Do your staff members have vision? We're not referring to their eyesight; we're talking about a vision of the future—an ability to step back and picture where the company could go, how they fit in and what their future holds. Many times, workers find it difficult to disengage from their daily tasks and visualize what could be. It's up to you to share your vision of where their careers could take them and how it could be accomplished.
Study after study has shown that career development programs strengthen morale and boost productivity. The key here is to include everyone—all members of your workforce, not just your managers —in programs like the following:
1. Job shadowing. You may dismiss shadowing as a gimmick to teach middle schoolers about different kinds of jobs, but it actually works just as well for adults. You'd be amazed at how many members of your organization have no idea what the people upstairs or in the next building do each day. You may find that a picker would thrive as a driver or that a driver might become the best warehouse supervisor you could find—if they only had a chance to see what the job entailed. Introducing a rotating program that permits any staff member who wants to shadow another worker for a few hours could reward you with a new crop of motivated and dedicated workers.
2. Cross training/job rotation. A good move isn't always a vertical move; sometimes the best moves are lateral. We've all been indoctrinated to believe that success means moving up the corporate ladder. But that's not necessarily so. Your best warehouse worker may prove wholly unsuited to the job of warehouse supervisor—in which case, his "promotion" deprives you of both a decent supervisor and your best warehouse worker. Yet that same warehouse worker might excel in the scheduling and distribution department. Job rotation gives valuable but bored employees an alternative to quitting.
3. Career counseling. Amazing things can happen when a supervisor or manager sits down with a team member for a frank discussion of his or her career goals. But don't stop there. Follow up by helping the employee draw up a plan for reaching those goals—preferably one that includes company- sponsored training classes and reimbursement for outside education. If you feel your front-line supervisors don't have the time to create a career plan for each staff member— or the training to do so— there's another option. You can have the supervisor sit down with the employee for the heart-to-heart career talk, and then, if appropriate, refer the worker to a designated human resources professional to create the plan.
4. Mentoring. Think of it as the corporate version of a Big Brother/Big Sister program. Pickers, forklift operators, truck drivers … all can benefit from a mentor's counsel. But choose the mentor carefully—he or she shouldn't have any supervisory authority over the employee being "adopted." He or she should, however, be knowledgeable about the department, job category and functions.
All too often, pickers, forklift operators and loaders see their jobs as menial tasks that contribute little to the company's overall success. That's usually because no one has taken the time to explain the importance of their role. Tell them how they fit into the big picture. Let them know how much you value their contribution. If they know it, your bottom line will show it.