- How to help prevent pallet and reusable packaging loss, theft, and misuse through attention to behavior-based asset management.
- If frontline behaviors to control reusable assets are perceived as a distraction from your core business and a non-value-adding cost, it might be time to take a fresh look at the costs and benefits of reusable packaging management and the value creation opportunity created by informed frontline execution.
Many years ago, back when I managed the reusable pallet program for a grocery retailer, I used to joke that I was just keeping score – managing the bottom line.
The game, I argued, happened on the front line. That is where overall asset value is maintained – and also where suboptimal actions can result in excess damage, lost reusable assets, or stolen reusable assets. Program results are shaped by a multitude of day-to-day behaviors of people who make decisions about pallets and containers – choices about which ones to use for a particular order, where to stage them, or where to send them, for instance.
Many of my experiences predate today’s wave of technology. I started tracking pallets back on a paper ledger back in 1980, long before anything like Machine to machine (M2M) communication would help eliminate the problem of data capture and transfer errors for reusables management. Over the ensuing years, I graduated to PC-based programs and finally cloud-based solutions, but my memories seem like ancient history, these days. Nonetheless, I believe that a behavior-based element remains critical to program success even with the uptake of technology. I’ll return to that thought later.
How do programs fail?
There are several possible leakage points. Does your delivery driver leave empty pallets behind at the stop because they aren’t allotted enough time at the stop to sweep the back room? Do your order selectors build outbound orders on your in-house pallets because they are the only ones available at the time? How about decisions made by receivers, shippers, or forklift operators? Do supervisors knowingly let them cut corners regarding reusables in order to reach their productivity targets?
Whether you are introducing a new reusable packaging system or looking to give your current system a facelift, attention to implementation is a critical step. As TeamStage notes:
The percentage of projects that fail is fairly high—a whopping 70% of all projects fail to deliver what was promised to customers. The implementation of a management process, however, is shown to reduce the failure rate to 20% or below.
Reusable packaging kryptonite
While many organizations often have effective training and procedures in place, it is all for nothing if employees don’t consistently follow those procedures. Not surprisingly, employees are more likely to perform according to the reinforcement they receive from supervisors and co-workers rather than be consistently guided by a written procedure.
People do what is recognized and rewarded by their supervisors. The role of management is critical and goal conflict can be kryptonite to your reusables system’s success. That is why it is so critical that your reusables program be designed in alignment with the overall strategy. And while I joke that the game is played on the front line, effective supervision and a supportive culture are critical to effective execution.
What is behavior-based pallet and container management and how to implement it?
There are a lot of similarities between successful reusable asset programs and workplace safety and health systems. To borrow heavily from the Behavior-Based Safety literature, a behavior-based approach to reusables management is a method of avoiding human error and maintaining overall asset value by observing and analyzing employees’ behavior while they work.
In behavior-based safety programs, the first step involves looking at incident frequency and severity history and then identifying safe work behaviors that eliminate those risks. It could be something like stopping and honking at certain warehouse intersections or doorways, for example.
After going through the historical data, a handful of key behaviors are identified that will help reduce risk to workers. Supervisors or safety team members then regularly observe workers, in a predictable and consistent fashion, to make sure that unsafe behaviors are not being performed. After the observation, feedback is given – providing detailed and descriptive positive feedback to solidify the desired behaviors while also correcting any at-risk behaviors observed.
In the case of pallet and container management, effective supervision, observation, and feedback can also be critical for ensuring that people are doing the right things to prevent loss, theft, or damage. When the reusables program fails, it may be because making the right decision about pallet or container retention is perceived to get in the way of “doing their job”.
And also, more often than not, supervisory staff believe the same mantra. Everyone is trying to hit their numbers, and if it becomes commonly accepted that cutting corners is acceptable, then your program is in a world of trouble.
Ultimately, even as tracking technology continues to improve, front-line decision-making still is important in many settings. People are still going to do what is rewarded. Perhaps to the extent that technology can immediately send a ping that an incorrect action has taken place, such as the wrong pallet being loaded through the wrong door, for example, then technology can help accelerate behavior reinforcement and performance – thus increasing the likelihood of program success. And with the availability of historical data, reusable packaging program managers will have a better idea about where the low-hanging fruit lies regarding corrective action.
Bottom line, even with ever-advancing technology, operator execution still matters. Behavior remains a crucial component of many if not most multi-location programs.