A Better Culture On The Production Floor

By Ryan Cates,
nGroup VP, National Sales and South East Region


Years ago I worked with two 3PL’s that had cross-docking operations in the Southeastern US.  On paper, the businesses were strikingly similar.  Both supported big box retailers with highly manual processes.   They had dramatic fluctuations in volume and frequent interruptions to production planning due to upstream supply chain issues.  The companies paid market competitive, but relatively meager wages, and had a workforce primarily made up of minorities.

However, their cultures were as different as night and day.  So, what made these two similar operations so different?

  • Facility condition: Facility A was well kept, brightly lit, a strict 5S policy was in place, and it had a nice break room for the associates with TV’s (typically playing ESPN) and games (foosball, air hockey, etc.).  Facility B was perpetually messy, proper equipment was frequently in short supply, and the break room was way too small with nothing that would make it a desirable place to be.  Care to guess which operation had more turnover?  The work was tough and the pay wasn’t exceptional, but Facility A was a place where employees were  generally happy to be.  The good will shown by the management team at Facility A transferred into a camaraderie amongst the workforce that sustained a productive culture.

For the record, if you’re thinking “That sounds expensive”, we’re not talking about anything opulent here.  Just basic maintenance with a little extra effort and an eye for the people working on the floor.

  • Personal discipline:  The GM at Facility A was a former ship captain and he ran his building like a well-run ship.  Everything went in its place at the end of each shift, daily production meetings were succinct, and people were expected to be prompt.  The expectation was that problems would be handled at the lowest level possible and genuine crisis were few and far between.  He typically walked the floor no more than once per shift with a heads up to management and interacted with the workers and made it a point to know most of their names.

 On the other hand, Facility B didn’t have daily production meetings because the belief was that they were pointless.  We tried to have them a couple of times and sure enough, they were.  Everything was handled as it came up and , unfortunately, not much got handled.

There’s a lot more that goes into creating great company culture but, if you’re looking for improvement, creating a good facility environment and enforcing personal discipline are perfect places to start.