Rodney Dangerfield is famous because of his catchphrase, I get no respect. I have been to a number of conferences over the past several months (including my favorite PARCEL 07) and have had the opportunity to speak with shipping managers at all levels. One of the challenges that they face had a common theme, which I am sure will be of no surprise: The shipping department doesnt get any respect.
The shipping department is typically located in the back, out in the warehouse, and given the second-hand furniture and hand-me-down computers. Many top-level executives dont want to visit the shipping area because it is dirty, cold (in the winter), hot (in the summer) and is where the blue collars work. However, what they may not always realize is that it is shipping that is often the last chance to make a good impression on a customer. If a package is late, if the cost is too high, or if the package gets damaged, it can destroy the entire customer experience. The pressure to perform on time and with little budget is huge. Fuel surcharges are increasing, base rates are going up and new accessorial charges are being added. The ability to keep costs low or even predictable becomes increasingly difficult.
What is respect? Dictionary.com defines it as esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability. Most people do not understand the complexities of shipping. Whats the big deal? is the attitude. Just pack it and give it to the carrier. It may be difficult for others to have a sense of the excellence required to do the job. If you sometimes feel like your position is underappreciated, there is something you can do about it. You can educate your organization on what you and your team really do because they dont know.
Shipping managers deal with problems all day long as the saying goes, stuff happens. As hard as it may be to believe at times, every problem should be viewed as an opportunity. Once you figure out the cause of the problem, you can come up with a solution for preventing it from ever happening again in the future. This solution can be a new policy, new technology or a new employee. One way to earn respect is to communicate often how you or your team has solved a problem and how you accomplished it. You want to increase the visibility of shipping in your organization in a positive way. This can be as simple as writing something about your operation in the company newsletter, intranet, blog or making an announcement at an executive meeting. The objective is to get all the positive actions that your shipping operation performs noticed by other people in the company especially the executive team. This will take an effort on your part but will be worth it in the long run.
Create charts showing shipping volumes and the percentage of on-time deliveries. Post them in an area that is visible, and ask that key figures are announced in the company newsletter.
Announce changes that the carriers are making, such as the price increases or new services. Rather than talking about how much a new rate increase is going to cost the company, talk about it in terms of how the company will make a return on the investment.
Lead a meeting where you can provide tips on how to save on shipping (like letting the shipping personnel choose the service based on when the package needs to arrive) to how to pack an item properly.
Write and distribute what I call hero stories. These are short kudos regarding some action or task that someone on your team completed that was above and beyond the call of duty like staying late to get an important package shipped. This can boost the image of your department and acknowledge a well-deserving employee. A recent survey by Adecco
Shipping is a thankless job. However, if something goes wrong, you can be sure that the shipping manager is going to hear about it. The way to get respect is to educate the rest of the organization on the great work and necessary job that you and your department do on a daily basis.
Mark Taylor, MBA, DLP, is the President of TAYLOR Systems Engineering Corporation and the Chief Logistics Officer of RedRoller, Inc. He has been featured as an industry expert on ABC News and in the New York Times and is the author of Computerized Shipping Systems: Increasing Profit & Productivity through Technology.