Changing Your Warehouse's Culture

On one of our recent warehouse projects, something struck me that I knew existed but always seemed to lurk in the background. This particular project brought it to the forefront. It is a simple observation but one that can cause havoc in an organization. What I observed was the staking out of territory to the point that the sum of the parts was far less than the whole.

It is human nature to want to protect your turf and do what is best for your area of the operation. When we look at the warehouse function and the multitude of other functional areas that impact or are impacted by fulfillment, it is frightening to think that the “silo” mentality is as strong as it is. With all of the external issues a company faces today, the last thing you need are internal conflicts that are aimed at sub optimizing the profit potential of the whole business.

There are many ways that this phenomenon manifests itself. One way is the approach that is based on the supposition that everyone else needs to change the way they handle their jobs and everything would be all right. Looking inward to see where improvements can be made is a tough process. It is much easier to look for ways that others can change. This attitude will never result in effective change taking place that can improve your business.

READ: 38 Fulfillment Cost Reduction and Productivity Improvement Ideas
A second approach we see involves the desire to make changes in one part of the operation without consideration for the entire business organization. Making changes to save $1 in the warehouse and cost $2 in shipping is probably not a good decision. It is necessary to look at the big picture to see what impact the change might have on others. In this way you are able to make the best decision for the business.

A variation on the above theme occurs when there is not one individual looking out for the good of the entire enterprise. Someone needs to drive the change process from a corporate level who views the maximization of the enterprise as the key driver for change. Forcing change is difficult enough but to get someone to agree to make a change that might negatively affect their operation for the good of the overall business is a real task. It takes a leader to make the tough calls that can benefit the big picture at the expense of some parts of the business.

One aspect that makes change difficult is the way in which employees are recognized and rewarded. The old adage says be careful what you ask for, because you might get it. People will do what they think will be rewarded. If you have preached cost control for years in the warehouse and then all of a sudden expect them to come up with ideas that might increase warehouse costs but reduce overall expenses, you may have a long wait.

Getting staff in sync with the corporate good is tough but well worth it in the long run. Changing culture is not easy but if you suffer from the “silo” mentality, you are missing out on potential opportunities.