Average Rating: 5.0
Your rating: none

Just add value

Are your employees passionate about managing your inventory?

by Danah Head

warehouse managerImagine this scenario; you walk into your warehouse, your financial vault. As you stand there, you have no idea of the actual locations of anything or of the value of these stored items that your entire workforce and their families depend on for their livelihoods. You are just an innocent person, standing in awe at the towering magnificence. The whole time you are enjoying the view, you are not envisioning current dollar value, future value, dead or dying in stock; no one’s paycheck depends on the sales of it all. This is just cool stuff all over the place.

Maybe you would be staring at tiles, or gaskets, or in today’s economy, an unimaginable pantheon of steel coil. In any event, the feeling would be so neat to just stand there blankly and enjoy every breathtaking moment of every box, stack and bin of materials. All the workers around you are bustling about happily, whistling some friendly tune in unison. You can even imagine going back to your desk and coloring the day away with a brand new box of crayons and getting paid for it. Sigh.

Unfortunately, that is not reality for anyone with any experience in the supply chain universe. Sometimes when you walk in your warehouse you immediately step into unbridled fear, uncertainty and trepidation. Maybe when you walk out there you are disappointed and saddened because no one seems to care as deeply as you do about the stacks and bins and boxes of your company’s inventory/money. This is not just a job for you, this is your life, your bread and butter, your reason for getting out of your bunny slippers and leaving a half a cup coffee on the bathroom sink every day to fight traffic and pay off mountains of student debt. That, my friend, is passion.

Most anyone reading this article will probably never get the joy of walking into a warehouse as I previously described. However, many of the people working in and around the warehouse, and selling your inventory on a golf course, do just that. Every day, they show up on the job for whatever reason motivates them, whether it’s money, family, obligation or simply out of habit. The idea is to align their motivation with your company’s to protect your inventory from unnecessary loss.

As I grew in my career and education I found myself standing in a big, grown up corporate inventory-filled warehouse. I also found that not everyone around me shared my deep passion for keeping the inventory safe. Not everyone thought it was completely amazing when a cycle count came out 100% on target. I was stunned to find that properly storing, packing, counting and shipping our product was an irritation to most of the warehouse employees. So I went on a mission. The mission was to instill the idea of value into the people responsible for my company’s inventory. My goal was to prove to the warehouse team the real value of our inventory. We could come together and be even more successful than I could fathom on my own.

When this all began, most of the people who were bunny-slipper-less and working the warehouse were mad, angry, disappointed, or just overwhelmed and unmotivated. I kept asking myself why this was happening. Why are the people that are touching, counting, shipping, moving, displaying this beautiful thing, this inventory, this money that pays all of our paychecks, why are they so grumpy? The answer was difficult to find because everyone before me had gotten muddled in the symptoms of the issues, not the actual issue. I’ll even bet that reading this just now you said the word in your head in a very Jerry Seinfeld-to-Newman way: management.

The answer was not necessarily management, it was an utter lack of understanding by the people who were hired to protect the inventory. They did not understand their roles. The worst part is these were the people behind the big semi-truck-sized doors, toiling in the heat, dust, grime and boxes, shipping tape and time crunches. Each of them with nearly 10 or more years of service to the company. They were tasked with daily goals but did not even realize the reason why. When asked, they would say that their role was to fill their personal bank accounts and occupy a hole in the company roster.

What boggled me was that these people cycle counted like expert mathematicians, whizzed up ladders, had a virtual 3D map in their brains of every bolt, plug, gasket and insert we owned and recalled each one with amazing precision. However, they still didn’t get the point. Most people faced with this problem would be back to pointing the finger at management and say, “If only the employees were paid more” or “If only the employees were treated better.” It’s an easy Band-Aid answer, but not an issue solver.

Moving Forward
Change came from investment, not in more inventory, but in the people who worked in the concrete and steel, forklift-driven, sweaty warehouse world. I started by making sure each person understood their role. The question they needed to answer was: Why is their “job” one of the most important in the company? Each person is a face of the company. Every time a package goes out of the warehouse with our dollars/inventory safely tucked inside and contents correctly counted, it represents their personal value. As time progressed, the warehouse employees bought what I was selling, which was the truth. Leading from a non-management role by example and banging the drum of personal individual value, each one became more than a manual laborer.

These people grew individually into key players in the grand cycle of inventory life. Positive, even tactile change, simply happened. The dust cleared, loss lessened, accountability set in naturally, problem solving and solution finding became the norm. None of that happened because management changed, and definitely not because I told them to, or because a paycheck was consistently cut. This happened because each person was given the chance to understand fully how important their role was to the inventory and thus the company as a whole.

When these employees get out of their bunny slippers now, they know that they are the protectors of the bottom line. They are not just forklift drivers, they are sales men and women who make sure the customer has a good experience when they open their boxes or pallets, thus generating return business. They are protectors of the cycle count, and they can and will want to dig deeper for answers to why cycle count is off.

Find out what your warehouse staff really think. Ask them what they think they do every day. Question them about why do they drive to work every day. Then ask yourself what you wish they thought and figure out how you can instill your passion into them.

Danah HeadDanah Head is an executive advisor for The Distribution Team, which specializes in helping distributors. She has an MBA in Technology Management for Supply Chain and completed work for her Masters in Adult Education and Corporate Training. While pursuing her education, she worked in different purchasing and supply chain roles within the manufacturing industry. Her real-world experience and technical training help her find the best solutions for warehouse and distribution companies. One way she does this is via a virtual business simulation game designed to dispel common business misunderstandings for the whole team. For more information, call (918) 992-5022 or e-mail Also be sure to visit The Distribution Team online at

This article originally appeared in the Jan./Feb. 2016 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2016, Direct Business Media.

RE Tell me more!
Posted from: Rod Wood, 3/10/16 at 3:18 PM CST
I liked the post
Tell me more !

Post comment / Discuss story * Required Fields
Your name:
E-mail *:
Comment *: