Posted on 9th June 2023 at 15:05
Many years ago I had summer job picking and packing in a cold storage depot for one of the big supermarkets. You had to collect pallets and pick lists from the loading bay and then put the right amount of products into the right cages. If you filled a cage you had to go and get a new one and build it. If you hit your pick rate then you got paid a reasonable amount. If you did not hit your pick rate then you get paid poorly.
At 1st break, I searched for some workers who looked like they knew what they were doing and asked them how to do well. They said if you were friendly with the forklift truck drivers they would save you yoghurts. Apparently, yoghurts were the smallest and lightest thing to pick so you could pick the most and rarely had to waste time collecting and building a new cage as you could always slip them in the top. At lunchtime, I went and sat with the forklift truck drivers. I asked if any of them could help me out by saving me a yoghurt pallet or 2. Some agreed. When we started back to work I got my 1st pallet of yoghurt. It was amazing, so fast, so easy. At the end of the day, the pick weights were checked and I had hit my rate. This was unheard of for a new person.
The next day I got some yoghurts and got off to a great start. I went to sit with the forklift drivers at lunch and was promptly called to see the supervisor. I was told not to sit with the forklift drivers and to stay with the other pickers. This made it a bit difficult to chat with them so I decided to go out with them for a cigarette break even though I don’t smoke. I was hitting my rates and smiling and joking with people as I was working.
I was summoned to see the supervisor again. I was told not to laugh or joke on the warehouse floor as it was disruptive to the other workers. As a punishment, I was put on weights. This was the slowest thing to pick as each package you put in a cage you had to note the weight of the item. The items were large and heavy and often you would need a new cage. I persuaded one of the other workers to build a load of cages ready so that I would not waste any time. I got summoned again. The supervisor was furious with me. He kept saying “That’s not the way we do things here!”. I asked him “Why not?”
The mini-bus stopped coming to pick me up in the mornings and I stopped waiting for it to come. I think I was only there for 3 days.
Culture is just the way we do things. Most companies have two cultures. The way the managers and supervisors believe we do things and the way the employees actually do them. Sometimes the gap between the two is large. Our role is to recognise that. New people are often the easiest way to do this as they will see things that you cannot. Ideally, you want to make the gap between the two cultures as small as possible.
A great way to do this is to have great communication in all directions. The people who have to do the work often have the best ideas as to how to do it better. When was the last time you asked someone “What can I/we do to make your job easier or better?” Then take the time to listen, properly, without judgement.
I believe your employees have all the answers to your problems and issues. They know your business better than any expert or consultant you can bring in. The trick is to get the ideas out of their heads. Not all of their ideas will be great some of them may be impossible, but some of them could work and make a huge difference to your organisation.
Create an environment where ideas are asked for, then listened to and explored. You want your team to comfortable to suggest anything without the fear of rejection or humiliation. If someone suggests something you think is outrageous, don’t say no. Ask, How would that work? What about x? Who? When? Why do you think that is the best solution? Make sure you understand it. If you still need to reject it then explain kindly. “Thank you for that suggestion, my concerns about it are x. What do you think? Is there a way to get around that?”
If someone has the beginning of something interesting you could ask them to work on the idea further, perhaps to collaborate with someone else or a group and then report back or even present the idea back to you. Give them some guidance about how much time they can spend on it and if there is any budget available to them. You might want them to ask the wider team or test something.
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