If You Can’t Make Some Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen

The title of this piece, a twist on Harry Truman’s classic quote about not standing the heat, is a call by business writer John Maxwell for leaders to act proactively and make a difference. But often there are barriers to continuous improvement. One such hurdle is success itself.

For reusable pallet and packaging programs as in life, good can be the enemy of great. Change is easier when the situation is dire. On the proverbial burning oil rig platform, workers are highly motivated to jump off. But when things are good, the urgency typically isn’t felt, and as a result, we miss opportunities to improve our reusable packaging systems and push them to the next level.

Harry S. Truman: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

I have heard some reusable packaging and pallet sales people lament that some customers have budgeted a number for their annual spend, and as long as the number is within a range of tolerance, there is no motivation to change. Leaders are interested in chasing more compelling low hanging fruit. Once again, being good enough is justification to not pursue a change that could reduce the annual spend or provide other benefits such as improved ergonomics or facilitating lean manufacturing or logistics practices.

Sometimes when a reusables program is good, it is just a few small things that can propel it to greatness. It isn’t that much different than baseball. If a hitter hits 5 times out of 20 at bats, he is batting .250 and is doing okay. If he hits just once more, he is batting .300 and is a batting leader. Once more again and he has a smoking hot .350 average. We are just talking the difference of 2 hits. To draw the same analogy to reusables, say a program is in trouble with a huge 50 or 60% shrink rate. If the reusables turn every month, that means that for every 20 going outbound, only 19 return. That equates to a 12 unit loss annually for every 20 inventoried, or a 60% annual replacement. But if that can be improved by just 1 unit on each return, then you have a 100% return rate and a world class program. Tell your trading partner and transportation provider that is exactly what you need to happen.

Sometimes a little can be a lot. If you already have a good reusables program it might not take a leap to make it great if you can turn up the heat just a little. Take a look around for some potential wins. Remember that at 212 degrees, water boils. At 211, it is just hot water.

Thanks for reading.

(This article was first posted in 2010.)

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