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Are you the problem?

Are you the problem?

by Dick Friedman

At some fastener, tool, industrial and MRO distributors, the warehouse manager really can’t manage, which causes several problems that impact customers and company profits. Problems include picking and shipping mistakes (such as sending less than ordered, sending the wrong items), low productivity (sometimes due to time wasted when picking), excessive turnover and other operating costs, uncaring workers, accidents and alienating co-workers.

The failure to manage comes about when a great warehouse line worker (picker) is promoted up the ranks to warehouse supervisor and then to manager of the warehouse, but without any training and education in management. He or she simply does know what is required to manage subordinates. Here are a few aspects of managing that up-the-ranks warehouse managers should be taught. The people they report to may also need education in more effective management of the warehouse manager.

Communication. Even before computers existed, effective managers needed to be able to communicate with the people they supervised, in ways that subordinates understood (verbally and in writing). Today, non-verbal communication may require using email or texting, not just pen and paper.

Technology skills are mandatory these days, so warehouse managers must be able to use the distributorship’s ERP system and other warehouse technology, such as a warehouse management system (WMS), barcode scanners and controllers for automated storage and retrieval equipment. He/she must be able to use any mobile devices that are used in the warehouse (such as tablets) and be able to access the internet (for example, to purchase MRO items he/she is required to manage).

Decision-making skills require the ability to use high-school level math, the ability to express alternative actions in dollars and cents, and the ability to define the likelihood and possible risks (financial and otherwise) of alternatives. It’s also necessary to take non-quantifiable factors (such as the impact on worker morale) into account. And be able to make a decision in a timely manner.

Interpersonal skills refer to the ability to relate to other peoples’ concerns and desires, which often are not about money. These skills are needed for interacting with colleagues and the manager’s supervisors, not just subordinates.

Planning examples include: budgeting for expenses controllable by the manager; determining how many workers will be needed for each task (e.g., picking) on each shift; scheduling; determining how to make the warehouse environment a safe and comfortable place to work; developing preventive maintenance plans for equipment; determining who would work overtime. Planning might also include determining how much equipment (such as barcode scanners) would be needed for the near future.

Organizing includes evaluating and hiring warehouse workers and their direct supervisors (and firing when necessary); determining which workers will perform which tasks (such as receiving) on which shifts, and who will supervise them in each area on each shift. Organizing can also involve participating in decisions about where items will be stored.

Coordinating examples include talking with IT personnel about the technology needed for barcode label printers; meeting with subordinate supervisors to discuss who can work in which areas of the warehouse; talking with customer service personnel about customer feedback; meeting with company executives regarding warehouse-employee benefits.

Leading includes more than just directing subordinate supervisors and line-workers. It includes educating new and veteran subordinate supervisors and workers; training employees in using technology; mentoring subordinates (so they can advance to become a supervisor or the manager); developing and documenting procedures and controls; staying informed about workers’ personal situations (as an example, sick family members).

Controlling examples include monitoring picking and shipping/delivery accuracy/timeliness, and worker productivity; and communicating sub-par performance to supervisors and workers. Controlling also includes reviewing the performance of subordinate supervisors and workers, and ensuring that workers are using technology effectively and efficiently.

With unemployment at the lowest level in decades, it’s understandable that distributors promote line-level warehouse personnel to managerial positions when more qualified people can’t be found or would cost too much. But that’s no excuse for not training the new manager in the principles and practices of managing a warehouse.

Dick FriedmanFor more than 40 years, Dick Friedman has been helping fastener, tool, industrial and MRO distributors prevent inventory shortages and warehouse mistakes that lose sales and customers; and helping them select ERP, e-commerce and WMS systems, while avoiding the problems and pitfalls. Dick does not sell systems, software or warehouse technology. He is a certified management consultant and is objective and unbiased. Reach him at (847) 256-1410 for a free consultation, or visit for more information or to send email.

This article originally appeared in the November/December. 2017 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2017, Direct Business Media.


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