March 23 2014 06:12 PM

Every year when we look at the global trends in warehousing and distribution, it sounds very redundant to say more efficiency and better productivity, but this is exactly what most DC managers are talking about. Why do these topics reappear year after year? One thought is because people dramatically impact the efficiency and productivity of your facility. You can buy the best automation and have the best technology but if you haven't trained, hired and retained the best people you will still be looking for increased productivity and efficiency.

The cost of people in your facility continues to rise with health care and rising minimum wages. Many companies don't see the forest for the trees, in that they have substandard people that don't operate well so they hire more people to help the below standard ones and then you have people on top of people, all working very inefficiently. Sounds a little bit like a Dr. Seuss story, but it's true. Part of the problem is that people in your facility require ongoing attention and investment in time and resources. It's not something like technology or automation that you purchase, install and voila, problem solved. Even without turnover, people require on-going coaching, mentoring and attention. As an executive/life coach, I run across this situation all the time. The person managing the facility is a good operation person. He knows the stats, knows the operation well and knows the supply chain. The manager is just a horrible coach of people. Instead of teaching and motivating, many managers bark orders without details and degrade the team. A recipe for failure!

Managers forget that the workers in the facility are not motivated the same way they are, they don't have the same agendas, and they don't think the same way. My son is an enthusiastic high school basketball coach. While coaching young high school boys today, he has learned that they don't all feel about the sport as he does. They are not competitive and some don't really care whether they win or lose. My son has had to learn to get to the root of why are they on the team, and what motivates them? Some boys are just simply there for the recognition and some are there for the "feel good" of being on a team. When you are managing the team with an iron fist, it doesn't feel good, so that person will not respond and play at his best. Once you discover what makes them tick and what is important to them, you can adapt your message and training to incorporate those items.

As a manager if you don't have time to be a coach for your entire team, make someone within each functional area a coach. This takes more than just appointing that person as a coach. It takes training and developing this coach as a leader. The leader will set the pace, attitude and culture. This person needs to be chosen well. As you build confidence and satisfaction among your team, you will gradually see your productivity increase, along with efficiency. If you explain to them the impact of accuracy, losing sales, losing customers, losing product, etc. they will begin to understand how very important accuracy is and will strive for better work. You will find them watching others to make sure they are doing the right steps and processes. This kind of positivity snowballs in your facility and is contagious.

But your job doesn't stop there! Just like on a basketball team, the coach needs to simultaneously start building his farm team and focus on succession plans. If your best order filler gets sick, who can step into that role? Hopefully, they have been pre-trained by the best and the replacement is seamless but unfortunately, most managers are focused on the day to day operation and not on the future. This is the most common area of improvement that needs to be made for DC managers: looking at contingencies and preparing the operation for the future. Ultimately, the DC manager is the coach and he is training the next layer of coaches in each functional area, but usually in about 50% of the cases, this is not how it works. Some outsource this to HR, not that HR shouldn't be a coach, but most HR departments don't understand the operation and they are deemed unacceptable for the worker because they don't really add value on the floor.

If you have a good supervisor that has the operation skills, dedicated to the company, knows the WMS well but is a horrible people person, you have an opportunity. Invest in this person and help this person become a better supervisor on your team.

Susan Rider, Supply Chain Consultant, Executive/Life Coach can be reached at