Dematic President and CEO John Baysore didn't waste his opportunity to get some market intelligence from customers on the opening day of his company's Supply Chain Advantage conference which kicked off in Park City, Utah yesterday. “Who's planning for e-commerce?,” he asked. Maybe half of the 400 in attendance raised their hands. Who's here to learn more about talent management? Far fewer raised their hands.
I can only surmise that e-commerce is a more understandable concept than talent management because three of the sessions I sat in on in the first day of sessions dealt with aspects of talent management—and those rooms had lots of warm bodies in them. So either the people who didn't raise their hands changed their minds and their agendas for that day or they didn't make the connection between talent management and concepts like encouraging discretionary performance, enabling people with disabilities to succeed on the job and designing a worker-centric DC atmosphere.
Don Kernan hosted the session on discretionary performance. The spotlight was on the safety culture at Supervalu's Midwest Regional Distribution Center in Oglesby, Illinois. Supervalu is best known for its chain of regional grocery stores. Kernan was a manager at this facility until he retired earlier this year and joined a team of Ph.D.s at the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies. This organization certifies facilities for their adoption of safety practices under the Critical Activities Management (CAM) program. He was surprised when he was invited into this role, considering the rest of his colleagues at the Cambridge Center would be scientists. Turns out they wanted his practical experience administering safety programs at Supervalu.
Where the rubber meets the road in establishing a safety culture is the behavior of workers. It can't be considered a program, but a commitment to an ongoing process, Kernan said. The Oglesby facility opened in 1998 to consolidate the retail business of 13 DCs. Kernan described a Hatfields and McCoys culture at the start. If people performed at less than 100% of a standard they were gone. People were afraid of their bosses. But the problem with performance standards is when people perform to meet them but they don't strive to exceed them.
The solution to both productivity and safety was found in moving away from corrective action and toward positive reinforcement built on experience and discretion. Hourly associates joined the safety management team. In fact they outnumber management on the team by a 60/40 ratio. They help the team identify behaviors that need changing as well as those that are desirable. That's followed by training those desirable behaviors, setting baselines and establishing goals. It took more than five years, but the facility was accredited in 2005.
Then came the company's purchase of Albertson's in 2006 and by 2010 this facility was re-accredited. The talent journey of those years culminated with a powerful symbol when the hourly associates hosted the re-accreditation ceremonies. The lesson for management from this journey? Everything you do is a behavior management technique—good or bad. By choosing good techniques and involving hourly employees in identifying those techniques, Supervalu cut workers' comp claims in half, which amounts to savings of millions of dollars a year. Good behavior is encouraged by peers and the entire organization enjoys the benefits.
A similar talent management theme came through in the session hosted by Scott Hines as he described Lowe's commitment to hiring associates with disabilities, both cognitive and physical. Hines is a regional manager responsible for 13 DCs. Lowe's created a culture that changed fear of disabilities into an environment where employees are given opportunities to succeed. Those opportunities come not only from management, but from peers.
Business requirements didn't change, and engineered standards still apply, but with all associates helping each other meet those standards, overall performance has increased 35% over four years.
That's not to say that every associate will succeed in this environment, and Hines said it's OK to let someone go if the fit between the associate and the environment isn't there.
Michael Coronado explained how the Container Store helps ensure a good fit between associate and company environment during his session. It's a formula that has helped make The Container Store one of Fortune magazine's Top 100 Companies to Work For over the past 13 years. Coronado credits CEO Kip Tindell's list of Seven Foundation Principles, which are corporate standards that every employee not only knows, but knows his or her role in helping the company live up to them. They are:
1. One great person equals three good people (you can teach a great person to do anything);
2. Communication is leadership (content of v.p. meetings is shared with associates on the floor);
3. Fill the other guy's basket to the brim (help your vendors be profitable too);
4. Best selection, service and price (sales people know the logistics of each product and inbound receiving employees know their impact on quality and service);
5. Intuition doesn't come to an unprepared mind (three quarters of employees in the DC are cross-trained to work in other departments);
6. “Man-in-the-desert” selling (solution selling means knowing a person stranded in the desert needs more than just water, but clothes and food as well);
7. Air of Excitement (happy people will not only perform up to engineered standards but their attitude will encourage colleagues to do the same).
If Mr. Baysore had taken his poll at the end of the Dematic conference's first day, I think many more attendees would have raised their hand to acknowledge their role in talent management.