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Cliff Holste

Supply Chain Digest
Material Handling Editor

Logistics News - Sorting It Out

Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

May 17, 2017

Sorting It Out : Dispelling Common Fears Associated With Automation Projects

Operational Improvement Projects need both Management & Employee Buy-in to Ensure Success


There can be no question that DC automation is proving to be beneficial for shippers across a broad spectrum of the logistics supply chain. From standalone islands of automation to integrated robotic systems, automated processes are becoming commonplace in the DC. Still, DC improvement projects, especially those that include automation, no matter how well intentioned they may be, can run up against stiff resistance from mid-level managers, line managers, and those employees whose jobs will be directly affected.

Holste Says...

By bringing good, but somewhat hesitant employees along thru properly structured re-training programs, turnover can be decreased and the chances for successful project adoption increased.

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Over the years I have been involved with the concepting, design, and implementation of both small and large DC projects. In just about every project there was some level of resistance that had to be overcome before the project could move forward. With that in mind, we have assembled the following list of (10) best practices that can improve the chances of employee buy-in:

  1. If consultants and/or corporate level employees are on the project team, make sure that they get along with and work closely with DC operations managers and supervisors. Technology adoption initiatives are most successful when they involve people throughout the company across departmental lines supporting and driving the adoption.

  2. Early in the planning and development stage, have HR meet with employees to explain what changes will result from the project and why company executives feel those changes are necessary. Reassure that professional on-site re-training programs will be made available to all affective employees.

  3. Get any new labor standards completed early so that employees know well in advance what the expectations will be.

  4. Create enthusiasm by providing those directly affected with specially made Tee-shirts, pizza lunches, or other appropriate ways to celebrate important project implementation milestones and show appreciation of their individual and team efforts.

  5. Do advance trouble-shooting with your IT department to anticipate issues like host interface and RF coverage for handheld and mobile devices making sure you have enough capacity to cover peak periods. Also, make sure they are up-to-speed on new software programs running the automation.

  6. Form teams of on-site trainers. It is often helpful to have actual users conduct the training. Classroom and hands-on training should be a part of your continuous improvement program.

  7. There can sometimes be a gap between older and newer “younger” employees when it comes to their willingness to embrace technology. By involving associates who can speak to the concerns of both groups, underlining fears can be exposed and alleviated.

  8. Devise some type of label and tracking method for all user equipment such as handheld and/or wearable scanners and create a problem-tracking log, especially in the beginning. Also, ensure that training and support processes are well established and in-place prior to the system going live.

  9. Supervisors may need additional coaching/training on managing with real-time performance tracking data and the quick response capability it provides.

  10. Position your project as an asset in your recruitment and retention efforts. This is especially important if automation technologies are being deployed.

The following are a few suggestions for dealing with the most common employee objections: 

  • For employees fearful of losing their jobs due to increased productivity: Instead of stressing the productivity benefits of the project, emphasize how user-friendly the technology is, and how it will make their jobs more enjoyable.

  • For employees fearing for their safety: Emphasize the number of workers across the industries that use similar technologies. There are, for example, thousands of DC workers using Voice Systems around the world every single day. You’ll also want to talk about the safety benefits of wearable computers, and how the headsets free up both hands and eyes, allowing employees to pay more attention to the surrounding environment.

  • For employees who are uncomfortable with change and new things: Be certain to make employees aware of the on-going training and mentoring that will be available to help them adapt to the change. Also, convey that technologies like RF, Pick-to-Light, and Voice are user-friendly, and becoming commonplace in the DC environment.

  • For bilingual workers who do not understand or speak the company’s main language very well: Reassure them that the deployment will not put their jobs in jeopardy; in fact, because of the many text and text-to-speech languages that are available, it will help them be even more effective and successful on the job.

  • For employees showing resistance after the changes has been installed: Employees might be concerned that the voice system (for example) will prevent them from talking to their co-workers, or that all their actions will be monitored. In that event, tell them you aren’t going to stop them from talking with each other – that there are ways of putting the system on standby temporarily. From a management perspective, the primary goal is for employees to meet their accuracy and productivity levels, while giving them some freedom in their on-the-job peer relationships.

While the above suggestions are general in nature, they can serve to promote more project specific ideas and discussion.

Final thoughts

In today’s hi-tech rapidly changing world, alleviating employee technology adoption concerns may seem unnecessary. Still, some will be slow to adapt and require a more gradual adoption process. By bringing good, but somewhat hesitant employees along thru properly structured re-training programs, turnover can be decreased and the chances for successful project adoption increased.

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