Any managerial role has its challenges but managing warehouse staff is somewhat different to overseeing an office department. For one, the jobs of those you need to support are considerably different and so require a unique skill set to manage. To help you along, we’ve put together a few steps to follow that should make you a good warehouse manager.
Still looking to hire a warehouse manager? It might be better to start with this post first.
1. Be approachable
There is nothing worse than having a warehouse manager you don’t feel comfortable talking to because then problems go unsolved, and this can make a good environment fester. Being approachable isn’t just about being a happy person with an open-door policy - although that helps.
It is also about managing your time well enough that those who need to speak to you don’t feel that they are a disturbance to your busy day. Even if that is the case it should never appear that way to the people you manage as it will discourage communication.
2. Understand the role
With this point, I’m going to stress that it is not just your own role that you need to understand, but also the role of every person you are managing. If you don’t know how long it takes one of your pickers to pick an order, or how a packer completes their function, then you won’t be able to competently manage them.
Why? Because part of managing a team is monitoring their performance against expected targets and these targets cannot be set if you don’t know how they are currently working. It sounds obvious but we’ve met warehouse managers who have been blissfully ignorant of what happens on the warehouse floor.
3. Set targets
As we mentioned above, it is super important to set targets for every member of staff that you manage. Targets not only give staff something to work towards and achieve, but they also enable you to identify those who are doing well to praise and those slipping behind so you can find out what the problem is and help solve it.
Tracking targets in a manual eCommerce warehouse is no easy feat but with awarehouse management system (WMS) you can have full visibility on every member of staff’s actions. A good WMS should also allow you to generate reports on how many picks per hour each operator manages which is an excellent key performance indicator (KPI).
4. Motivate to generate
Unless your job is to give kittens belly rubs, it’s likely that, on occasion, you will need a little bit of motivation to get through your shift. A good warehouse manager will know how to encourage their staff to help them achieve their assigned targets. It can be as simple as offering a small staff discount or something a little more thought out such as optimising pick routes.
We cover this topic pretty thoroughly in our motivational hacks for an eCommerce warehouse post.
5. Positive feedback
Remember that time you did something above and beyond at work and you got a pat on the back and a ‘well done’ for it from the boss? I’ll bet it put a shine on the rest of the day. That’s because we love to be recognised for our efforts, and why shouldn’t we? It really doesn’t take a lot to hand out a ‘good job’ to someone who deserves it but the impact it will have is massive.
Think of it in reverse. Ever done something above and beyond at work and not been acknowledged for it? It makes you a whole lot less inclined to go that one step further next time around, that’s for sure.
6. Embrace change
We all know the saying ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ but unbroken isn’t the same as being efficient. A manual warehouse management system might be getting orders out the door but if you’re not operating as efficiently as you can then it’s wasting time and resources. The problem that we encounter far too regularly, however, is meeting eCommerce warehouse managers who are averse to implementing an automated warehouse management system.
[Related:7 reasons to automate your warehouse]
Often, it is because they believe it is going to take months to implement, weeks to train staff, and will disrupt the entire running of the warehouse. In actual fact, the right eCommerce warehouse management system can be implemented within days and can take as little as half an hour to train operators on pick, pack and despatch. Not sounding like much of a disruption now, is it?
7. Making a team
Working in an eCommerce warehouse is not a lonely job and staff will be communicating with each other regularly. As such, a good eCommerce warehouse manager will put in the effort to make sure that their team are united. A good place to start is with social events outside of work so that people can find out how Mike the picker is an avid mountain biker, and how Karen from the pack bench once got expelled from an all girls school for putting washing up liquid in the fountain.
These relationships will help to build a more positive environment to work and might even help with productivity - provided the nights out don’t run on until 3am!
8. Keep them safe
Nobody loves to read the health and safety manuals sent down from HR but it is a duty that must be done. A good warehouse manager will take this further and actively ensure that their staff are working in a safe environment. This could be anything from ensuring that spills or leaks are cleaned up and fixed, to supervising the use of machinery such as forklifts when there are people walking around the warehouse.
9. Hire the best
The talent pool is overflowing with little fish that are keen to prove their skills and it is the responsibility of a decent eCommerce warehouse manager to find the best people with the necessary skills to perform their job well.
This links back to understanding the job roles of those in your team because without knowing that function as well as if it were your own job then you won’t be able to identify the right candidate for the position.
10. Performance development plans
So, you’ve hired your new champs; now it’s time to train them up for action. The best warehouse managers will develop a dedicated plan for training their staff and build up a personal development document which tracks the employee’s progress. This is great because it allows you to see where the employee is at, note the goals and targets set, and state whether they have achieved them after an aforementioned amount of time.
The other good thing about these development plans is that you can identify whether the employee might like to branch out into another area of the business. Acknowledging these wishes and helping to achieve them is an excellent way to established a trusting relationship with your employees.
11. Pay on time
Paying your employees on time isn’t a nice thing that you do for them - it’s part of your job. They have carried out their duties and it is your responsibility to ensure that they receive the appropriate compensation when it is due. Whether it is you that presses the metaphorical ‘pay’ button or not, you must ensure that all necessary information (shift rotas, logged overtime, holidays) is passed on to the right person in time for a pay check to be sent out to every employee.
12. Warehouse costs
Managing an eCommerce warehouse is not going to be cheap but there are a lot of ways to keep the costs down. The majority of this can tie back to the point about being open to new ideas and changes. For example, a paper warehouse management system drains money from an eCommerce business not just for the physical cost of a sheet of paper but also for the time it takes to manual sort orders, distribute them to pickers, and double check them at the pack bench, to name just a few tasks.
Investing in eCommerce warehouse management software could save the business vast amounts of time and money, and it is the job of the warehouse manager to identify these areas of change within the warehouse and present them to the rest of the business.
As well as having to communicate well with your own team, as we mentioned in the first point, it is also important for a good warehouse manager to talk to other areas of the business. As an example, if a problem occurs in the warehouse - such as an item cannot be located for an order - then the warehouse manager should contact the customer services department to warn them of the issue so they can respond to it proactively or be prepared for any complaints.