Selecting and Keeping Warehouse Personnel

  • Written By: Rene Jones
  • Published: April 16 2005


First of all, I'd like to begin by stating that what we will discuss here today can be used for more than just warehouse personnel. And with that said, I would like to ask some basic questions:

  1. How important is hiring good people to your personal success as well as to the success of the company?

  2. Would you rank it number one or number two in overall importance?

  3. How accurate would you say the typical one-on-one employment interview is in predicting performance?

On that third point, note the results of a study performed at Michigan State by Professor John Hunter. It says that with all positions from entry level to chairman, the typical employment interview is somewhere between seven and eleven percent more accurate than flipping a coin.

Let's think about that. We have the most important thing we do, which is hiring good people for our teams and it relies fundamentally on a random process. Do you have any process in your organization that produces 43 percent scrap? If you did, would you continue to use it? OF COURSE NOT! Then why do we continue to use the traditional hiring methodology? We have proven to ourselves time and time again that it does not work so why do we continue to use it?

All right let's flip scripts here for a second. If you have a warehouse of any size, this is something I want you all to think about. How important is your warehouse to your overall process? Would everyone agree that your warehouse is one of the few tools you have to retain your existing level of business? Other tools: outside sales/catalogs/web sites/marketing material/yellow pages etc., are designed to get you new business.

Your Customers See You By

Your customers see you by your product guide/newsletter, your receptionist, inside sales, outside sales, and visiting your facility, which they do the least. But the most important way they see you is by the package that is prepared and shipped to them by your warehouse personnel. This means that your warehouse is vitally important to your company's success. Now back to my original question. We have proven to ourselves time and time again that the traditional hiring methodology does not work so why do we continue to use it with one of our most important processes in the organization?

Our Question Is
The traditional hiring methodology does not work so why do we continue to use it, with one of our most important process in the organization?

Let me walk you through the process we use today.

  1. We place the ad(s)
  2. We review the rsums
  3. We interview the candidates
  4. We flip the coin
  5. Then almost half of the time we wonder what were we thinking!

We have to change our mindset and begin by focusing more on what a person needs to do rather than what they have.

First: The Ad

Warehouse Supervisor
Job ID: HJ-02242
Location: Your Company
Date Posted: 01/22/2004

Supervise warehouse operations

A world leader in lighting technology, has 2 openings at its Anywhere USA warehouse/distribution center for supervisors who will lead a team of 40+ employees through a WMS implementation using RF technology. Successful candidates will thrive in our fast paced, challenging environment and have a proven track record in change management and an entrepreneurial approach to meeting expectations. Strong computer skills required to measure and monitor performance and key indicators using MS Access. Ability to think in quantitative terms is helpful; interpersonal and communications skills required to work with a diverse workforce; supervisory experience; knowledge of RF technology; and flexibility to assume shift changes.

This position is not relocation eligible and candidates must reside within commuting distance to warehouse. Please include salary requirements when responding.

Distribution Center - Supervisor
Job ID: 52
Location: Your Company
Date Posted: 02/01/2004

A leading global distributor of fashion eyewear, based in Anywhere USA, is currently accepting applications for the position of Supervisor. The open positions are part of the following areas of our Distribution Center:

Inventory Stocking, International Shipping. Qualified candidates must, have 3-5 years experience in a warehouse distribution, or manufacturing environment, which will include functioning at the supervisory level; be a take-charge, high-energy individual with "hands-on" experience and a desire to make a difference; be proficient with MS Word and MS Excel; have excellent organizational and communication skills (written/verbal); be detail oriented with excellent follow-up skills; and have a pleasant and professional manner. We offer a competitive salary and an excellent benefits package. If you are interested in applying for this exciting opportunity, please forward your resume, including salary requirements, to:

Do these ads tell any potential candidates what they need to do to be successful with your company? Both say what they need to have to get yelled at for not doing a good job. What we have to understand is that if we want to hire top performers we must first define top performance.

What is top performance for your warehouse personnel?

  • Is it getting to work on time?

  • Is it keeping the warehouse clean?

  • Is it having an accurate inventory? If it is a supervisor or manager position, will it be about getting the employees to work on time?

  • Less shipping errors?

  • Is it doing a days work in a day?

  • Or maybe it is reducing your warehousing cost?

With all of the warehouses I have visited and boardrooms I have sat in and talked with upper management about the performance of the warehouse, less than 20 percent of the time I receive quantifiable and more importantly, achievable goals for the warehouse.

I have heard all of the items I just mentioned but when I ask, "Well how many shipping errors do you have now" the answer I receive is, "A lot!" When I ask, "Well how accurate is your inventory now?" I have heard, "About 60 percent accurate". I have heard "It is not that bad. We just need to improve it," and my all time favorite, "We do not know because we don't perform physical inventories". With all of the above answers, how do we expect to hire warehouse personnel and legitimately tell them they are doing a good job or a bad job or are at least meeting your expectations? Is this the way your sales personnel are measured? You see, I learned some time ago that we measure what we value.

Every company I have ever visited measures its sales staff. Every company I have ever visited has goals for its sales personnel. Every company I have ever visited pays for performance when it comes to sales people. But what I did not understand is why this was not happening in the warehouse. But as I mentioned earlier, "We measure what we value"! Therefore since a large majority of the upper management personnel I have spoken to came up through selling, paying for the value of your warehouse personnel only made sense. That package that leaves your dock and arrives at your customer's dock, office, or jobsite is a sales call. What do you think your customers perceive when that box is dropped?

So, by knowing what top performance is we have the ability to identify top performers. This allows candidates the opportunity to trade short-term compensation for long-term growth.

  1. Reviewing Rsums. What we look for includes spelling errors, salary history, experience, no gaps in employment, etc. Now let's touch on that thing called "experience" for a second. If someone has ten years of experience with running warehouses is that good or bad? In other words, does that candidate have ten years of experience or one repeated nine times?

    When I was in the military, I received a position as a trainer with a so-called elite unit in the Air Force. This was only after I had been in the service for several years. When I asked my superior why they did not hire right out of Basic Training, he told me, "The best people are already working". I did not know what that meant at the time but in my business career it makes nothing but sense.

    Top performers have been top performers for some time. The key is they are usually looking to better themselves. So why would they respond to an ad that is doing the exact same thing they are doing in their current position. Therefore, when we are viewing rsums we need to look for someone that is growing, with a bright future and not someone that has the best past. It took man "1200 years from the birth of Christ" to double our knowledge. Now it happens in less than eighteen months. That means what your warehouse supervisor or candidate knew eighteen months ago is now obsolete unless, they are keeping up with the industry by reading the periodicals, attending training classes, going to seminars, etc. How many seminars have you sent your warehouse supervisor to? Better yet, how many has he or she asked you to attend in the past eighteen months. How often do you see the Logistics Management Report, The Distribution Challenge, or LogisticSociety News on their desk? How much knowledge has that candidate acquired since getting their last job? So I ask again when a person says they have ten years of experience is that good or bad?

  2. The Interview. This is my favorite part. The reason why is because we have warehouse supervisors and managers interviewing people to work in our most critical area of the business and they have no training on how to perform a successful interview or on labor laws. Or we have human resource personnel who do not know anything about the processes in our warehouse, other than they receive and ship merchandise, who are selecting our warehouse personnel. Let me get you to think about this for a second. Is there any relationship between the first interview and subsequent performance? Of course not! Because there are too many factors that play a major role in the interviewing process. First impressions, our personal biases, some interviewers are more competent than others, and, how each person measures competency is different. And most of the time what is being measured is not even relevant. I heard someone say once, "We use a clock during the interview to determine competency but a calendar when the person starts on the job?"

    Another reason the first interview can't determine subsequent performance is because we over value presentation with performance. Here is one last thing to think about: How often are you hiring warehouse personnel? What is your turnover rate? If it is anything like the rest of the country its time to make a change.

So, the focal point of this article with hiring warehouse personnel is again, "In order to identify top performers in our warehouses, we have to first identify top performance within our warehouse." Because, if we don't know the job then we will substitute our personal biases, perceptions, emotions, and frustrations depending on how long we have been searching. I hope we all know this does not just apply to our warehouses.

How Do You Retain Top Performers?

Now, once you get them how do you keep them? This is the million-dollar question. Everyone wants to know how do we reduce our turnover in the warehouse? I can tell you it all starts at the top. With, your warehouse supervisor! Let me say that again, "It starts with your warehouse supervisor". He or she determines the fate of your warehouse. He or she determines how organized your warehouse will be. He or she determines whether you have good or bad processes. He or she determines whether your warehouse personnel will like coming to work or not.

If your warehouse supervisor is not competent, then how many shipping errors do you think you will have? How accurate do you think your inventory will be? Do you think your warehouse will perform a day's work in a day? I know there are some puzzled looks on faces right now, so let me explain the term, "a day's work in a day". That means if something comes in today it gets received today. If the order is placed today, it gets shipped today. If it is returned today; the credit is processed and put into stock today. All while the warehouse remains clean. How many people, by a show of hands, have this philosophy of a day's work in a day and stick to it on a daily basis in their company's? If you do, you need to give yourself a pat on the back with your raised hand.

Your warehouse supervisor is the one that makes a statistic out of your warehouse personnel. The statistic says warehouse people will leave for less than a quarter. That's a ten dollar a week increase. Again I ask, how much turnover do you have in your warehouse? Is your company really that bad? Of course not! But how long can you continue to hire, train, and lose people in the most critical area of your business?

Keeping them also means paying them! If you go to our website you will see an article there titled, "When You Pay Peanuts You Get Monkeys". As humorous as that may sound how many times have you thought how did we make that mistake? How did we ship a piece of pipe but the customer ordered a tank? And your customer said to your sales people, "You must have a bunch of monkeys working there". Well, if you are paying peanuts then you probably do have monkeys working in your warehouse. According to Warehouse Education Research Council (WERC) in 2002 the average order picker earned $11.43 (USD) an hour. The average supervisor earned $39,212 with a bonus amount of around $3,000. Ask yourself, "Am I paying peanuts?"

The climate is changing. It's no longer sales force against sales force. It's no longer who gets the best tickets to the best games. It's who's gonna deliver, what I ordered, on the date I was promised at a competitive price. If you cannot do that, on a consistent basis then your company will become one of the casualties we read about in the paper every morning. "Supply House Times Posted on: 01/05/2004 Builders Supply Seeks To Liquidate"

The "Hygiene" Factor (Management Theorist Fredrick Herzberg)

A fair salary is something everyone needs to do the job they are paid to do. Such factors include adequate work space, light and heat, a telephone—if you do not have any of these items, you will be discouraged and unable to do the job you are hired to do. If you have all of these items, you will be able to do your job, but having them will do nothing to help you to do the best job possible. Getting people to do their best job is more a function of what Herzberg calls "motivators." These include praise and recognition, challenging work, and growth and development opportunities.

In the book, "This Place Sucks! (What your warehouse employees think about your company and how to change their perceptions!)," I say, "Perception is reality!" Because we look down on our warehouse personnel and treat them as underclassmen, second-class citizens or uneducated people. When there is a shipping mistake, we yell. When the inventory is inaccurate, we yell. When product is not received fast enough, we yell. When the things go right, which they rarely do, we do not even acknowledge them. "School House Rocks tell little kids to accentuate the positive!" Someone else once said and "If you want to keep getting what you are getting then keep doing what you are doing!" So, if you want to keep getting monkeys in your warehouse, then keep paying peanuts. If you want to continue having an inaccurate inventory, then continue not sending your warehouse supervisor to any courses or seminars on best inventory practices. And last but not least, if you want to continue having problems selecting and keeping, not just warehouse personnel but personnel in every position of your company, then continue flipping the coin and not identifying what top performance is within your company.

About the Author

Rene Jones was the founder of Total Logistics Solutions, Inc. ( He is now the President and CEO of AHN Corporation ( With over eighteen years of experience in training, warehousing, and logistics he has used his knowledge to assist and turn around small and large companies alike, making them more efficient and profitable. He has been published in several industry magazines and is the author of, This Place Sucks (What Your Warehouse Employees Think About Your Company and How to Change Their Perceptions!) and Warehouse 101 (A Complete Guide to Operating Your Warehouse).

Jones can be reached by phone at (818) 353-2962 or by e-mail at

comments powered by Disqus