Congratulations! You made it through one more year. Hopefully, you are not kickstarting 2023 by kicking the can down the proverbial distribution row. There are distribution and supply chain managers that may avoid doing any new projects for a multitude of reasons, but the only way your facility will run better and your team will get better is by looking at the tools your facility needs and starting the projects now.
I recently visited a facility that desperately needed an overhaul on layout, process, and opportunity assessment. There were huge gains to be made by just doing a few things. After we made our final recommendations, the Vice President of Distribution said, “Look, I’m retiring in two years; I don’t want to start a project.” Do you have this type of complacency in your network? It can be detrimental in today’s environment.
It all boils down to people, process, technology plus automation. Let’s break it down and review some of the things you can do to improve your facility right now in 2023.
People: Do you have a team culture? Some facilities have fragmented teams. They may have a good supervisor in shipping who has built a successful team atmosphere, but over in order picking, the lackluster supervision and high turnover lead to a diminished throughput. Not to mention, many employees may want to transfer to shipping when there’s an opening. People and team building is hard, but it is so valuable and worth it in day-to-day operations. If you are not a people person and feel you are lacking in this area, find a number-two person that is strong in this area. The people employed by your facility want to enjoy their jobs and work in an environment where they feel appreciated and valued. Unfortunately, you can’t go to a vendor and buy a package of teamwork. This is something that you have to develop and nurture in your facility, especially since teamwork environments will reduce turnover and improve accuracy and efficiency. Now is the ideal time to start a program and evaluation process of your supervisors on “teamwork.” Your stars will shine, and you can have them teach the other leaders their techniques.
Processes: It’s always a good idea to review your processes at the end of the peak season to see where they need to be tweaked. In each functional area, identify the weak points and what your options are to improve these areas. It may take an investment, but oftentimes, it just takes a small design change. At least identify all the process changes that need to be or could be done. Then take this list and prioritize them as to the value that each change will bring to your facility. Once you have prioritized the list, look at the top 10. The ones that don’t need any investment, put on your to-do list and get the ball rolling. The ones that need investment, put them on your budget list. Small investments may be able to be completed this year, while others may have to wait for the next fiscal year, but the point is to identify and have an action plan for making this area better. Although, you may identify an area that will save substantial dollars (in shipping, for example). This may require an emergency cash intake to accomplish but will save the company big dollars. Recognize and reward supervisors and managers for identifying opportunities to save money.
Technology has changed in the last five years. There is truly no reason for your team to be working in the dark ages (green screen) or without proper reports and information. The popularity of cloud/SAS offerings have made WMS, TMS, and other systems affordable for even the smallest of companies. As a manager, you may think your job is to review all the supervisors and handle corporate communications but the best supply chain executives understand that the real job is to provide the right tools for your team.
Automation is something many are looking at to avoid the labor shortages experienced in the most recent past. Automation is not going to be a short term fix, as most companies have a backlog of two years or more. It may be, however, something you need to review, determine the fit and need in your facility, and plan for in the future. If you have automation or are implementing a system, please keep your employees in mind. One facility spent millions on implementing a new system and trained one (yes, one) person to run it. This employee was good and knew everything about the system. Unfortunately, when he got sick, they were stuck and had to call the vendor to send a very expensive tech person to work until the new person could be trained. If your company is doing automation, train an extra two people per shift on the new equipment. A duplicate person in today’s world is not redundant.
Susan Rider, President, Rider & Associates, and Executive Life Coach, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the January/February, 2023 issue of PARCEL.