Improving the Bench Strength of Your Operations Managers

If you’ve been around long enough, you recognize that there haven’t been enough experienced managers in retail, catalog and now ecommerce operations for decades. With the explosion in online business over the past 15 years, management turnover and the lack of highly qualified operations managers is apparent and may be holding your company back.

In the past couple of months I’ve done presentations at four conferences. When I ask, “Do you need better managers?” or “How are you growing future managers?” heads nod but no answers are volunteered. I find this distressing because I think our industry should be moving faster to increase productivity, experiment with new technologies and strategically deal with Amazon’s growing pervasiveness.

We have seen clients spend months recruiting and bringing on new operations managers in contact center, fulfillment, purchasing and ecommerce, only to have them not live up to their resumes, leading to terminations and new rounds of recruitment.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers but here are some thoughts on gaining better leaders and managers for your business:

Tap New Sources for Leadership

I’m not exactly a fan of Amazon with its predatory approach to business. But like many of its innovations Amazon’s policy of hiring veterans is a very good one that might work for your company. A recent story in the Seattle Times focused on Amazon’s effort to hire vets. A year ago the company committed to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses over a five-year period through its Military Leaders Program. Amazon says it has already hired thousands but would not give more details.

The article detailed Amazon’s success with veterans – who work at 240 of its U.S. facilities – and its efforts to tap their leadership skills for its growing logistics operations. New hires are brought in as area managers to quickly learn warehouse operations in different order fulfillment departments. Initially overseeing 50-200 people, within 18 months they are equipped to run an entire warehouse. It’s also important to keep in mind that fighting services rely heavily on worldwide logistics.

I have always preferred hiring the experienced multichannel or retail manager. But if the right person is not out there, maybe Amazon is showing us a new path to leadership recruiting. If it isn’t the military maybe it’s a logistics manager in some other industry like wholesale or distribution. If they have good management skills and the technical and systems expertise, maybe we should give them the opportunity.

Personnel Testing

You never know how well people are going to work out until they’re on the job for a couple months. We have seen clients do what seemed a credible job of defining positions, being sure of salary and benefits, interviewing, checking references, etc. only to have the new manager underperform.

What success have you had with testing candidates? What products or services have you used? In the comments section of this blog feel free to let us know. I think it’s amazing what the tests show. The only problem is that I’m not sure how good they are as a predictor of future growth as a manager. Let’s hear from you.

Internal Development of Managers

Are you filling jobs or creating career paths for growth? Our client Southern States Cooperative took a completely fresh look at its warehouse personnel management and how they were challenging employees to grow. Southern States has annual sales of $2 billion, 350 company-owned stores and 1,200 independent dealers over the eastern U.S. They analyzed every job in the warehouse and what management’s expectations were. They then designed career paths for individuals and communicated how to achieve and benefit from them.

The program is in its second year and is making a difference. Clearly if you can grow from within that’s a great course of action as long as employees get external exposure to changing technology and trends in operations.

Online Education – New Manager Skills

In the last 10 years online learning through traditional colleges and universities as well as for-profit education businesses has exploded. Many businesses have access to night school programs of high caliber. Maybe it’s time to help your managers acquire new skills, not only to make them better managers but to position your company for the future from a technology and skills perspective.

These are exciting times for sure as our multichannel businesses grow and change. Your company’s success, profitability and customer service excellence depend on effective operations managers that answer the challenges and keep the organization motivated and productive. Investing in your operations managers is the first step toward insuring your long-term success.

Curt Barry is Founder and Chairman of F. Curtis Barry & Company

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