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Are Your Working Supervisors Hurting Your Productivity?

Recently, a CIO reached out to me with an observation that got me thinking. He noticed supervisors in the warehouse would become so focused on the task right in front of them that they would lose sight of the big picture of what was happening around them.

Turns out, it’s something many senior supply chain leaders are all too familiar with, and it has major implications for supervisors within your organization.

Here’s why: It’s human nature that when we experience stress, we rely on activities we’re familiar with and can do efficiently. When it comes to the world of warehousing, many supervisors enjoy augmenting the floor and feel it keeps them connected with the tasks and people they’re managing. One common thought is it’s good for workforce morale to have management working side by side with associates, particularly during crunch times as working supervisors add an extra layer of surge capacity. Given the tight labor market, it may seem like a necessity at times.

The Big Productivity Question
So do the best supervisors roll up their sleeves during spikes to keep orders and inventory moving? Well, maybe not. It turns out this is a short-sighted tactic that has long-term implications for your business.

From Top Performer to Supervisor
Many organizations reward top area performers by promoting them into supervisory roles. Often, leadership does not take the time to assess whether the person who excels at completing a task is also the best person to lead a team of people to do those tasks. To use a baseball analogy, does a good pitching coach need to have been a world-class pitcher?

The Problem with Focusing Only on the Task at Hand
When a supervisor focuses on completing specific tasks in the area they are managing, they lose the big picture. They focus on the next step in the process or what issue is immediately in front of them. This is often whichever issue is “yelling” at them the loudest. Without proper training, these supervisors miss the other cues in the area they should be managing.

Additionally when a supervisor jumps in to complete routine work, they will be interrupted for supervisor-level questions/issues. These interruptions mean working supervisors perform at a lower level compared to when they were the leading associate in the area. For some this means not meeting their personal expectations, which can be discouraging.

But the bigger issue is that a working supervisor has little to no time for trend analysis and broader troubleshooting. They become more reactionary than proactive and will often miss simple trends as they become a firefighter of daily issues. Supervisors need to actively manage their area instead, boosting morale and solving strategic challenges.

Proof Point: Try This Simple Exercise
Drive home from work with the radio and phone off. Make a list of 20 things you observed during your drive. The next day on your drive home, talk on the phone the entire time. Then make another list of 20 things you observed. Compare the two lists and look at how detailed the first list is compared to the second. When you apply this scenario to your business, you can see the impact of lost supervisory oversight and analysis.

Can Working Supervisors Benefit Your Organization?
The short answer is yes, but these resources need to be trained so they can develop the skills needed to expand their focus beyond the task in front of them. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t invest in this. But they should.

There is no guarantee that good workers will be good supervisors, as each role requires a different skill set. The disconnect happens because people generally do what they know and neglect what they don’t know. Throwing your top performer into a management role without the proper skill development is a recipe for failure. It is as critical to invest in training your supervisors as it is to train frontline employees. Communication, delegation, and situational awareness can all be taught. Without these competencies, the supervisor becomes the area’s limiting factor.

These are skills seen in many facilities with unionized workforces because supervisors are prohibited from performing tasks outside of their roles. If they do, they’ll be met with a grievance complaint from the union. This forces them to develop new skills in the areas of delegation and trend analysis.

Consider the following when promoting a top performer to a supervisory role:

o What leadership skills do they have?
o Can they delegate?
o Can they train others?
o Can they effectively support and mentor your industrial athletes, the hardworking men and women completing the physically demanding labor on the floor?

How 4SIGHT Can Help
There are several ways you can enhance workforce productivity. The first is by implementing a labor management program that helps you work smarter and not harder given limited people resources.

• Select and implement a Labor Management System (LMS). Companies typically see a 20% – 30% improvement with an LMS and can get more done with fewer resources.
• Develop Engineered Labor Standards to evaluate individual/team performance.
• Train supervisors to be coaches of your industrial athletes
• Structure and implement a pay-for-performance incentive program

You can also focus on minimizing waste by using intelligent warehouse design and adding automation where it adds value. This includes:

• Evaluate pick media selection
• Assess facility layout and product flow
• Identify opportunities for automation and establish ROI projections

4SIGHT is here to help. Contact us to help you get started.

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