The Warehouse Manager Makes It Great– Or Not

Employee engagement, not employee enragement,
is key to what your customers value most

A lot of new and very good investments are being made to the warehousing operations across the industry nowadays.

Technology upgrades and investments are not the whole story, however. A phrase that has been used and re-used for decades still holds true today: success is 15 percent technology and 85 percent leadership. However, it’s easy to miss the essential element of leadership when we think about warehouse operations.

Despite all the technology in automation, scanners and controls we add to our businesses, the people involved in the process still make the difference as to whether the return on investment truly pays off.

Where Errors Happen

Through my own experience and by reviewing survey data based on thousands of managers who have attended my workshops, the largest error rates in warehousing come from the functions of receiving, pick, pack and ship.

There are many touch points to products and orders going on “out there” in the warehouse. By far, the warehouse operation has more touch points than any other function in the distribution business. (This also has a lot to do with why it has the highest potential for errors.)

Investing in warehouse technology is a very important consideration in advancing the business. But there is another important ingredient that can make a technology investment either a true competitive advantage, or keep it at a smoke-and-mirrors showpiece stage. That important ingredient is the warehouse manager.

People, Everywhere

I have been in large redistribution centers and inventory hubs, and I have visited large and small distributor’s warehouses with the latest material-handling and order-service technologies. In every one of these warehouse operations, I saw people. Those people were working with, reading, adjusting, handling anomalies and special requests, and communicating when necessary to the office staff to be sure they understood exactly what the salesperson intended to put on the order. If you are familiar with warehouse operations, you know the daily drill.

When a business invests in technology, it does so with the goal of improving functional speed and accuracy– essential ingredients if your strategy is to have profitable share gain. I’ve introduced this concept using the term, “net speed.” (You can obtain more information about this concept in my book, the 10th anniversary edition of 5 Fundamentals for the Wholesale Distribution Branch Manager, 2nd edition, published by the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, NAW.)

Simply put, net speed is doing everything perfectly, and very fast. Customers will pay for this, and will move toward businesses in their supply chain that can provide them the fastest service, and that can do so error-free.

The warehouse operation plays a huge role in providing this business value. Consequently, the effectiveness of the warehouse manager also plays into that equation. That’s because the manager’s leadership personality drives employee engagement. A barking, grumpy, demeaning, unpleasant boss can negatively impact other employees and thus affect the entire business operation. So despite a company’s investment in technology, an ineffective manager can defeat the potential value of any technology investment.


I have many examples of working with managers who possessed excellent business knowledge, but who also exhibited less-than-desirable leadership and communications habits. When I worked with those managers through the survey feedback process to reveal how those habits were holding the operation back, many were able to make changes to their communication personality habits. You could see how employees responded positively when that happened, and they became eager to engage and improve performance.
Employee engagement, not employee enragement, is the key to providing the value your chosen customers want — net speed.

Help Through Awareness

There are many ways to find help for businesses that may be faced with this type of issue. Leadership, as expressed through communication style, is an important module in my Business Skills and Leadership Training Workshops. During those sessions, I share with managers the feedback received from the employees they supervise and from others who work around them.

When managers understand how their communication style is perceived, the reality is so stark that participants sometimes are initially in a state of denial. They often are surprised about how observant others are regarding this issue and how such communication facets can negatively impact the business. I’ve found that awareness is a big first step to improve leadership personality.

The issue of “the boss’s” leadership personality habits so greatly impacts the behavior of other employees that I was motivated to find ways to help managers understand this impact. I strived to illustrate the behaviors through a mechanism that not only provided self-awareness, but also served as a learning tool. The techniques also had to be strictly confidential.

Feedback Tool

Consequently, I designed that tool, an online survey that I call the “ME 124.” The ME 124 is a personality habits feedback instrument created as a personal and private insight tool for managers. The results of this survey outcome help managers understand the many varied personality habits or traits that may be getting in the way of his or her leadership effectiveness.

The ME 124 survey tool contains 124 questions. It provides feedback in several critical leadership domains. These include anger management, stress, dominance, aggressiveness, ambition and communication skills. The survey tool was developed in collaboration with Salvatore V. Didato, Ph.D. He is a clinical psychologist and an award-winning television, newspaper, and radio commentator on topics of human affairs. The domain analysis was adapted by permission of the author from The Big Book of Personality Tests, by Didato.

In addition to being confidential, the online survey’s color-coded scoring provides insights and comments regarding each type of personality habit. The scoring then illustrates how those habits can affect employee engagement and leadership effectiveness.

If the leadership skills and personality habits of your warehouse manager—and other employee leaders in your company—are an important factor in providing “net speed” success in your business, this process should provide you with an interesting, enlightening, proactive management tool.

More information about and access to the ME 124 survey are available at Interested participants can take the ME 124 communication style survey for free. The results are strictly confidential. You can print them out if you want to share them with others, but that step is up to you.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Jim Ambrose Meet the Author
Jim Ambrose, of Camillus, New York, is a consultant
and the author of three
books, 5 Fundamentals for the Wholesale Distribution Branch Manager; My Business Analysis; and Cracking Accounts. You can reach him at:
and 315-430-5631.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association