For retailers and third party logistics companies, the fourth quarter is all about making big sales to sustain them throughout the rest of the year. While workplaces must be productive during this time to process increased demand, the end of the year is also filled with holidays and their social and cultural demands. If not managed properly the stress of the holiday season can take the joy out of the season.
Throughout the years, I've found that there are ways to satisfy the two opposing requirements of meeting business challenges and maintaining a social and family life.
Plan The Work
Stress is caused by novelty and unpredictability. To combat these uncertainties, carefully planning busy times helps everyone retain a sense of control over what seems like an overwhelming spike in business volume.
Work with your partners and vendors throughout the year to ensure that you're receiving up-to-date and accurate forecasts so that you can plan to support the increases in volume that will no doubt be coming your way. Receiving updated forecasts is helpful no matter the time of year.
But getting holiday forecasts as early as possible during the year is particularly important if you're planning to hire additional workers to support the increased demand. Having the people and systems in place to provide training, reporting, and other operational support is also critical. If you can see your business operations you can manage your business operations.
Adjust The Plan
While planning and reporting is critical to retaining that sense of control over your business operations, no plan is ever followed to the letter. There will always be adjustments and necessary changes.
At our morning meeting, the warehouse floor adjusts to the actual volume and actual labor so that work can be assigned. A meeting at the midpoint of the day evaluates the work completed so far and any changes are discussed and made. Has order volume increased over the forecast? Do workers need to be reassigned to other programs? These adjustments can be easily made within a system that has built in flexibility.
Care For People
Part of getting ready for peak season is leaving enough flexibility in the plan to allow for necessary adjustments. Understanding that your workers prize a company culture that supports them professionally and personally is recognized as a way to retain good team members who will work hard during the busy time.
In order to allow some flexibility with worker's schedules, so that they can see their children's holiday performance at school, our system takes in the customer forecasts and then helps workers plan their schedule. Running multiple shifts in our facility during the holiday season also helps with flexibility.
The key here is that our workers can essentially make their own schedules, within certain parameters, even during busy times. This flexibility, with insight and controls, has been immensely helpful for our staff to have a sense of predictability and control over their personal schedules, and it's something you can do at your company as well.
Evaluate and Look Ahead
A critical evaluation of work performed, or an adjustment to a plan can become a lesson learned. Each is an opportunity for future improvement. And while every lesson learned doesn't need to be recorded and reviewed, the process does perform a number of functions.
Of course, a lesson learned means that there's a document to refer to in the future so that processes can be improved. But the very process of recording that lesson means that there's recognition of the original planning, and the necessary adjustment to that planning.
Further, the process of recording a lesson learned reinforces that notion of control during a busy time so that the next time a similar situation arises, you're prepared to handle it because you've removed the uncertainty. These lessons learned get plowed back into your planning and training processes when you're preparing for the next peak season.
In this way I've found that that planning, adjusting, and evaluating-- particularly during busy times of the year-- helps to make handling increased business volume more of a defined process than an outright stressful occurrence. We're all trying to refine a system that helps our business partners, our company, and our workers. I've used this flexible system to manage the company through some pretty stressful times, and we're always better the next year for the process.
Now, it's your turn to use similar processes.