This last year may have you wondering who broke a mirror, causing seven years of bad luck, or when we will emerge from doom and gloom. As I write this, we are faced with weather issues, second and third variants of the virus, political polarization, and the never-ending battle to find and retain good employees. The extreme strains of the past year certainly have broken a few supply chains, and as many scramble to get to the other side, we must take a few moments to examine where the weak links were and what we can do to make things better before the next wave of unforeseen disasters.
On the bright side, (and there’s always a bright side if we look for it), the happenings of this past year broke the weak links, making the areas that need attention, focus, and action extremely visible.
First, you may find that your HR team needs to update their outdated methods for recruiting and attracting new associates. No longer does a simple wage increase attract the younger, more culturally motivated employee. Applicants today are more interested in the quality of the workplace, the onboarding process benefits (free lunches go a long way, surprisingly) and the overall treatment and appreciation of the team. For distribution centers located in many areas that have seen an abundance of growth, there is a need to think creatively while trying to recruit the next level of good team members.
Second, a glaring need in many distribution centers is forecasting. Being able to prepare for peak days, overflow days, and down days gives the DC managers an opportunity to prepare. A concentration on sales and operation planning (S&OP) communication is the best practice. Unfortunately, in most companies, this has not trickled down to the DC operations, with the DC managers being the last to know when products change, new business happens, or when there is a major change in business philosophy. The old attitude of, “Just give it to the distribution centers and they will figure it out” is still in existence and thriving. What can you do? Many distribution center managers complain that they are just a pawn in a huge chess game and never informed or included in conversations. Unfortunately, this is very true. Even when the senior supply chain executive is sitting at the table, information rarely trickles back down.
Third, e-commerce companies have seen a boon like no other in the last 12-18 months. People that had previously never used the internet to purchase groceries or supplies are now using this method. Does that mean that when the pandemic is in the past that the increased infrastructure will be obsolete? Hardly; many believe that this new influx of habits will create a new normal. The new normal will be continued usage and comfort of internet ordering and less brick-and-mortar purchases. Do the malls become ghost towns? Some may not survive, while others will get creative in the new “order/pick up mode.” New designs will encompass this new way of shopping, becoming a new norm. What that will mean for multi-channel retailers is a renewed focus on an intermittent layer of inventory over the entire network. It will become imperative to know the inventory and have complete visibility of where, how, and when to ship.
Lastly, eliminate errors that may cause problems downstream. If your team is manually using data input for any process, look at ways to reduce or eliminate all manual data input. We are human, and finding that perfect human being that never makes mistakes is a fairy tale. In these trying times, when overtime is more common, associates are more likely to make mistakes. Already stressed out people become even more stressed as they are tired. Therefore, the human element will continue to make mistakes.
Unfortunately, some facilities merely increase the number of checking. Increasing checking by three times does nothing more than increase the number of people and the number of hours everyone must work. Eliminate the manual input with the right technology solution. The operative word there is the right technology solution. One e-commerce company finally decided it was time to get a WMS; unbeknownst to them, they selected an antiquated piece of software that would not allow multiple locations for a single SKU. The company was currently storing their top five percent SKUs in pallet picks, case picks, and each pick. Yikes! A manual workaround was called for, setting the company backwards once again. The best thing to do is ask for help. Selecting a piece of technology, automation, or a new process is a major step for most companies and getting an experienced person’s opinion is always beneficial.
Susan Rider, President, Rider & Associates and Executive Life Coach, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2021 issue of PARCEL.