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The boss is on top, and those below, in successive and (usually) ever larger echelons, support the boss.

Several years back I met with Dr. Samantha (Sam) Kurtz. who introduced me to my favorite management axiom, an inverted pyramid.
She said that the boss is the one who supports the organization, and is the least important person in the pyramid.

Consider a furniture delivery

Let’s assume that while presenting a dining room suite, a salesperson points out the grade of the fabric, the quality of the joinery, the durability of the finish and other relevant information. “You will be very pleased with our professional, white-glove delivery,” she assures her customer. “We will contact you when the furniture arrives in our warehouse, when we intend to ship it, the day of the shipment, and an hour before we arrive! I promise.” Now, the salesperson is officially out of the loop, and the warehouse takes over. Who plans the delivery? Who completes the sale? Who is the face of the company at the final point of delivery? Who keeps all the promises made by the salespeople? The drivers. The “bottom layer.”

Suppose the drivers don’t keep the salesperson’s promise. The warehouse mislabels furniture and the wrong items are delivered. Consider the impact of not inspecting the goods prior to delivery. Who does all that? The so-called “lower echelons.” So from an owner’s point of view, you’re really not looking down, you’re looking up. If the people who are closest to your customers fail, you fail as well. That’s a pretty humbling arrangement in my eyes. It requires a lot of trust and energy to keep an organization like that running.

Warehouse employees don’t feel respected

There are several very large problems that exist in most furniture warehouse settings. First among these, there is a lack of respect. In only a small handful of warehouses do warehouse employees feel a connection with the larger company including the sales staff. A store in Idaho that I’ve worked with has this down to a science, and it was wonderful to feel the synergy between the teams, but the vast majority of furniture retailers relegate their warehouse or distribution centers to the lowest level of respect.

Eight Ways to show lack of respect

Take a truthful look at your own operation and you may find some or all of the following situations that can indicate lack of respect for the delivery and warehouse side of your operation.

  1. The owner never visits the warehouse and cannot name key players on the floor.
  2. A disparity exists between the sales staff and the warehouse, with sales receiving preferential treatment and facilities.
  3. There are no interactions between warehouse personnel and sales staff except as is necessary.
  4. The proverbial us vs. them mentality is present, with departments within the company acting like fiefdoms or little islands of secrecy and egocentrism.
  5. Complacent or outright neglectful warehouse management ignores basic safety issues and deals with employees as aggravations personified rather than as useful sources of feedback.
  6. Points of authority or responsibility are absent from the warehouse, resulting in a situation where no one really knows who is answerable to whom about key issues like quality and safety.
  7. There are ambiguous or cost-specific policies regarding quality and customer expectations.
  8. There is a partial or total absence of enforcement of company policies with regard to the mission statement or published SOP...and the list continues.
Without showing respect for people on the delivery side, you can not expect to get respect in return, for yourself, for your store or your aspirations. When addressing warehouse and delivery problems it’s essential to apply energy, empathy and understanding. It’s also good to be insistent and demanding, but above all I find it’s important to be respectful of each and every person in the warehouse. Giving each person one hundred proverbial dollars worth of respect right off the bat works wonders. Do you know what you will most likely get in return for that effort? Buy-in and respect. That’s in part because it will dissolve their fears and concerns that their job is on the line. And above all, there will be a payoff in terms of immediate results. If an employee returns your respect with complacency or indifference, then cut them loose.

Example of what can happen

I once worked with a large multi-store retailer on the east coast with quality problems. The pool of talent was large but uncultivated for a number of reasons. In the first week I worked with the staff, the operation went from 94% first-time delivery to nearly 100%. The drivers, who in this instance worked for a third-party carrier, were happier because they felt someone “had their backs” making sure the product was top-quality rather than “good enough.” Service calls plummeted. Even exchanges plummeted. Parts orders plummeted. Morale improved.

What else is needed?

Respect is a first step, but more is necessary to make this kind of turn-around happen. And this is true if you use inside talent or bring in a consultant.
Consider a husband and wife that visit a marriage counselor. Perhaps their communication skills are bad. Each blames the other for the problems in their home. Money is tight, each feels the other is out of touch with fiscal responsibility. Priorities are misaligned. Respect is all but gone. And for a brief hour, at the counselor’s office, a little improvement is made. A point is offered that wasn’t considered before. A bright, pinpoint of light begins to shine in the otherwise dusk of what was once a beautiful union of two people. And then--time’s up! The hopeful feeling lingers with them on the ride home. A while later, back at the house, arguments resume, the emotional free-fall continues, and the money spent on the counselor is resented. Neither party assumed responsibility for the continuation or exploration of the principles spoken about in the counselor’s office.

Getting to the 100% first-time delivery mark

  • Getting to the 100% first-time delivery mark requires commitment and sustained effort from your management team. To get good results you must have; 
  • A clear understanding of the goals of the company: Complete customer satisfaction. 
  • It requires a dedicated team made up of the owner and the managers who have a zero-tolerance policy for complacency and indifference. 
  • It means that your service staff operates like an emergency room, handling deviations from normative product quality standards like a triage unit, identifying the best and fastest way to remediate each problem, and not treating people who bring problems to you as an annoyance or burden. 
  • If a driver has a problem on load-out, the problem should be handled immediately and with care so that the driver is not late for his deliveries, and that the delivered product meets the company’s standards for quality. 
  • There should be an energy on the dock, an excitement that today, your people will achieve 100% success, and a belief that they are talented professionals who can work to their potential, and that they don’t have to settle for second-best from each other. 

So, just like a marriage on the rocks, resuscitating an under-performing warehose/delivery operation starts with respect. That’s because unless the managers offer respect in return for their demands, all they will get is pushback.
Forget business cliches and buzzwords. This is nuts and bolts. As a business owner you have to set the bar, the level of expectation for your company or it won’t perform to that level. It’s just that simple. And once the bar is set, and ground work done, someone has to be there every day to carry on the mission. Someone has to create that level of expectation, to rally the troops, to be the one with the guts to stand up and say No, this is not good enough. And Yes, your concerns are worth a couple minutes of management’s time. And No, factory standards are not an acceptable reason for giving a customer a substandard piece of furniture.
Empowering people, helping them realize their potential through their successes and failures, and affording them proper training (not trial by fire or figure-it-out neglect) is the best way to extract the most from your staff. And don’t forget, respect.

Peter Schlosser is a backend furniture consultant based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His focus is repair, quality control, exceptional customer service, and all things operational.  He is a contributing editor to Furniture World. To see all his articles Click Here.  Questions on any aspect of this article or furniture repair can be directed to Peter Schlossser at pschlosser@furninfo.com.