Put People First in Voice Deployment

If you’re thinking about implementing voice-directed work, you have to address the human factor by involving front-line and union management up front. You also have to give supervisors the necessary background and training so that they can teach employees the new skills. They actively elicit and consider employee feedback early on, recognizing that front-line workers are closest to the work.

Last time we covered the basic steps in starting a voice deployment. Now we’ll look at how communication, training, and incentives can help smooth the path to voice deployment.

1) Communicate early and often with employees
Once an implementation team is created, companies should begin to inform employees about the changes that are on the way.

Associated Wholesale Grocers, a large grocery wholesaler, uses our Vocollect Voice in seven DCs. Richard B. Vastine, Jr., corporate director of industrial engineering, says two people-related issues contributed to its success: 1) the company had buy-in from the operations people early-on and, 2) employees readily accepted the new system. Both of those factors, Vastine says, were greatly helped by the fact that the company did a lot of up-front advertising to alert DC teams to the upcoming changes and prepare employees for the change.

2) Train employees using a train-the-trainer approach
Once employees are aware of the changes created by a voice deployment, organizations can begin to train them on using the system. It is a customer’s responsibility to make sure there are enough trainers in place to roll out the training in a timely fashion.

3) Partner with your voice provider
The best voice suppliers have proven expertise with voice deployments and experience with many installations. Providers should have a time-tested methodology that incorporates many tools and processes to help companies with their implementations. These services can include posters, DVD training materials, quick reference cards, and other items to communicate the upcoming change to employees, as well as training programs packaged to meet specific customer requirements.

4) Train managers/supervisors on how to use voice data as a management tool
Managers and supervisors also will need training on how to maximize the use of the new voice system since these systems provide real-time productivity data that allows supervisors to proactively manage work flow. If productivity is lagging in certain areas, use system information to reassign workers and track performance. This allows DC leaders to make better decisions about how to use and reassign labor throughout the shift.

5) Reward and reinforce performance improvements
Many companies have in the past been frustrated by their inability to orchestrate fully equitable incentive programs because they didn’t have accurate individual employee performance data. Voice-directed work enables you to change this situation, from day one helping organizations to measure, monitor and reward employee productivity.

Because companies can track employees from assignment to assignment, as well as from task to task, they are better able to monitor employee progress, share improvement data with them and create performance incentives.

Establishing a cross-functional implementation team, anticipating employee, union and supervisor resistance, and communicating the change well in advance will lay the groundwork for voice success. And once you’ve settled on a system, on-site peer training and rewarding employees for adopting the new system can help you realize the promise and potential of voice more quickly.

Larry Sweeney is cofounder/ vice president of product management of Vocollect (www.vocollect.com), a Pittsburgh-based voice-directed technology provider.

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