Wholesale management can be challenging because of how many employees this business requires. With so many workers pulling product, packing, and filling orders, any wholesale warehouse can be a maze of activity where you can lose sight of your employees.
It is difficult to keep an eye on everyone in a wholesale warehouse environment. With products stacked high on shelves to the ceiling and a busy floor constantly packing and moving, it is impossible for every employee to be in sight at once. They can easily disappear.
Fortunately, when your employees are properly motivated, they won’t need your constant attention to make sure they are working productively. You won’t need to spend all your time playing hide and seek in your warehouse looking for missing workers. You’ll be confident that wherever they are, whether you can see them or not, they are doing what is asked of them. Here are some management tricks to keep your wholesale employees productive so you can focus on business instead of babysitting.
Never Drive Your Wholesale Workers Underground
In a busy wholesale warehouse, it’s very easy for idle workers to find a quiet corner out of sight and disappear when they should be working instead. Workers that are avoiding work will find it very easy to do so. This is why you should always try to be positive instead of negative. Praise always works better than criticism.
When you criticize someone, even if they deserved it, they resent you. Your relationship with that person is damaged and they will lose respect for you. This will lead to resentment, or “driving them underground.” It is very important that you always try to erase negative behavior by highlighting positive behavior, because an employee that is slipping will only slip further with criticism. Once this downward spiral starts, it only ends with you firing the employee and hiring someone new- This should be avoided, because on-boarding and training a new employee is costly.
Your wholesale employees have lots of opportunities to disappear into the cracks of the warehouse whenever they want to when they are working unsupervised. Be mindful of criticism and avoid it when you can, because resentment can destroy productivity. Resentment or “going underground” is a powerful force that affects everyone, even you and me. Take for example, when you go to see a movie or fly on an airplane, the staff asks you to turn your phone off or put it on silent. But some of us never do… We just “go underground” and hide our phones or only make them silent until the watchdog isn’t watching.
If You Must Criticize Your Wholesale Worker, Lead with Praise
Sometimes, criticism can be necessary to correct a bad behavior that could cost your wholesale business sales or lost productivity. Making your business run smoothly is a constant balancing act. When you can’t avoid criticizing your employee though, you must lead with praise. This is an important part of effective management. As the manager of your wholesale business, part of your job is knowing what all your employees are best at. Make a note of each one’s virtues. Write them down and leave a note in your desk drawer, or make a file on your computer for it if you have to.
Does this employee always arrive at work on time and never call in sick? Do they take extra care when stacking pallets or packing shipping? Are they the best forklift driver the world has ever seen? Always make sure before you talk to any employee in your wholesale warehouse that you know exactly what they are best at. That way, when they make mistakes or their productivity slips, you will already know the best compliment to give them before you reprimand them. You should never have to stop and think about it. Drill it into your brain so that it becomes natural and authentic. If you are lying, the employee will sense it in you and know.
When You Give Praise Before Criticism, Never Say “But”
The word “but” is the worst word you can say to your wholesale employee. Write the word down on a piece of paper, wad it up into a ball, and throw it in the garbage. Burn it up on a stove or with a cigarette lighter if you have to. No measure is too extreme to eliminate it from your vocabulary.
Your employees will make mistakes and you will be forced to reprimand and criticize them, which is why you should always constantly know what their virtues are. Unfortunately, sometimes when you praise an employee before you criticize them, they can tell that you are buttering them up. They know you’re about to lead into the reprimand and you’re just trying to soften the blow.
When your wholesale employee feels like they’re about to be led to the slaughter like this, leading with praise doesn’t help. It can have the opposite effect and the employee can feel like he’s being betrayed instead. The good wholesale manager and the bad manager both always lead with praise before they reprimand, but the good manager never says the word “but.”
Take the More Effective Road
Here’s an example of a bad reprimand led by praise- “John, you’re the best picker at this company, your orders are always correct, BUT your last 3 orders didn’t go out on time…” This feels like John is about to get a knife in his back. Even though the wholesale manager led with praise, because he used the word “but” it still felt like he was being led to slaughter. Let’s see how we can criticize John without using the word “but.”
“John, you’re the best picker at this company, your orders are always correct, which is why I know you’re the best man to make sure they are always going out on time.” This time, the wholesale manager has praised John, and he didn’t say the word “but.” Instead, he glossed right over the mistake and went straight to how he wanted John to fix it. This is a much more effective road for the wholesale manager to take, because not only does it not antagonize John by focusing on the mistake and poisoning the praise, but it glosses over the problem and immediately puts the focus on John finding the solution.
Focus on the Solution, not the Employee at Fault
If you must praise then criticize, then move as swiftly through the criticism as possible to get to the part that truly matters for your wholesale business– The solution. Dwelling on the employee’s fault will only create resentment that will poison productivity. Making the wholesale employee responsible for the solution instead of the problem will channel that energy into a productive outcome.
Focusing on the mistake that caused the problem doesn’t help your business solve the mistake. It’s better for your wholesale business to be solution-oriented, and solve the problem swiftly for your customer.
When you focus on the solution, you reframe the problem in a way that is more productive and allows your wholesale worker to own the solution. We already know he caused the problem, what we want him to do is own the solution. Being the cause of the problem will only lead to punishment, resentment, and “going underground.” Remember that a beaten dog will eventually bite you once it’s reached the limit of the abuse it will tolerate. Constantly focusing on the cause of the problem isn’t productive.
However, when the employee owns the solution, you give them the chance to take pride in their work. Sure, they were the one that screwed it up in the first place, but the blow is softened when you give them the opportunity to fix it. A wholesale employee that caused the problem and also owned the solution will be less likely to cause that problem again, because he’ll be emotionally invested in finding the solution.
An Employee Example
Let’s look at the point above about using the word “but.” Here’s what we told our problem wholesale employee, John the warehouse picker. “John, you’re the best picker at this company, your orders are always correct, which is why I know you’re the best man to make sure they are always going out on time.”
Take a look at what’s happening here- Not only did we not say the evil B word, but we also put the ball in his court to solve the problem. Now, instead of attacking him for the mistake he made, we’re giving him the chance to save face, and gain pride in the solution. We won’t need to punish him for the dip in productivity, because instead we can praise him for the increase. Our hope is that by doing so, he won’t just be back up to where he’s supposed to be, he’ll surpass it and be even better. We just need to show that we care about him caring about his job. We’ll notice if he does.
Give the Hard Wholesale Problem a Simple Wholesale Solution
In a wholesale business, we are very fortunate. We are very fortunate because most of our problems are already very simple. Wholesale problems can be broken down into very easy categories- You don’t have enough of the product to fill the order, or you can’t get the product where it needs to be to satisfy the client. Naturally, we think these are very big problems in a wholesale business, and they are, but they are problems that are at least simple in theory.
Are they actually complex? Of course they are. Supply lines, manufacturing, making sure everything goes where it needs to be. It’s all like a ballet, but with forklifts and cardboard instead of pointe shoes and tutus. But none of that is particularly important to your wholesale employee. Most of your workers are only concerned with one or two operations in the business. They pick, pack, or ship. This is a huge advantage for you as the wholesale manager, because you can usually see where the exact failure point is in the chain that is hurting your business when an employee makes these sorts of mistakes.
Focus on the Solution
Because these employees fulfill simple operations, they have simple solutions when there are problems. Or at least, solutions that look simple from where they are standing. They’re not managing the business, so they can’t always be expected to understand how a little mistake they make turns into a more complicated problem for you.
But no matter how big the problem is for you, always make it seem like a small problem for them. One that they can easily fix. The less mad you are, and the easier it is to fix it, the more smoothly you can gloss over it and get straight to the solution that will make your worker into a better employee.
Nobody wants to feel stupid or even worse, responsible for a giant catastrophe in the pipeline of your business. The more you can make the problem narrow, focused, and solution oriented on a simple action, the more likely you can make your wholesale employee solve the problem, worry less about the mistake, and be more focused on the solution and the increased productivity.
Make Employees Feel Valued
Making your solutions seem simple is as important as making the employee feel valuable, as we’ve already discussed earlier. Your wholesale employee should always know that they are doing important work that is vital to your wholesale business and you respect a vital talent that they bring to work, but also that any problem you ask them to solve has a simple solution that is well within the power of their talents to solve.
It’s a balancing act, but it isn’t that hard, and it’s not even lying. Make the employee feel like they’re a big part of your success, while also making them feel like all their solutions are simple, small, and they’re full of right answers. It’s your job as the manager to turn big problems your business has into a list of small problems that are easily solved by the correct people, because that’s how supply chain issues typically work anyway. When you make your employee feel valuable, while also focusing on simple solutions to problems that they can solve, it’s like putting them in a boxing match with plaster-laced gloves. They’ll feel valuable and confident that they’re punching above their weight class.
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Managing your wholesale employees correctly isn’t easy, and you’ll spend your whole career developing a management style that works for your business. Fortunately, the rest of your business doesn’t have to be as difficult to handle as employees. Networking and meeting other manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers in your market can be the easiest thing you can do.
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