In the warehouse, it is not uncommon for an outstanding forklift operator to be promoted into management. Yet the promotion decision is frequently made because of an outstanding work effort, not because that person has any training or experience in managing the activities of other people.

If the newly promoted supervisor or manager fails, the effect on the warehouse can be quite severe.

Frequently, the failure is accompanied by a deterioration in housekeeping or timely receiving of product. At other times, the failure is marked by excessive turnover of hourly workers, absenteeism, or even more serious people problems such as theft or workplace substance abuse. Many times, the management failure is marked by any combination of these symptoms.

The hallmark of good warehousing is well-motivated and effective people. The recruiting and retention of such people is a prime function of a warehouse manager.

Avoiding the miracle diet

The "quick diet" approach of management development just doesn't work. Managers are not taught in school how to manage a group of people, and one doesn't learn this by reading a book alone.

Learning how to manage a group of people to achieve results may require a complex set of activities. Improving management skills requires effort and practice.

Leading a group of people is more than organizing and planning. It is more than being a highly skilled forklift driver. The leader must develop skills in three basic activities:

  • Selection of competent people
  • Development of these people
  • Motivation of these people

Underlying these basic activities is a need to develop a genuine understanding of people, how they work and what motivates them.

Picking the right people

In the warehouse environment, the penalty for putting an improperly trained person in charge of a work crew can be severe. In more than one situation, an informal revolt by the work crew has made it impossible for the newly appointed manager to achieve any progress at all.

In one case observed recently, the result was that the new manager was dismissed because the warehouse operation seemed to be getting worse each day. It was apparent that the new manager had failed to obtain the respect and support of the people working in the warehouse.

The right person in the job yields profits. If you put the wrong person in the job, besides creating turmoil and a lack of results, you have the expense to replace. You can lose both in terms of money and missed opportunities.

There are six things you must do to select the right person for the job:

  • Clearly define the job.
  • Agree with your team on a statement of the essential behaviors required to do the tasks.
  • Review the resume.
  • Identify the behaviors of the candidate. An effective interview is essential to making the right choice of people.
  • Match the behaviors of each of the candidates to the job requirements.
  • Choose only the best candidate, an individual who manifests the majority of skills listed in your statement. Do not settle for the best person in a mediocre group of candidates.

In contrast to manufacturing, the tasks performed in warehousing are usually difficult or impossible to closely supervise. Therefore, you must find and develop independent and trustworthy workers who will provide quality work without supervision.

People development

Developing people means giving every person an opportunity to perform on the job and to risk mistakes. To develop people, you must:

  • Provide feedback (tell people how well they're doing the job, as well as their weaknesses).
  • Coach in a way that will improve each person's performance.
  • Communicate your expectations.
  • "Extinguish" (or do not reward) inappropriate behavior.

Many warehousing people feel they do not get the attention or respect that is given to others working in customer service, production, sales or other more visible business activities. For this reason, the feedback, coaching, training and counseling that can be provided by a warehouse manager are of particular importance.

Motivation and recognition

Your program to motivate people must include these four steps:

  • Find and utilize the internal incentives that are important to each person. This requires a clear understanding of what motivates the individual.
  • Be sure to lead a cheering section when you see a great performance.
  • Provide tangible incentives for jobs well done. Maintain and constantly refine a reward program.
  • Enforce the rules.

Because warehousing is an activity that frequently allows promotion from within, a good warehouse manager can raise morale by identifying and using leadership capabilities that appear within some individuals in the work crew.

Recognition of outstanding performance will inspire each worker to improve, and when an outstanding person is successful in making the transition from forklift operator to supervisor, others in the group realize that anyone can advance in the organization if he or she possesses the talent to allow a promotion.