Allowing 3PLs to Grow with Technology

Technology is one of the greatest gifts to mankind. It has allowed us to become the most dominant apex predator, and do things quicker, more easily, and more reliably than with human effort alone. But often when thinking about businesses using technology, we treat this gift like it’s an old mattress found dumpster diving. Teams will ignore the technology presented to them, in favor of “the ways things have always been done” because it’s what’s familiar to them. Choosing to ignore these technological boons is even worse because it’s often already paid for, and it can give off the illusion that technology doesn’t work, potentially creating a mindset to ignore future technological advances.

So how does one ensure the gift of technology isn’t ignored and is fully utilized across the third-party logistics (3PL) warehouse? The answer is buy-in. Everyone needs to be on board, which is why we’ll be going over the top ways to create buy-in across your team to help with technology adoption when introduced to your warehouse.

Understand Which KPIs to Focus On

Before even selecting software or technology, identify the quantitative upside for the team. Moreover, you should know what those measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) are and roughly what level of efficiency increase you can expect from your current operations after implementation.

At 3PL Central, we inform potential customers that using our warehouse management system (WMS) software can result in 100% order accuracy across the warehouse. But what are your accuracy levels currently? How much money will you save from mis-picks? You’ll want to measure against these metrics before and after implementation so that you can share the information with the team so they’ll have a stake in the improvement goals to achieve with the technology.

It’ll be hard to convince others to change their ways if they don’t understand areas for improvement or the reason to switch from what they are doing currently.

Prepping for the desired KPI improvement will help with the second part, explaining the return on investment to the team.

Explain the Return on Investment

One of the biggest hurdles to getting people to adopt technology is the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Probably one of my least favorite sayings of all time, it doesn’t allow for any type of optimization or improvement- so long as the current system is semi-functioning. It’s this mindset that would still have us doing complex math by hand instead of inventing computers.

But beyond just giving a statistical percentage, it’s important to present the data in multiple ways to ensure everyone understands- and present it in a way that benefits them.

E.g., “With 3PL Central’s SmartDock, warehouses reduce time spent running manual schedules by 90%.”

Employees might think, “Cool, that’s a really big number. But I don’t think I spend too much time doing this so what does it really matter if I am spending a little more time each day on a fairly simple task?”

But presenting it another way might showcase the ROI a little bit better. “With SmartDock, you’ll save 20 hours a month on manual scheduling of your dock appointments. Bob, remember that project you didn’t get to last month because you didn’t have enough time? Do you think with an extra 20 hours you would have been able to complete it?”

In the second version, it presented the information in a way that isn’t vague, it can be translated into units of measurement that are valuable to them- i.e., labor hours.

And while hopefully this would be enough to get buy-in from the team, it’s important to get buy-in from the whole team.

Monitor Usage from the Top Down

Include management who might not directly use the technology. Everyone should be at the very least aware of the technology, and ideally everyone has some understanding of the technology. If the owner tells a manager to have his staff use a piece of software, and the manager has no idea what it does or is supposed to do, then it becomes far more difficult to ensure tasks are carried out. Furthermore, if an employee has a question and the manager replies with “I don’t know,” then if often feels like this piece of technology really isn’t that important, otherwise their boss would’ve known more about it.

Find a Technology Champion

Top-down control might drive adoption, but not necessarily buy-in. Find someone who is already passionate about optimization and technology in general to be a champion of the new technology, and a shining example for others to see. Almost every organization has at least one person like this, so inviting them to be an advocate will create an opportunity for a grassroots swell of buy-in from their peers. Ideally they will also be one of the more frequent users of the technology initiative and can also become a resource for others to lean on when learning how to utilize the technology themselves. If you are having trouble finding an adopter that is passionate on their own, look for someone with ambition to move up. By framing this to them as an added skillset will make them more valuable to the company and in their career, they may take this opportunity to become a true leader and demonstrate their willingness to teach others how to best use the software as well.

Review and Accountability

Reviewing usage and accountability go hand in hand with monitoring usage. This is the enforcement end of monitoring and needs to be structured as such. Be clear at the onset that you will be review the success of this technology to see if you should continue using it, and in order to get conclusive results, the team must actively use the technology. It doesn’t have to serious reprimands, but setting expectations that this is important and expected can reinforce the message.

The best times to run a review of new technology are after the first month of implementation and three months following up from that. After the first month, you should be able to tell if enough team members are using it, and after three months, you can usually tell if the team has bought in. It’s very easy to start an initiative and have a strong beginning, but have it peter out after a few weeks of implementing, showing half successful results.

If you notice dips in usage, first ask the team why. Get their opinion and honestly listen. You may have to make some minor adjustments based on feedback. After adjusting and modifying based on constructive feedback, then review adoption again. After making those adjustments, potentially coach the non-adopters. If that fails to drive adoption, reprimands might be needed. After all, if the team isn’t using the technology given to help them improve, they are preventing the business from improving. Let them know it’s ok if a piece of technology isn’t exceeding the expectations set by the technology salesperson, but it must at least be given a fair chance to be successful.

Buy-In Conclusion

To fully adopt technology into a business, you must get buy-in from all levels of the business. Furthermore, the team should know what areas to improve, why it’s important to improve, that usage will be reviewed, and that their feedback is valuable. Leveraging these techniques will help the team buy-in to the software or technology and the warehouse’s overall performance and efficiency will improve.

If you’re interested in learning more about technology updates as they relate to 3PLs, we highly recommend viewing the State of the Third Party Logistics Industry Report.

State of the Third Party Logistics Report

-Written by Daniel Zimmerman

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