Make sure you invest in the right kind of warehouse leadership

With fifteen year’s experience of logistics in a managerial position, I have noticed two very important things that many companies overlook in warehouse logistics, the first one is leadership, and the second is the importance of a suitable WMS, which I have written about in previous articles.

In this article, I focus on leadership in the organization from the site manager or warehouse manager down the organization. When I visit colleagues in the logistics business, they often tell me how much they have invested in new facilities, new hardware and new technology. When I ask how much they have invested in leadership at the warehouse usually answers become quite scarce. For some reason, it look different in the production-based industry, they invest more in leadership. I would say that there is a big difference in leadership between manufacturing and warehouse logistics. In manufacturing, the pace of production is determined and held by machines or assembly lines. Effectiveness depends very much of the performance of machines and assembly lines. Leadership is not as much about the difficult discussions concerning the employee’s productivity or the pace of work, the leader has a more coaching or supporting role.

The warehouse logistics are different. The managers decide the pace of production. Assignments are already in WMS and entering the system continuously during the day. This means that leaders must constantly follow up and evaluate whether each employee holds the determined pace. If an individual does not keep pace, the manager must give feedback to the employee. I often find that many companies underestimate the manager’s difficulty in giving feedback and the importance of giving feedback correctly to the employee. Many managers avoid giving feedback because they are afraid that there might be a conflict between the manager and the employee. Instead, they close their eyes and letting the pace of productivity go down instead.

As you probably can imagine, it is possible to reduce personnel costs on educating managers in a warehouse, you can reduce the number of man-hours considerably with good leadership.

You may think that a more authoritarian and aggressive management style is the correct leadership. According to me, it is not the right way to go. What I advocate is nothing new, it is a model that identifies and clarifies the most important components of an effective and healthy organization. The model, which I advocate is called Radical Collaboration. The authors named James W. Tamm and Ronald J Luyet has written a book with the same name, which I strongly recommend if you want to learn more about the model or program.

What is unique about this model? Well James and Ronald has identified five essential skills an organization need if it going to be healthy and effective. Five essential skills that are vital if you want to take your company or warehouse to the next level. If you want to develop an organization, you have to start with each individual and in particular the leaders. The five skills are:

  1.  Collaborative intention: Stay non-defensive and commit to mutual success in relationships.
  2. Truthfulness: Create a climate of honesty and openness that allows people to feel safe enough to discuss difficult issues.
  3. Self-accountability: Take responsibility for the consequences of your actions.
  4. Self-awareness and awareness of others: Know yourself and others well enough to explore difficult interpersonal issues.
  5. Problem-solving and negotiating: Negotiate your way through inevitable conflict.

If an organization can develop and educate leaders and get them to embrace Radical Collaboration and these five skills, it can get surprisingly positive effects on productivity and profitability.

Radical Collaboration is evidence-based, that is a big reason why I chose this model in my organization. There is lots of research and studies supporting Radical Collaboration. Thousands of books in leadership and organizational development is released every year, very few of them are evidence-based. It is important to be critical when you invest money in leadership and organizational development.

Why are Radical Collaboration so effective in warehouse logistics? Well to get an efficient inbound logistics and maintain the productivity it requires that leaders follow up each individual and provide both positive and constructive feedback on performance. In order to keep down the number of man-hours which is one of the more expensive items in the warehouse you need to be flexible and move resources from one department to another in the warehouse on a daily basis, sometimes from hour to hour. If your leaders do not have the tools to communicate with the staff in a correct way, you will have an organization with suppressed conflicts and disloyalty to the company.

If you do not educate and strengthen the leaders in your organization you get a leadership that avoids giving feedback and move resources. It will be very negative effects for your company and warehouse. You will not have the productivity that you should have. A leadership based on Radical Collaboration also helps to increase communication, improve the cooperation between employees, and give the staff tools to solve problems and conflicts without help from managers. It benefits productivity.

Radical Collaboration has very good educational tools to clarify the difference between a healthy organization and an organization with problems. These tools are perfect if you want to educate all staff at all levels in the organization.

I will not go into the depth of Radical Collaboration but I warmly recommend you to read the book with the same name, and I recommend you to implement the model in your organization or warehouse. Leadership is by far the most important factor to a successful warehouse. It does not matter how much you invest in hardware and technology if you do not have an organization that is loyal and working together to achieve the company’s goals.

Radical Collaboration also applies to lean, many companies educate their organizations in lean. Without proper leadership and a healthy organization, you will not get the desired effect of lean.

Hope you read the book Radical Collaboration and choose to implement it in your organization. Based on personal experience I can say that it is a fantastic experience that gives very positive effects, both in personal development and in economic terms.

Roberth Karlsson

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