Six steps to voice deployment success

Voice-directed work has been proven to significantly boost productivity, accuracy, safety and job satisfaction in distribution centers. But such results are most easily realized when organizations simultaneously plan for the people side of a voice deployment.

Successful organizations take many approaches to address the human factor of the equation in their voice deployments. For example, they involve front-line and union management up front. They 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.

Conversely, when organizations overlook crucial people issues, any new type of implementation can run up against employee resistance, union roadblocks, training inefficiencies and delayed ROI. This, in turn, can damage employee trust, destroy management credibility and waste financial resources.

While the deployment approach and internal issues can vary greatly between countries, companies, DCs, and workers, there are general guidelines that companies can follow in order to avoid potential “people issues.”

Many companies could use a guide to get through the people side of a voice deployment. Here are six steps to start.

1) Identify a project champion
The development of a voice implementation team typically starts with identifying a champion – someone to spearhead the project. The champion must be someone who understands the strategic benefits of voice and has the cross-functional authority and responsibility to manage the installation, training and deployment. The champion also should be an effective communicator who is not only respected by DC personnel, but also has the ear of the executive management team.

2) Create an implementation team
A cross-functional approach is essential when deploying voice. In addition to having a high-level voice champion, an ideal team includes the DC operations director or manager, the IT director, local IT support, logistics personnel and trainers. Regardless of the size and scope of the deployment, the voice supplier should provide extensive service and support options to address client needs.

3) Recruit front-line supervisors
Supervisors from every shift must be involved in the implementation and rollout to ensure the entire DC operation is represented, which is important in gaining employee acceptance. Not only do supervisors have the ability to “sell” the concept of voice to their employees, but they also are the ideal people to train workers on how to use the new system.

It’s especially important to involve front-line supervisors early, because most DC personnel involved with monitoring production are not inherently pro-voice. Often, they believe that the changes will not benefit their production, and because of this, they may make it difficult for voice providers to train the trainers.

4) Involve end users in the process
Organizations can face employee resistance in any change effort including a voice deployment. Employees can fear losing their jobs, worry about safety issues, or it could be simply resistance to change in general. To counter this resistance, internal champions should be influential employees who adapt to change easily and can talk up the benefits of voice to their peers. By recruiting workforce opinion leaders and convincing them that voice will allow them to do their jobs more easily and accurately, the word will naturally spread.

5) Get support from the human resources department
Although human resources professionals are not typically heavily involved in voice implementations, it’s wise to keep the corporate HR staff apprised of the implementation. You want to determine early on if they have any services that can help smooth the transition to voice.

Potential areas of HR involvement include train-the-trainer efforts, as well as assistance with change management. Especially in large multinational corporations, the HR operation has lots of tools and tactics for helping employees with change. HR should also understand the many health and safety benefits of voice.

6) Collaborate with union representatives
In unionized companies, it’s crucial to involve union representatives early in the process in order to gain their support and commitment to voice. Typically, unions will have the same concerns about safety, change and job loss as employees.

It’s important to address those safety concerns up front, to communicate that employees will not lose their jobs because of increased efficiencies, and that production credits won’t be lost in the transition from paper to voice. If unions and employees do not receive adequate communication, they may fill their information gaps with erroneous perceptions instead of the facts.

Next time we’ll look at how communication, training, and incentives can help smooth the path to voice deployment.

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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