This article originally appeared in the January/February, 2018 issue of PARCEL

    Whew! You made it through the holiday rush. Many companies do 80% of their volumes during the three-month holiday period. Even if you are not one of those companies, you may have seen an increase in volume the last three months of the year, which means January is a great time to breathe and refresh your distribution center.

    First things first, let’s take stock of ourselves. What are our talents, strengths, and values? What are our weaknesses, and where could we improve? In coaching an executive recently, my colleagues and I discovered that he was well liked and admired by most employees. You would think that there was no room for improvement, but doing a deeper dive, we uncovered why top players were leaving the company — because this executive was too nice. Now we have to worry about being too nice? Yes, A-players tend to give their all without being told to. When they see every other associate who is only giving 70% or less being treated with the same rewards, recognition, and kindness, it gets frustrating and de-motivating for the A-player. Being a top performer, they know that they are in demand and that they can get a position elsewhere easily. This is usually why they jump ship — not because of pay or position but because they want to be recognized and given appreciation for their efforts.

    The next thing to take stock of is your team. Are they in the right positions, and do they need upgrading with some seminars, school, or other training? Do you have some that need to be replaced? Put together a plan to make sure you find the right person to fill the empty positions.

    Peak Season Review

    One of the most important things to review is the previous peak season. What went right? Make sure you give accolades to the right people, but more importantly, take a look at what went wrong and where changes and improvements need to be made. Once you have a complete list, prioritize by value to your company. Some things may be done without spending any money, while some things may require collaborating with merchandising and sales. It is better to make a plan now, in your slower season, to improve these items than to let them linger until the month before the peak season.

    Meet with your executive team. If you barely squeaked through peak season this year, you will need to know what the growth expectations are and what is being budgeted by the company. Oftentimes, the distribution manager is kept in the dark until they are in the middle of peak season. A company I met with last month said they doubled their volumes in the distribution center, and it would have been nice to have some forewarning.

    You can’t continue to do what you have always done and expect a different result. Review your processes. Would automation be a good solution? How can you improve each process — receiving, put away, picking, packaging, and shipping — by at least 10%? If you come up with better processes accumulatively, you will improve your throughput and need less part-time help for the same volumes — certainly a win/win. If you are thinking materials handling, automation, or changes are needed, now is the time to get that fine-tuned and ordered. The material handling industry has some long lead times for rack, conveyor, and automation changes, and you definitely want the system installed, tested, and running smoothly before your next peak time comes around.

    Lastly, review your technology. What little tweaks can be made to improve and enhance the operation? Time to get those on the drawing board now. And if you need a total overhaul of your new system, it’s time to get it moving along.

    Susan Rider, President, Rider & Associates, and Executive Life Coach can be reached at