When I was 11 years old, my Little League baseball team lost every game. We lacked discipline, made fielding errors and generally failed to get on base. But we still managed to enjoy ourselves. Unless the coach has aspirations to be the next Billy Martin, how could you be 11 years old on a baseball field and not enjoy yourself?
Our coach was no wanna-be Billy Martin. He coddled and prodded and yelled a bit, as coaches do, but after every loss—and even sometimes after practices—he would take the entire team to Dairy Queen. That's the summer I developed a taste for Peanut Buster Parfaits.
The next year was different. The coach's financial situation changed, so we didn't go to Dairy Queen nearly as often. We had a lot more fun though. What had been a team of mostly 11-year-old kids became a team of mostly 12-year-old kids. At that age one year makes a huge difference in speed, strength and coordination. That season we went, as the saying goes, from worst to first, winning our league and the championship.
The point of this little trip down memory lane is that while it's enjoyable to play around and celebrate over ice cream with friends, it's a lot more fun to win. It's the same in business, whether you work on the frontline in sales, or in a factory or distribution center. It's more fun to be part of a company and an operation that is performing at superior levels and winning in the marketplace. That's the message of Dr. Leonard Berry, a marketing professor at Texas A&M University and author of Discovering the Soul of Service (The Free Press, 1999) and several other books on service excellence.
"It's more fun to work for an excellent serving company. It's more fun to work for a company that makes customers happy," says Berry. "It's more fun to work around competent energized people. It's more fun to work for a manager who believes in customer satisfaction, delivering value, and taking care of customers no matter what. It's more fun to work in an achievement culture in which excellence is recognized and rewarded."
If you think that such a "customer service" focus doesn't apply to your factory or warehouse because there is no direct customer contact, consider that one of the prime examples that Berry cites in his book is The Container Store. The storage product company's distribution center, as Vice President Logistics and Distribution Amy Carovillano explains, embodies the same winning service attitude and "air of excitement" as its retail stores.
Does all of this mean that you can gauge your unit's performance by asking employees how much fun they are having? No. You can only imagine what kind of responses you'd get to that question. To find out whether you're winning or not, you have to keep score. Operations managers know this of course. But tracking performance often gets lost in the day-to-day crush to get orders out the door, or the metrics don't reflect what employees can influence, what customers care about, or are so site specific that they cannot be compared to other facilities.
Material Handling Management magazine wants our readers to excel. We want factory, warehouse and distribution center managers and employees to be at the top of their game. We want you to deliver superior value to your customers, and achieve superior efficiencies for your companies. And yes, we want you to have as much fun as possible doing what you do day in and day out.
With those goals in mind, in this issue in conjunction with two research partners—The MPI Group and Industry Insights—we are launching the Census of Distribution. The results of this survey of operational practices and performance metrics will help material handling managers identify how their operations are doing in relation to their peers and the industry as a whole, and identify specific opportunities for improvement.
Yes, the survey asks a lot of detailed questions, but the value of most benchmarking initiatives reflects the effort and depth of commitment. That said, we've formulated questions and requested industry-standard metrics that should be readily available for most warehouse and distribution center managers. Rest assured that all responses are completely anonymous.
Unfortunately we can't take everyone who fills out the survey to Dairy Queen, but all participants will receive the Executive Summary of the research results and the opportunity to use a unique online benchmarking tool. Fill out the forms and mail them in, or submit your answers online today. I thank you in advance for your participation.