Storeroom Staff Mismanagement, Pt 2: The Dangers of Indifferent Personnel

Supply Demand Planning

By: Jim Clifford, Director of MRO Services

Earlier this month, PCA Associate Jim Clifford shared a true story of storeroom staff mismanagement that illustrated how just one bad personnel decision can snowball into a big problem (with corresponding significant financial loss.) Here, in the spirit of former radio personality Paul Harvey, he’s sharing “The Rest of the Story.” It details the dangers of having office and storeroom staff who are ignorant of, or simply non-committal regarding, the importance of their roles. To read Part 1, click here.

I was a first-line supervisor in a large manufacturing company where upper management did not recognize the value of ensuring all staff involved with storeroom-related activities, from procurement and ordering to parts fulfillment, were suited for their roles. Some were just cruising through life with no sense of urgency, even when the facility needed expedited parts to repair offline equipment.

Others had useful skills that would have made them great debt collectors — such as tracking down overdue POs— but they didn’t exercise appropriate diligence when making computer entries. None of them understood the urgency and importance of achieving basic operational excellence, from follow through to multitasking, without sacrificing quality.

The storeroom attendants had their own problems. As mentioned last month, one of the challenges for storeroom excellence was that two departments had been merged, with each group possessing a noticeable difference in skillsets. A little cross-training and skill redistribution helped resolve the situation, but we faced other challenges. Some personnel were close to retirement, looking for an easy path to get there, while others were assigned to the storeroom as light duty personnel due to accidents or sickness. Some were new hires that management was “trying out,” or letting them “wet their feet,” before they moved on to an engineering position in maintenance and repair. None of these folks would have been my choice of crew “material,” but I was determined to work with what I had.

Storeroom Attendants: Qualities to Seek

What do I look for in a storeroom attendant? Here are some thoughts.
• Attention to detail
• Computer literate
• Takes ownership of inventory
• Service oriented
• Understands the process
• Trustworthy and accountable

Ideally, personnel should want to stay in the storeroom for a few years, but storeroom managers must recognize that the work is repetitive and can be mundane after a while.

My advice to storeroom managers is to give your people challenges and remind them that being enthusiastic and helpful in this position will give them a better chance at advancement. Then, prepare for them to move on eventually.

Baby Steps; Big Improvements

The first step was to ensure each person could perform his or her job correctly and efficiently. Not wanting to engage in a full, physical inventory every year, I implemented cycle counting, where a small subset of items is counted every day to avoid major yearly inventory efforts. I did not allow anyone who was marking time or in a “sunset position” to refuse to do counting.

I was also determined to not allow the storeroom to function as an on-site rehab location. If a person needed light duty, it was up to their original department head to find them some busy work. Storeroom excellence required everyone to be able to function, and mistakes were too costly to make.

The last action was to at least slow down the “passing through” trend. I had no problem with young people in the storeroom for a suitable period of time before being promoted to a maintenance trade. However, if maintenance hired people and placed them in the storeroom as a “trial run” tactic, I objected.

The final issue I dealt with was lack of trust. I needed to be able to trust my storeroom personnel completely, and once I had pared down the staff to a group of individuals who were there for the right reasons, I was ready to work on trust building and commitment to excellence. If items were being issued incorrectly, if materials were disappearing out the back door, if deliveries or returns were not being recorded properly, then my unit could not function at all. But that’s a story for another day.