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Managing the Critical Role of the

Warehouse Supervisor
Training needs evolve as warehouse supervisors take
on increasingly complex supervisory functions.
2007 Volume 10 Issue 4
This article describes the changing role of warehouse supervisors, their competencies,
job reuirements, and training needs! It presents five "e# ta"eawa#s for managers! The
data stems from an original research project conducted b# the authors and funded b#
the former $ouncil of %ogistics &anagement, now the $ouncil of 'uppl# $hain
&anagement (rofessionals! The project represented, at the time, the largest grant in the
histor# of the $ouncil and was completed in 1)))!
(hoto* +ries
The warehouse is a core logistics activit#, one that cannot be entirel# automated awa#,at least
not in the near future! -arehouse emplo#ees. jobs are changing to incorporate more duties once
associated with other logistics activities, especiall# purchasing, inventor# control, and customer
service! 'pecificall#, warehouse supervisors need detailed "nowledge of operating tas"s along
with significant management s"ills! -arehouse supervisors. jobs now span organi/ational levels
and are critical to the performance of the logistics and warehouse operation!
These changes alter the wa# firms hire, train, and develop warehouse supervisors! The# demand
more education, better training, and freuentl# updated training for the people who ta"e these
critical jobs! -hat firms once neglected or left to chance must now be managed carefull# so that
these critical members of the logistics team can deliver effective, efficient warehouse
performance! These are the people who oversee operations 0on the ground!1
To better understand these changes, the authors undertoo" a multifunctional, multi,organi/ational
job classification stud#, the first of its "ind! In this stud#, the researchers too" a sample of logistics
jobs and established a baseline for evaluating job changes in the future as well as for current job
reuirements and training needs! Through interviews and additional surve#s the authors
attempted to put the job classification findings into a broader conte2t! This article focuses on the
growth and development of one job famil#,warehouse supervisors!
The article is divided into two parts! The first part features the methodolog# used in the stud#, a
summar# of the "e# findings and ta"eawa#s, and a description of warehouse supervisors, their
competencies, job reuirements, and training needs! The second part discusses five "e# findings
to consider when developing a training approach! It concludes with a summar# of the
Common Metric Questionnaire CMQ!
To gather data, the $ommon &etric 3uestionnaire 4$&35, a descriptive surve# of logistics human
resources practice, was used along with formal and informal interviews! 6rom 47 logistics
organi/ations, 872 responses to the $ommon &etric 3uestionnaire 4$&35 were received! The
sample was a selected convenience sample and the 47 organi/ations included manufacturers,
asset,based third parties, non,asset,based third parties, retailers, and financial institutions!
$ompanies ranged in si/e from 19 to more than 100,000 emplo#ees! The researchers visited 89
sites in 20 states to gather data! The# also conducted 79 formal interviews with top managers
and more than 200 informal interviews with managers, supervisors, and operating emplo#ees!
:lso, 1)2 companies responded to the descriptive newsletter sent to them b# the researchers!
CMQ" #escription and $dministration
The $&3 boasts a validation database of over 100,000 observations on ;,000 job families! The
$&3 is comprised of more than 7,000 items, although each subject was li"el# to address onl# a
subset of that total! <esponses to the $&3 reveal critical "nowledge and s"ills for job
performance, the freuenc# with which these s"ills are used, and the wa#s in which s"ills and
"nowledge were obtained! The responses also show job activities, such as attending meetings,
lifting heav# objects, and interacting with people inside and outside the firm! These results fall into
four domains, ;0 dimensions, and 17 second,order factors! This detailed uestionnaire helps
determine competencies, job reuirements, and training needs for each job famil# in the anal#sis!
3uestionnaire items also cover demographics, job basics, and "nowledge reuirements!
The $&3 is rarel# used in academic research because of its length and the potential impact on
response rates, however, it addresses issues identified in the literature as critical* identif#ing and
recruiting the right people and finding and identif#ing the right training!=1> The information it
generates allows a firm to build better training s#stems, lower human resources costs through
better recruiting and retention, and lower operating costs with better,prepared emplo#ees!=2> The
information is vital to organi/ations of man# si/es, including small businesses!=7> The $&3 gives
managers the depth of information the# need to ma"e good decisions and helps them create
legall# defensible job descriptions with onl# four or five observations per job classification!
#ata $nalysis
The data were anal#/ed using the $ommon &etric '#stem 4$&'5, a proprietar# s#stem coupled
with the $&3! $&' clusters the data into job families based on the responses the researchers
selected for inclusion in the anal#sis! Initiall#, seven a priori job families or clusters were
identified* senior management, logistics information s#stems, warehousing, material and
inventor# control, transportation, purchasing, and customer service! Three researchers assigned
each response to these fields with a first,time classification inter,rater correlation of 0!)9!
<esearchers then wor"ed with the e2ception responses to reach consensus, ultimatel# producing
an inter,rater correlation of 1!00!
The pre,classified responses were then put in a cluster anal#sis b# job famil#! : job was retained
in a classification onl# if its joint correlation with the other responses was 0!70 or higher! In this
wa#, researchers were able to classif# all 872 observations into 22 job families* one for broad
responsibilit# senior management, two for logistics information s#stems? si2 for warehousing, four
for transportation, two for purchasing, three for customer service, and four for material and
inventor# control!
<esearchers also interviewed the subjects of this anal#sis e2tensivel#! This helped to put the
statistical anal#sis into an organi/ational conte2t and allowed the researchers to interpret $&3
Job Desc!"#!on
-arehouse supervisors wor" in the difficult middle! The# must understand and often do the wor"
of operating and clerical emplo#ees, but also perform management tas"s! These jobs are
comple2, calling for freuent decisions and almost constant activit#! The# supervise up to 80
emplo#ees, freuentl# attend meetings to help with human resources decisions, and chair
meetings to schedule wor", resolve conflicts, and informall# e2change information!
-arehouse supervisors must "now ever#thing pertaining to the warehouse operating and clerical
jobs! The# need high level supervisor# s"ills, training s"ills, and interpersonal s"ills! The# also
need to "now about supplier and customer procedures that ma# affect warehouse operations!
%hoto" William %icard
$ndes#and and a""%y &ae'o(se and !n)en#oy con#o% "oced(es !n accodance &!#'
co*"any "o%!cy. :ll warehouse emplo#ees are reuired to possess this competenc#, but
warehouse supervisors must have a significantl# higher understanding of the compan#.s policies
and procedures as the# train operating emplo#ees and coordinate their wor"! The# must "now
ever#thing the operating and clerical emplo#ees have to "now, including the proper functioning of
correctl# calibrated euipment and data entr# procedures!
$se s("e)!soy s+!%%s #o cood!na#e #'e ,%o& o, -oods #'o(-' ece!)!n-, s#o&a-e, ode
"!c+!n-, and s'!""!n-. Though it seems obvious that supervision is central to supervisor# jobs,
the number of true supervisor# jobs in logistics is declining! If supervision is seen as the personal
oversight of the wor" of another, logistics supervisor# jobs are diminishing rapidl# in number and
growing in span of control! 'upervisors must understand performance appraisal, motivation,
communications, and meeting management! 'ince the# freuentl# chair meetings attended b#
their subordinates, the# must understand how to use meetings for training, conve#ing and
gathering information, and gaining consensus! The# must also understand how to run a meeting
so that emplo#ees do not feel their time has been wasted!
6inall#, warehouse supervisors must understand how to run a safe, efficient warehouse operation!
The goods must flow through uic"l# to meet customer and client demands while ensuring
emplo#ees. safet#! @elping people in warehouses avoid injur# is a major tas", one with
implications for the personal welfare of the emplo#ees and the financial welfare of the firm!
A""%y +no&%ed-e o, s(""%!e and c(s#o*e "oced(es #o !*"o)!n- &ae'o(se
o"ea#!ons.'upplier and customer logistics policies and procedures can affect a warehouse
operation dramaticall#! -arehouse supervisors must understand those procedures and policies
well enough to understand the effects on their own operations! @ow well the firm adapts to these
reuirements ma# have significant customer service implications that could determine whether or
not a customer sta#s with them! :lso, efficienc# and effectiveness of warehouse operations ma#
be affected profoundl#!
Co**(n!ca#e e,,ec#!)e%y &!#' ,e%%o& s("e)!sos, o#'e e*"%oyees, and *ana-es #o
ac'!e)e s'o# and %on-.#e* -oa%s. This is a minor modification of the operating emplo#ees.
competenc# and applies to ever# logistics emplo#ee because of the interactive nature of the
wor"! %ogisticians do not wor" alone, but a supervisor.s job performance is especiall# dependent
on the wor" of others!
Inco"oa#e a%% #'e co*"e#enc!es e/(!ed o, &ae'o(se o"ea#!n- e*"%oyees and c%e!ca%
e*"%oyees. To train others in a job, supervisors must "now what the others "now and what the#
do not "now! 'upervisors not onl# need the same competencies as operating and clerical
emplo#ees, the# need these competencies at a higher level than the people who wor" for them!
&o' Re(uirements
-arehouse supervisors. jobs reuire supervisor# s"ills, self,management s"ills, euipment
operation, the "nowledge base of all the emplo#ees the# supervise, and a thorough
understanding of the overall suppl# chain! The list of reuired job s"ills and "nowledge is long for
this job famil#, but that is because this is one of the most comple2 jobs in logistics!
Training )eeds
-arehouse supervisors. euipment training needs are e2tensive because the# oversee and train
operating and clerical emplo#ees in the use of a broad range of euipment! :n important addition
to this list is the understanding of the correct functioning of properl# calibrated euipment! :
training specialist interviewed in the course of this research pointed out that emplo#ees are often
blamed for incidents caused b# poorl# set up or incorrectl# calibrated euipment! 'upervisors are
generall# assigned to give this training because as long,term emplo#ees the# are the ones in the
organi/ation who ought to "now how the machiner# is supposed to wor"!
'upervisors reuire the same ph#sical s"ills as the people who wor" for them, although the#
probabl# do not use those s"ills as often! &ore criticall#, the# need to understand these s"ills,
especiall# safe lifting and handling!
The level and range of interpersonal s"ills increases dramaticall# for warehouse supervisors
compared to operating and clerical emplo#ees! -ith as man# as 80 emplo#ees wor"ing directl#
or indirectl# for them, supervisors assume major human resources duties including performance
appraisal, motivation, and chairing meetings! &an# managers and supervisors do performance
appraisal poorl# because the# do not "now how and because the# hate the process of telling
someone e2actl# where the# stand! &uch of the reluctance to carr# out the process correctl#
comes from ignorance! This is a significant training need!
:nother need is for training on how to train operating and clerical emplo#ees, which supervisors
must do on an almost dail# basis! Training should also pla# a role in their performance appraisal!
The "nowledge base reuired of supervisors is broad! The# pla# a significant role in creating
gender,neutral and non,discriminator# wor" environments and constantl# affect the attitudes of
the emplo#ees who wor" for them! The critical needs cover the technical and interpersonal s"ills
that help develop supervisors in their current jobs and prepare them for promotion!
*ey Takeaways for Managers
F!s#, warehouse training tends to be unstructured and informal! <eliance on unstructured,
informal, on,the,job e2perience 4ABC5 as the centerpiece for training invites high turnover, poor
e2ecution of procedures, and low morale!
Second, warehouse supervisors wor" in managerial and operating arenas simultaneousl#!
$onseuentl#, their training should contain operational and managerial components!
T'!d, "e# training needs for growth and development include stress management at the
operating level, training as trainers at all levels, and training in conducting meetings!
Fo(#', long,term programmatic training and development should begin at the operating level!
6irms with s#stematic training programs for operating emplo#ees, supervisors, and managers
have low turnover, capable supervisors, and savv# managers! The result is improved time,to,
competence, more effective problem resolution, higher productivit#, and lower damage rates!
F!,#', potential sources and partners for training are unreali/ed and underutili/ed! Training should
be offered to emplo#ees through a variet# of sources, including communit# colleges, universities,
training firms, -eb,based training, associations, and consulting firms! Do one source is li"el# to
provide ever#thing, but properl# blended, the training can become part of the wor" life of
emplo#ees at all levels!
-arehouse supervisors are responsible for assuring that warehouse processes are consistent!
Through their direction, their subordinates develop and carr# out action plans designed to achieve
this goal! $ompetence in this job is based primaril# on each individual.s interpersonal s"ills and
technical abilities! :s with the other job families, warehouse supervisors acuire most of their
"nowledge through on,the,job e2perience!
-ithout significant investment in actual on,the,job training 4ABT5 vs! the traditional on,the,job
e2perience 4ABC5, the optimi/ation of the warehousing process is highl# unli"el#! &ore li"el# is an
increase in stress due to the flattening of the organi/ation and the increased speed of the
environment due to globali/ation and technological advances!
Training should focus primaril# on two areas! 6irst, focus on the best use of computer resources
to optimi/e the warehousing process and the e2change of information! 'econd, focus on
identif#ing interpersonal wea"nesses and developing programs that will strengthen or eliminate
the areas of wea"ness!
-hile it can be e2pensive, training should be a non,negotiable item for the future well,being of the
organi/ation.s warehousing area! -ithout it, a number of wea" lin"s will develop and slow the
output to a tric"le of its potential! $osts can be minimi/ed b# choosing the right source of training
and the right content to suit each job and each person and creating a series of partnerships that
benefit the logistics organi/ation, the emplo#ees, and the training partners! Those who adopt
these necessities will become the leaders in their increasingl# global environments!
'ome of these "e# ta"eawa#s ma# seem obvious but the# are often the subject of lip service, not
practice! Cver# manager "nows these things should be done, but most firms do not practice them!
Ee# decision,ma"ers see training and development as costs, not as investments!
In conclusion, these changes or lac" of changes translate directl# to the bottom line of the
organi/ation! An the one hand, goods not handled correctl# must be replaced with no additional
compensation while poor or unstable deliver# times lose customers! An the other hand, /ero
defects and on time deliver# produce lo#alt# and higher profits, a distinct competitive advantage!