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What Managers Can Learn From Warehouse Workers


If you’re looking to improve your manufacturing process or supply chain, talk to your warehouse workers.

Managers and executive leadership can learn a lot from their workforce. The insights given by employees can help managers:

  • solve problems they haven’t even thought of.
  • improve the production process or the end product.
  • keep employees happy and with the company.
  • discover future leadership from the factory floor.

The same way it “takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a full team to grow a business. Here are 4 things that management can learn from their warehouse workers.

1. Problem Solving Happens Every Day

during any work day, your warehouse employees will encounter several issues. It could be a small paperwork error that incorrectly fills an order. Or the problem may be so staggering that it shuts down your entire supply chain.

A smart warehouse workflow recognizes the reality of mistakes. And they plan accordingly. Take Amazon for example:

Amazon fulfills billions of international orders every year and employees over 300,000 workers. At an Amazon warehouse, “problem solver” is an actual job. They employee quality assurance experts that catch mistakes before they ship. Not only do these workers fix problems, but they provide feedback to the person(s) who caused the error.

You might not even know what problems your warehouse is facing. Talk to your floor supervisors, foremen, and laborers. Stay in the loop with the difficulties they face. While it may be a worker’s job to solve problems, a powerful leader eliminates problems completely.

2. Improvements Come from the Workforce

Think about the people who work an assembly line. Or the technicians who operate manufacturing machinery. For forty hours a week, these employees execute the vision that management has conceived.

These frontline workers are in-touch with what they are producing. Mark Dohnalek, President and CEO of Pivot International, believes warehouse workers “will see problems and figure out solutions” faster than executives will.

Look to your warehouse workers for suggestion that improve workflow. Their ideas could relate to equipment positioning, the assembly and manufacturing process or storage procedures. Whatever it is, solutions that improve baseline operations generally come from the warehouse floor.

3. Appreciation and Feedback Keeps Workers Happy

Manufacturers and other industrialists are facing two challenges with their workers: keeping employees interested and attracting new talent.

According to a survey conducted by Gallup, only 23-25% of transportation, production, and distribution personnel describe themselves as “engaged” with their work. While people are willing to exchange time for money, they may not be happy with their work.

The skilled laborers currently working in these spaces are reaching retirement age. But most young people don’t want to work in warehouses. According to Peter Schnorbach, senior director of product management at Manhattan Associates, millennials aren’t “lining up” to take these jobs.

Usually, talent attraction and retention is as simple as providing competitive pay. But the manufacturing and distribution process usually maintains low margins. So, how do you make employees happy and keep them working in your warehouse?

Start by listening. Gather honest feedback about employee working conditions. Find out what’s the hardest part about their job. Learn what makes them happy to go to work. Build a company culture that values your human capital.

Show your warehouse workers that you appreciate them. Consider incentives you can offer, such as:

  • Company sponsored functions (retreats, BBQs, parties, etc.)
  • Mandatory, paid vacation days.
  • Profit sharing and/or stock options.
  • Weekly catered lunches.
  • Investments in employees facilities (a break room, a kitchen, an on-site gym, etc.)

You can start small. Install an anonymous feedback system that lets employees be heard. Wo whatever you can to let your laborers know they matter.

4. Leadership Begins at the Ground Floor

By listening to your employees for advice and showing you care, you empower them to make decisions. And when it’s time to find your next manager, you can start by looking to your frontline.

Looking for leaders within your company provides several advantages. It motivates your workers to do a better job. It opens the door for insights from the people who handle your operations. And it creates smarter executives that know their industry from the ground up.

Costco regularly finds managers and C-suite talent from their warehouses. President and CEO W. Craig Jelinek believes you can’t understand how management decisions affect a warehouse “unless you’ve worked in one.

In Summary

Your warehouse workers can teach you a lot about how to grow your company.

The ideas they can share will help you solve problems before they ever happen. Recognize potential mistakes and create a system to catch them.

Employees can generate ideas that leadership may never consider. They are literally more in-touch with your product than you are. Look to your warehouse workers for ways to improve the product and the process.

The feedback your employees give you is the key to their happiness. If you create a positive working environment, then you create a productive working environment. Listen to your employees needs and take care of them.

Promoting from within can turn the best workers into innovative executives. Develop the future of your company from your own talent pool.

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Topics: Warehouse Management