June 10 2019 04:08 AM

Do you feel as though your workday is consumed by always putting out fires? Some people thrive on this kind of environment (and more power to them), but most of us will eventually get tired of this constant reactivity and will start seeking some proactive solutions. Distribution center managers often feel as if their time is spent solving these little problems but not making much progress, but this isn’t how it has to be. As long as you build your team to be leaders, your job is more strategic, which means you’ll have the time to spend on long-term strategic opportunities.

When visiting a facility in Texas, the folks I was speaking with asked me where to find leaders in distribution. They had already tried several options, such as college graduates, leaders from other companies, retired military, etc., but yet nothing had worked. There are several reasons why this could be.

First, leaders are usually not looking for a position because they are good at what they are already doing. Most managers realize when they have a good leader — and they don’t want to lose them. On the other hand, effective leaders are sometimes hard to find simply because there are not enough facilities focusing on how to train people to lead their team effectively. Leadership is not taught in college, and although leadership is taught in the military, most of that work pool does not end up in distribution.

If you want a less hectic and stressful life, focus on building a team of leaders in each functional area. Then have that leader identify his or her heir apparent to start grooming as a future leader. For instance, you many have word designations as: Beginning Associate, Associate, Lead Associate I, Lead Associate II, Supervisor, and Functional Area Lead. Whatever you decide to use as your designation doesn’t really matter; it’s the training that you develop and maintain that will reap rewards.

The age-old problem in the distribution center is someone is promoted to lead or supervisor and they have no experience in such a position. You may get lucky and the person you’ve promoted has an inherent talent for leadership but most of the time the person fails when promoted because they have no training on how to motivate, manage and lead a team. What leadership skills are you training?

To develop leadership program on a low-cost budget, pick a person in each functional area that you have identified as a potential leader. Establish the organizational goals you want to accomplish with this program. The transparency of the goals is very important for the team and for the individual. Write up and understand each person’s strength and weaknesses via an Individual Development Plan (IDP). Pull them into a 30-minute class at an opportune time in your facility (perhaps before their shift actually begins). Start by teaching the basics and then evaluate the results. As you see improvements, broaden the scope of the program to include situational analysis, team building, motivation, and communication.

Some personal goals for each individual may include soft goals like:

  • Find something positive in every situation
  • See opportunities where others do not
  • Try harder than others and lead by example
  • Do not give up easily

The program should foster initiative in others as you build these new leaders. When people understand that you value their opinions and their views are listened to, they become motivated to act and use more creativity to solve problems. They also develop ownership of the situation and their respective departments. Trusting your staff to act effectively and make the right decision is part of your role and is another reason you want to continue to develop your leaders. Teach them the positive elements of a leader and demonstrate the traits they must display to get respect from their team, such as integrity, competence, inspiration, purpose, direction, and charisma.

As you’re building this leadership team, you will notice a sense of community among them. They will start to help each other and share ideas of success between themselves. This is when you know you have built something that will perpetuate the success of your facility.

Motivating the team is probably one of the toughest non-tangible things to learn, but it is worth it. As you try to find your way in these ever-changing waters, keep your eye (and your team’s focus) on the goal. After all, goal-oriented leadership is probably the most common type of leadership used. It offers attention to detail and sets the expectations in a clear and firm manner. This type of leadership is good for developing teamwork and collaboration. However, if you are seeing a decline in morale, a higher than usual increase in staff turnover, or an inability to see the big picture, you may have overdone this type of leadership and need to reboot.

Developing your leaders and subleaders will pay off in huge benefits; after all, what makes a facility efficient and effective is its people.

Susan Rider, President, Rider & Associates, and Executive Life Coach can be reached at susanrider@msn.com.

This article originally appeared in the 2019 May/June issue of PARCEL.