What makes a warehousing and distribution center a standout among its industry peers? Is it great geographical positioning, superior IoT-enabled technology, or it’s beneficial contracts with carriers? The truth is, without the individuals who keep a given warehouse stocked, organized and able to pack and ship at a moment’s notice, it's little more than a very large concrete or metal box, filled with disorganized products. A trustworthy, intelligent employee is worth more, over time, than just about any product or component you could possibly stock.
From learned industry behaviors to innovative thinking, the humans between your shelves are the "brain cells" that keep your warehouse running. Lose too many of those cells, and you lose industry standing and reputation right along with them. Just as tasks like 3PL contract negotiations or making space for new product lines are integral parts of a logistics managers' job, so is the responsibility of attracting and retaining employees. Having too many new employees means a heavy burden of training and newcomer mistakes to contend with — so make sure you get it right the first time, and keep your talent in place.
Not a Buyer's Market Any More
A perfect storm of obstacles has created a difficult path for hiring managers in the warehousing industry. Not only is emerging talent largely unaware of the stability and benefits found in a supply chain job, seasoned employees might not have eyes on the newest job-posting sites and techniques, such as social media-driven recruiting. With this in mind, a smart hiring professional needs to take a proactive approach from the moment a position opens. It's no longer common practice to wait for job seekers to approach a company directly. Placing ads is, of course, a time-honored standby, but don't be shy about thinking outside of the classifieds box, either. Flipping expectations and approaching individuals directly, or even working with temp agencies — a likely location for those seasoned workers to land in between full time positions — for temp-to-hire positions can help you beef up your pile of potentials in a short period of time.
You also need to make recruiting a priority within your organization. If recruitment is treated as little more than a side project or a when-you-have-time type of task, you'll quickly see the meager results of less-than-enthusiastic implementation. Make it a point to establish a brand "voice" to show off to potential hires; detail why they should want to work for your company, rather than a rival. If the best thing you can say about your job is that it offers a steady paycheck, you're not taking the competitive nature of hiring seriously enough. List out your perks — your company culture, your insurance products, even small things like lunches for milestones or holidays. Build anticipation by portraying your company as a place that you'd want to work, if you weren't employed there already.
Make Them Part of the Family
Once you've attracted promising talent, don't make the mistake of taking them for granted. They'll definitely notice if you do — and act accordingly by leaving outright or exploring opportunities to do so. Loyalty is a precious commodity, particularly in competitive business circles, and it can't be bought with money alone. It needs to be cultivated with respect, inclusion and a listening ear from the C-suite on down. Your employees should never feel as if they don't have a voice, or that they're only present to do as they're told. There's a far greater chance at cooperation when you ask a peer to help you, versus commanding a subordinate to do a task. Warehousing and distribution can be a gruff, task-based culture to begin with, so make it a point not to pile on by barking orders or failing to communicate the reasons behind certain assignments.
Job satisfaction plays a large role in retaining talent, as well. Get to know your employees' strengths and be smart about connecting those strengths to new projects and needs within the company. Amy Clark of Supply and Demand Chain Executive notes that resources like continuing education courses present a rare "win-win" opportunity to boost company capability while enriching individual talent. Your employees will appreciate that you respect their intelligence and view them as an investment, and you'll gain new authority in necessary channels by educating your own in-house expert. If the time and resource cost seems steep in the moment, simply remember that building on existing company knowledge is always an easier route to take than starting from scratch with a new hire.
Be Open to Questions and Feedback
While you obviously want to attract smart, capable talent, initial skill alone isn't enough to guarantee a good company culture match. You, as a manager, will have to do some work to make that happen. In a widely-shared article for Forbes, author Victor Lipman stresses that the reasons qualified individuals leave companies seldom have to do with their position or even the company as a whole. Most often, they stem from a conflict of personality or philosophy with a manager.
Implement an open-door policy and make a point to discuss brewing problems with your staff before they come to a head. Busy warehouses and high tempers tend to go hand-in-hand, particularly in times of high volume. If you've worked to bring your staff into the fold, they shouldn't feel hesitant or intimidated to approach you with questions or problems. If you notice that your staff doesn't tend to approach you very often at all, go to them and ask how you can make your workplace culture a more inclusive one for their concerns and input. Like any professional relationship, communication is the driving force behind positive results. Give your staff room and privacy to discuss their grievances with one another, but make sure you also establish periodic staff meetings where they can officially bring up problems and even have the chance to contribute to policy-making.
Inevitably, there will be times when you lose staff, but use those times as opportunities as well. Exit interviews are one of the most telling data points for what you're doing wrong — and, of course, what you're getting right — when it comes to the treatment of your existing employees. If you have more than one employee bring up the same pain point in their exit interviews, then you have an ongoing issue. From there, it only takes one driven individual — you — to make sure that issue gets addressed. Cross-training and inter-departmental cooperation can also help you keep qualified talent within the company, if not in place in the warehouse. It's better to cannibalize talent under the same brand umbrella than to let an employee take all you've taught them, technique and industry-wise, to enrich a competitor.
Warehousing and distribution management teams need versatility and endurance to stay at the top of their respective industries, and that approach absolutely needs to be extended to staff as well. For the best team results, don't be afraid to mix age groups, specialties, and strengths while encouraging teamwork within warehouse walls. Stay vigilant for new recruiting places and techniques, but also take care to treat your current staff with the respect they deserve; hopefully enough attention to the latter will cut down on your need to pursue the former!