Dr. W. Edward Deming, one of the pioneering thinkers of continuous improvement, famously quipped, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is optional.” In a now classic example of this principle, Daryl Conner tells the true story of an employee who awakens on his oil rig to the sound of alarms and the burning platform collapsing around him. Conner writes:

“Badly injured, he escaped from his quarters to the platform edge. Beneath him, oil had surfaced and ignited. Twisted steel and other debris littered the surface of the water. Because of the water’s temperature, he knew that he could live a maximum of only twenty minutes if not rescued. Despite all that, Andy jumped fifteen stories from the platform to the water. When asked why he took that potentially fatal leap, he did not hesitate. He said, “It was either jump or fry.” He chose possible death over certain death. Andy jumped because he felt he had no choice—the price of staying on the platform was too high.” (Read the full piece from Conner here)

The global marketplace proves the truth in Deming’s and Conner’s words with each newsprint of the latest retail strategy “pivot,” industry consolidation, or filed bankruptcy. Organizations do not exist in homeostasis; they are always either breaking down or getting stronger. Whether your organization trends in the downward or upward direction depends heavily on its ability to recognize what’s broken, identify and successfully implement the remedy, then sustain its full adoption.

In our previous post, “It’s Okay that Nobody Likes Change” we detailed the items that might stop someone from jumping into the cold and burning water below. Without exception, the pains of change include fear of the unknown, difficulty in managing and communicating complex project goals, and enabling the granular authentic change within each program participant. Competitive organizations willingly take on those pains when they realize their platform is burning. Are you fighting any of these four fires common in your distribution center?

  1. Tight Labor Competition – Difficulty meeting headcount needs and wage growth expectations within budget
  2. Rising Cost per Case – Previous scale efficiencies are eroding as individual internet orders become a larger part of your overall volume
  3. Capacity Constraint – Surges in growth outpaced planned capabilities
  4. Overmatched or Disengaged Leadership – Resources are under trained technically and interpersonally to meet the complex demands of frontline management; they remain unaware of the financial impacts of their day to day activities

Our team here at LogistiPoint has made many rescues from these burning platforms and we know what the other side can look like:

  1. Instead of Tight Labor Competition – a labor force that has added benefit pay using multivariable incentives to increase engagement and productivity
  2. Instead of Rising Cost per Case – an organization aligned in eliminating inefficiencies and productivity obstacles by institutionalizing process improvement and accountability metrics
  3. Instead of Capacity Constraints – unlocked potential through optimized equipment, analytically driven expansion, and improved labor utilization
  4. Instead of Overmatched or Disengaged Leadership – trained and resilient frontlineleadership with sharpened communication skills, new tools for accountability, change management exposure, awareness of team dynamic dysfunctions, and a roadmap for positive operational routines that empower them to own their roles

Not all burning platforms will wake you up in the middle of the night. Some may smolder under the radar for some time, quietly but materially eating away at the foundations of your operation. Learn from the frog who fails to notice the water in the pot slowly heating up. Once it’s boiling, you’ve missed your chance to jump. Awareness of your organizational health and trajectory require an honest evaluation of your labor position, cost trends, capacity needs, and leadership capabilities. If you are not getting stronger in all of those areas, you will see smoke somewhere soon.

Want to read more on change management within your distribution center? Check out the LogistiPoint blog, where this article was originally posted.

At LogistiPoint, our industry-leading professionals bring more than 30 years of experience improving logistics and distribution within the retail supply chain industry to partner with clients and help them achieve higher performance from their people, facilities, and systems.