10 Ways to Keep Orders Moving During Your Busiest Season
How to keep order pickers on top of fulfillment needs
I received a newsletter the other day that really hit home during this busy Christmas season. It was about keeping warehouse order pickers motivated in their work and I thought, “That’s really key during peak seasons when highly stressed workers can get burned out quickly.” So, how do you keep order pickers moving when they’re already under the gun?
1. It’s about giving workers a reason to try harder
When worker output is over and above the norm, why not bonus that worker’s pay for the exceptional results achieved? This practice is called gainsharing and it motivates workers by giving them something extra in the paycheck to shoot for. They share in the gains of extra productivity by getting a piece of the profit pie.
2. Make the job more efficient and easier to do
Incorporate operational improvements that make it easier for order pickers to do their job: Slot products correctly, reduce steps needed to retrieve items, automate where possible. In this way, the facility itself aids workers in doing a better job. Do things like bring the bins to the workers with a simple conveyor from shipping to the picking area. Bring product to the picker with horizontal or vertical carousels. Then, a conveyor from order picking to shipping. Or, install automated vehicles that move orders to appropriate locations. Save workers time and steps by keeping them in their work areas.
3. Give them steady work
Don’t mess around with split shifts, varied work days, and varied work times that add to income worries workers face – especially at peak seasons. Make work hours reliable and shifts dependable for workers. You’ll also cut down on the need for temps to fill empty slots.
4. Use open book management
Let your workers in on how company finances look. When employees understand a company’s financial picture they are more likely to try to find ways to improve the picture – especially when improved performance and profits translate into bonuses. Here at Cisco-Eagle, we use open book management with monthly financial meetings company-wide so that all employees know where the company stands. We also have a “bucket” program – when sales and revenue reach certain key indicators, employees receive a bonus. It really builds worker enthusiasm as we track the numbers needed to reach the next “bucket”.
5. Keep the long range in view
Give your workers a sense of stability by focusing on the bottom line and doing what’s best for the company. When workers know that the stock holders aren’t the only focus, they tend to believe there’s a reason for sticking around and giving their best effort. Consider turning your company into an employee-owned operation, so that the share holders are the workers. When workers feel they have the chance at a career with a company, they will invest more of their personal time and effort into making it a success. Cisco-Eagle is an employee owned company, and it really makes a difference in the kind of worker attitude that exists in the workplace.
6. Reward exceptional workers with new opportunities
We all get bored once we have the job down pat and see no change on the horizon. When boredom sets in, motivation goes out the window. Keep worker enthusiasm high by allowing workers to earn their way into new positions and new responsibilities. Assign key workers to problem solving teams, allow them input into system improvements. Let them take ownership of certain work areas. A sense of ownership allows workers to manage themselves more effectively. When workers have something to look forward to, that positive attitude carries over into everything they do.
7. Teach them better ways of getting things done
Train, train, train. When workers understand their responsibilities well, they perform better. They don’t hesitate or waste time trying to figure out how something is done. Regular training doesn’t have to be boring – it can help workers find ways to improve the system. When they know how things should be done, they can offer more to the success of the operation.
8. Don’t forget safety best practices
Safe practices enhance the security and enthusiasm a worker has for his job. When they aren’t worried about hazards in their work areas, they can enjoy their job more and do it more smoothly, increasing productivity and net profit. Safety isn’t only about avoiding injury. It is also about making workers feel safe in what they are doing and where they work. When workers have clean, well-lit facilities to work in, they feel appreciated and valued. Keep them safe and they’ll reward you with better performance.
9. Shine a light on quality
Let workers know that the bottom line isn’t the only focus in your company. Let them know that quality is right up there at the top, too. When workers know that offering their best is valued, they will give more out of a sense of pride. When quality of performance is noticed and rewarded, morale increases and others begin to take extra effort in how well they do their job. Simply giving well placed kudos can make a huge difference in the quality of work you receive.
10. Make the process more mobile
If your pick workers are having to walk across the warehouse in order to check out order information or inventory data, you’re wasting their time. Give them portable workstations that allow them to access a computer terminal locally instead of at some distant location. Do all you can to bring important job components to them so that their time is spent in the pick area doing their job – picking.
Motivation can be easy when you do it right
One of my managers pointed out something about motivation that has really stuck with me – you can lead with a carrot or a stick. The carrot will always outperform the stick.
Do all you can to provide carrots to your workers and keep the stick for the really serious offenders who probably need to be working elsewhere anyway. Happy workers are motivated workers. When they enjoy their job, they’ll give a lot more to the completion and quality of what they do.
Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.