Expert Insight: Supply Chain InView
By Ann Drake
Date: Jan. 19, 2008

Logistics News: Challenge Employees to Engage Best Thinking

Tapping Into A Great Source Of Innovative Ideas -- Your Own Employees

People who run companies sometimes forget to tap into a great source of innovative ideas -- their own employees! Especially in a field such as logistics and supply chain management -- where day-to-day, hands-on efforts require employees to be alert, engaged, and resourceful -- some of the best ideas can come bottom up from operations.

Best Practices and the Distribution Workforce

Typically, the workforce at a distribution center or logistics center is a combination of managers, long-term hourly employees and temporary workers. Managers may be accustomed to passing along ideas and the temp workers may be expected to concentrate only on the task at hand.  The loyal, hardworking hourly worker in warehouse or transportation operations can be encouraged to see the big picture and the small details. Trouble-shooting and problem solving are part of the job, and their proactive thinking about ways to do things better is a vital component of making the supply chain more efficient and effective. Without capturing workers’ insights and making them part of best practices, how many great ideas are walking out the door each night?

The Customer, Company and Team

As part of our company’s annual Founder’s Day, using a theme of “We Think Better,” we challenged all of our employees in the field to send in to corporate the best ideas they and their co-workers had come up with since the beginning of 2008. We suggested three areas of focus for the ideas: the customer, the company, and the team. The response was both surprising and gratifying. Within a one-month period, more than 83 ideas were submitted – covering a wide range of topics, from steps taken to improve the first experiences of new employees, a homegrown recycling effort that saved the customer nearly $1700 during the first year, to ingenious ways to meet volume fluctuations.  Their ideas touched on critical business areas, including network design, warehousing operations, transportation solutions and management, information systems, customer collaboration and customer service, workforce utilization, employee relations, business process integration, accounting, quality control, and environmental initiatives.

An Idea-Generating Campaign and Best Practices

An idea-generating campaign such as this is one way to unearth bright ideas with the potential to become Best Practices. The ideas must then feed into a process through which they are vetted and evaluated to determine the positive impact they could have on cost, service, responsiveness and work processes. This is the nuts and bolts of continual improvement – a concept that is generally lauded, but much more painstaking to achieve. The immediate benefit of asking employees to share their best ideas can be a more involved, more motivated workforce who believe that their company’s leaders care what they think.

Agree or disgree with Drake's perspective? What would you add? Let us know your thoughts for publication in the SCDigest newsletter Feedback section, and on the website. Upon request, comments will be posted with the respondent's name or company withheld.

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profile About the Author

Ann Drake is Chief Executive Officer of DSC Logistics, a leading third-party logistics and supply chain management company. She has been a long-term member of CSCMP and WERC and is Vice Chairman of the Business Advisory Council (BAC) for the Northwestern University Transportation Center.

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Drake Says:

Without capturing workers’ insights and making them part of best practices, how many great ideas are walking out the door each night?

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