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...focused on the natural behavior of people and how it often gets them into trouble, so, too, do warehouse managers suffer the follies and face the foils of everyday life "on the floor." The articles in this series highlight those behaviors in the context of the warehouse, discuss the reasons behind those behaviors, and why they're important to learn from.
Human beings tend to be nostalgic. We have fond memories of how life used to be, how business operated, and how people behaved. Fact is, life then was just as difficult as now, people were just as rude, and businesses failed just as often.
On your last job search, how much effort did you put into understanding the financial stability of the potential employer? Did you study the public financials? If it was a privately held company, did you ask to see the latest financial results? No?
Do you know how to polish the poop?
Years ago I worked for a rather profane leader. The man knew how to drop a load of invective, although he did have the social awareness to know when he had to be reserved and when he could cut loose and carpet F-bomb the room.
Sometimes while he was inspecting warehouse operations he would comment while he nit-picked the details of the operation. "I am just picking the peanuts out of the elephant poop," he would say.
The first part of this article requires a little imagination.
Imagine a stream of water in a meadow. The water starts in the hills above the meadow, slowly flowing from a small lake out of sight. The stream is not large, only about a foot wide between three- to four-foot-wide banks as it passes through the meadow.
How would you describe the flow of the stream? Peaceful? Slow? Perhaps relaxed?
Now imagine that same stream in a raging thunderstorm, the kind that throws down over an inch of rain in an hour. Imagine there is so much water from the rain that the stream is full from bank to bank, some water spilling out in some of the lower spots. How would you describe the flow? Angry? Raging? Chaotic?
What changed in the stream that caused our our descriptions of the flow to change?
A week after I started as a warehouse supervisor, my DC Manager, Tom, started to worry about a handful of measurements:
Every day at 8:30 we had a meeting in his office. The DC Secretary (we did not start calling them Administrative Assistants until years later) would come in and post the numbers on the whiteboard that faced the DC Manager’s desk.
I would not use the word fun to describe the morning meetings.
Claude sat in his usual spot, a Styrofoam cup of coffee in his hand and a clipboard on his lap, with a cigarette hanging from his mouth he totaled up some numbers by hand with his #2 pencil. I leaned on the lateral file cabinet along the other wall, working the figures on my tally sheet. Sherri came in, posted the numbers on the board, and took her spot.
Tom lit up a cigarette and looked at the board for a minute.
“What happened to the labor number, Dave?”
That damn stubborn labor number.
I knew that to get our labor cost below 2%, one of two things had to happen. Either our shipment value had to increase dramatically, or I had to find a way to cut the labor cost.
The oppressive heat of the Arizona desert summer yielded to what the locals call the change of season. I didn't know how the change in weather was going to affect the shipments out of the distribution center. I knew from my past experience in the Midwest that the fall was never as busy as the summer. I was about to learn that it was a different story in the Southwest.