to help get them there.  My interview marathon was followed by a few weeks of silence and then, I along with one other candidate were chosen to be their next Warehouse Superintendents and so our odyssey began.

What should have been a clue for me about this company at first went right by me.  I was busy trying to learn my way around the facility along with everybody’s name, when it soon hit me.  Why did they go through all that preparation and effort hiring us, but were totally unprepared to give us the proper training?  There wasn’t any written procedures or guidelines and always an excuse to have to stop training and leave us to on our own.  Just watch what’s going on and we’ll be back soon.  There always seemed to be fires to be put out or a meeting they needed to attend and then, one day, like a mother bird pushing her chick out of the nest to learn to fly, we were told to flap our wings and put onto our new shifts.  “We know you’re not ready, but we have no choice and we really need you guys on shift and you’ll learn faster this way.”

This company, a good sized manufacturer, “Dis-function, Inc.” was set up like most.  Production – they made the product.  Packaging – they packaged the finished product.   Warehouse – they palletize, stored and shipped the product.  Maintenance.  Seems so simple and should flow without any problems except walking through the doors everyday was like entering an episode of the Game of Thrones.  The three main departments were run like kingdoms and instead of each one working together, they were constantly at war with one another.  They all erected large walls with moats and draw bridges as they worked in their own universe and the only goals were their goals and not the company’s.  Packaging couldn’t care less if maintenance couldn’t fix a section of conveyors in the warehouse, they needed to move product out of their area on time to make their goal.  What I wasn’t prepared for and was my second clue, were the frequent loud finger pointing arguments between the packaging and warehouse managers right on the floor in front of us supervisors and the staff.  I also found that the managers, instead of addressing  issues within their own departments, were busy in the  after hours spying on one another’s department and would even stop and questioned employees as to why they were doing things a certain way.  Then would offer their findings and suggestions to upper management on how to improve the production flow in that department to score points, which would lead to more fights, to the point, one day we were told by our manager that if the packaging manager entered our realm at any point when he wasn’t there, the packaging manager was to be shown the door, “I don’t care how you stop him.”  Our weekly meetings with our manager didn’t focus on improvements or maintenance issues as much as they did on gossip and revenge.  What had I gotten myself into?

While all these walls between departments were being maintained, the same couldn’t be said for all the equipment and machinery.  Things weren’t getting repaired in a timely manner and they had backed up over time greatly impacting production.  Lines were always down, motors burning out, gears not lubed and the ASRS had a jam every hour.  To make it worse the warehouse was always last on the list as production and packaging were higher priorities.  It didn’t make any sense to me and this was yet another clue.  If the warehouse couldn’t keep moving on a continuous basis packaging and production were always going to back up due to our maintenance breakdowns but no one wanted to hear that.  There were nights that it got so bad with all the breakdowns one particular packaging supervisor told us how stupid we were because we couldn’t run our department and how much that impacted them.  The sad thing was that upper management could have stopped this at any time and demonstrated some leadership but they appeared happy with things as they were.  This dysfunction had gone on so long it WAS the company culture and you can’t change the culture you were hired to change when no one else wants too.  The warehouse supervisors that had been there much longer than us new hires had long ago began mailing it in and just didn’t care.  They would tell me to lower my expectations and that nothing was ever going to change.

So what do you do?  Well as I see it, you can quit and find another job, like the ones you read about in the trade magazines where there’s great collaboration among staff and real continuous improvement programs.  You can stay and become part of the problem by just developing tunnel vision by not caring and going through the motions on a daily basis and slowly lose your mind.  You can stay and use everything you have learned over the years and stand up and become part of the solution.  I’ve always been turned on by challenges and when things got tough was never a quitter as my peer who was hired along with me had done.  I decided I was going to be part of the solution and drew a line in the sand even if it meant I could wind up getting fired for daring to change the culture and disturbing the status quo.  I was going with my conscience and on my terms.

I’m not going to lie to you, this decision was the biggest challenge of my life and it was not easy.  But were to start?  Well, begin with taking care of what I could within my department.  We could improve how we did some things and started with our biggest problem, maintenance issues.  I began by tracking all the continuous maintenance issues listing them by time of occurrence, how long we were down, why, and resolution.  I organized the information collected from all three shift’s reports and recorded it on a spreadsheet, but in a universal language upper management would understand, $money.  In black and white for all to see, how much down time due to lack of maintenance was actually costing the company and gave the info to my boss every day.  We were able to demonstrate  a cause and effect and my manager had the ammunition he needed to do battle and it helped us to finally get the ear of upper management.  They began to look deeply into how maintenance issues were addressed in the warehouse and we were able to hire two additional maintenance people.  I did the same thing with safety issues by turning out work orders daily after teaching myself how to use our WO system since no one wanted to take the minute to help me.  Started writing departmental procedures so we were all on the same page and helped develop maintenance protocol.   I knew I was making an impact, since this place used silence to hope you would go away and it was quiet, but soon the word was out, that Phil is not going away and holding people accountable.

That’s one reason I wanted to point out Lisa Woods great article, “Success tips for Middle Managers.”  You should read it especially if you’re in a similar situation or beginning your career because they were many of the ways I handled my situation. http://www.managingamericans.com/blogFeIMG_0885ed/Success-Tips-For-Middle-Managers.htm?goback=%2Egde_2260307_member_175838406.


I am not going to kid you, doing all the extra work while completing daily tasks wasn’t easy and I went through a lot of hell for trying to do what needed to be done.  I didn’t have a trumpet to bring the walls down and the long hours and constant battle  finally took it’s toll and I finally left after three years, but I have never been sorry but actually grateful I had this experience.  It made me a much better manager and a stronger person while I got to witness holes I put into those walls and actually got a conversation going between departments.   At work and in life you should always stick to your beliefs and go with your gut otherwise you’ll never know what kind of impact you can have in the long run.

So You Want A Quality Warehouse.

We’ve covered how quality begins at the receiving dock with the aide of inspection of incoming deliveries which should ensure quality down stream to the customer.  Ah, but maintaining quality in a warehouse has many obstacles that can throw you off coarse.

FIFO.  You’ve heard it before, First In, First Out.  This is the backbone of your operation.  You want to supply your customers with the freshest, newest, best condition product off your shelves.  Following FIFO allows you to turn your product and keep them from getting stale on the rack or worse, out of code.  To support FIFO you need quality inventory control and a quality WMS to help keep inventory visible until it leaves the warehouse.  Losing inventory in a warehouse creating dead inventory will add up to major dollars over time and hurt your bottom line.  If you are a small operation and don’t have a good WMS use the old T method.  Store replenishment product directly above the pick location.  Go up as many levels as you can and then if more storage space is still needed branch out at the top rack like a T.  It should be easy to keep track of inventory this way since you know it’s localized.  Along with this use different colored labels to tag your inventory by the month, (Red-January, Blue-Feb, etc) and this will allow you to know the oldest product in your T.

DEBRIS.  By definition it’s the remains of anything broken down or destroyed.  This stuff is usually trash, made up of shrink wrap, paper, backing from labels, chips and fragments of wooden pallets.  It is necessary to make sure you have enough trash cans distributed around the warehouse to encourage the deposit of debris and strongly encourage its pick up.  Shrink wrap on the floor can be sucked up by forklifts and over time melt and literary gum up the works.  I was presented a bag of this stuff once by my forklift tech and would use it as a visual in safety and sanitation meetings.  The plastic shrink wrap can also be a money maker as long as you have a bailing machine.  There are companies that will buy it by the bale and the money could be used to reward the warehouse staff for keeping the floors free of debris with a monthly lunch or a very nice holiday party.  The buyers need to help you with the wooden pallets by including on their purchase orders the acceptable condition of pallets on delivery.   Be up front and hold the position if you deliver bad pallets to us, there will be no pallet exchange.  You may want to look into CHEP as a means of ensuring you receive in on good quality pallets and plastic pallets are now a viable alternative.  Remember, If you keep it looking clean, people don’t look further!

EQUIPMENT.  What good is following fifo and cleaning up if you can’t move pallets around the warehouse?   You must keep equipment maintained, not only to ensure you have equipment when you need it, but for safety and to keep the warehouse free of leaks and puddles of hydraulic fluid or oils.  Nothing makes a warehouse look bad than fluid tracked from the dock to the racks not to mention it’s also unsafe and could cause forklift skids or staff slip and falls.  How does your battery room look?  Floor free of stains from acid spill over?  Is there adequate ventilation to keep the area free of fumes from the charging batteries.  Chargers should have closed and locked access doors and no exposed wires.  Most important, make sure the eye wash station is fully operational as well.

WASHROOM.  This is also another important area especially if you are a food warehouse.  There should be signs to remind everyone to wash their hands before returning to their work station.  There needs to always be a supply of soap and towels or blower of some kind to facilitate drying.  There is nothing worse than to have a visitor tell you there’s not soap or towels in the washroom.  The appearance of the washroom also speaks volumes of how you present your warehouse so avoid the trash can from overflowing with used paper towels and dirty facilities.

GO FOR A WALK.  Get up from the desk and go for a walk around the warehouse.  Some people like to use the hybrid name, Gemba-Kaizen-Deming-Sigma walk.  If it’ll give you purpose or just help to remember to do it you can call it what ever you want.  Give it a fun name or functional name,   A warehouse walk, safety walk, I need exercise walk,   Just get up and walk.  You need to see what’s going on and sitting behind that desk , just checking the numbers on the computer screen only gives you a very small picture of what’s really going on.  What ever philosophy you use at your facility, be it Gemba, Sigma, Lean, Kaizen, Deming, SWOT or common sense make sure you all speak the same language to discuss issues.  The one book I do recommend to make sure you all are talking about the same thing is the APICs Dictionary.  It’d be a great tool to use and excuse to have some training for the staff and cover this together and develop talent within your organization.

Look, if quality was so easy, everybody would do it.  Love to hear your comments.

I’m Sorry! I Was Wrong.

As it turns out I owe you all an apology.  In a previous blog about the Chevron Refinery explosion in Richmond, California which is being covered so well by the SF Chronicle’s, Jaxon Van Derbeken,  I had mentioned that Cal-OSHA was on top of things and how proud I was of how they believed their rules as well as themselves were better than U.S. Government regulations, but as it now turns out, I was wrong.  However the good news is someone in Sacramento is pushing for an audit of Cal-OSHA, and taking on the issue of workers safety instead of their own selfish needs.  State Senator Mark Leno, D-SF and chair of the Senates Budget Committee has obviously been reading and listening by expressing his concerns that the agency has access to all resources available to ensure workplace safety in the state of California.

As reported in the S.F. Chronicle, Sept 8, 2012 by J. Van Derbeken, Cal-OSHA had conducted 3 planned inspections of the Chevron Richmond refinery since 2006 and found no workplace safety violations.  However the inspections only averaged 50 man hours as compared to the 1000 man hours the U.S. inspectors are averaging in their nationwide inspection program of refineries.  Later in the Chronicle article Cal-OSHA defended themselves by saying, “No one has died in a refinery accident in California since 1999.”  He’s right, but as the article points out there was another fire at the same Chevron refinery in 2007 where an employee was badly burned and they were only fined  $185.00 by Cal-OSHA.  I’m not exactly happy knowing that they rate their performance on how many people have or not have died.  You need to account for injuries and near misses which are all indicators on how safety is measured at most places, well, except for the State of California.

So now you know why State Senator Mark Leno has concerns but the problem goes deeper in my opinion.  Cal-OSHA has a new boss, Ellen Widess who was appointed to the job in April of 2011.  She has an impressive resume and spent the last 10 years as a Program Officer for the Rosenberg Foundation.  This experience makes her a great administrator or glorified bean counter if you will, of an agency who’s looking to cut expenses and try to work within the constraints of the state budget.  However,  this does not make for a great enforcer.  She also has skills on developing policy and raising funds but greatly lacks the knowledge or experience of heavy industry.  So as an appointee of Governor Brown, based on her past experiences and positions, she was picked to use those talents to find ways to help reduce the budget and curb expenses even if that meant the quickest ways to do an inspection instead of the best ways to do inspections.  Unfortunately when it comes to politics you don’t always get the right person for the job since the appointer usually owes someone or the individual a favor.

Look, most of you all know the routine when it comes to a planned visit by a regulating agency.  I’ve been in meetings where upper management discuss the areas they want the inspector to avoid, so as not to create a reason for a deeper look by the inspector.  So they plan their “walk” and guide the inspector on their pre-planned route.  An inexperienced inspector usually goes along with the guided tour and never ever sees the worst areas of the plant.  In fact, at one company we were having issues on the dust collector for a particular piece of equipment and even though the company knew they were over the limit on dust released into the atmosphere, they kept running it, even over our EH&S manager’s vehement objections, (who later resigned) but they needed production of that specific product for orders.  When the inspector showed up they just lied and told him it wasn’t running and was down for repairs.  He took their word for it and just scheduled a later appointment for inspection.  What would have been nice is if he said, well, can I take a look and see how you’re doing?  But he didn’t.

When you put constraints on inspectors like the amount of time per inspection just to save a few dollars you reduce the amount of area within a large plant they can cover and how much equipment they can examine while it’s in operation.  Without the proper experience it is also possible that critical inspection points may have been removed from the checklist to help expedite the inspections as well.  The big disconnect I see is a leader lacking in ground tactics dealing with savoy plant operators who guide the inspectors while Widess is trying to reduce the budget without looking at what the agency needs to do to be effective.  Safety is important, but at what cost?

I would also like to point out another area of concern.  Chevron contributes money to several politicians in California and while it’s legal you have to wonder how unbiased the 6 Republican, 4 Democrat State Senators and the 8 Republican and 2 Democrat State Assembly members are towards work place safety.  These individuals are important chairpersons that have collected $330,450 over the last four years and this is not including the U.S. Senators and Congressmen that have been given donations as well.

When it comes to ensuring work place safety at your facility, whether it is a large oil refinery or a small warehouse can you put a price tag on a human life?  When you smile at your boss and tell him, I saved X amount by keeping inspections to an average of 50 hours or less and later find out you missed a critical point will I am sorry be enough?  The bottom line is don’t count on the politicians to keep you safe since 80% of the time they’re looking out for their own interest or that of special interest for lobbyist and not yours.  It’s up to every Supervisor, Manager and Employee to be ever vigilant and hold their company accountable and to make sure everyone goes home in one piece.  Then you won’t have to say, I’m sorry, I was wrong.