Why Culture Matters in an Operational Environment

Why Culture Matters in an Operational Environment

This post was submitted by Joe McIntyre of Twelve48 our guest from Episode 451 of the podcast.

With the 2023-2024 NFL season wrapped up, Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, and the Kansas City Chiefs took another step to solidify themselves as the next NFL dynasty with their third Championship in the last 5 years.  Listening to interviews and reading articles, it is clear that the team is a highly connected and functioning unit. So how do you engrain a strong culture in a sport where the 53-man playing roster, coaching personnel, and administrative support churns constantly?

Strong leadership from the Head Coach.  

First, a little background and history on Andy Reid and what I think has been the foundation for his success. Then we’ll translate that to why building the right culture matters.

With this latest win, Andy Reid is arguably one of the best NFL coaches of all time.  He is the only coach in NFL history to win 100 games and go to 4+ conference championships with two different teams.  His formula for success is repeatable… something we operators love!

So what makes Andy Reid different from the other head coaches that have come and gone in the league?  With Andy Reid, everyone knows their role and what’s expected of them. There is a defacto hierarchy but at the same time, even with all of the superstars they have, no one person is bigger than the team.  They’re there for each other to support, but also to hold each other accountable.  You can see it when you watch the team interactions on the sideline and you can hear it in any player’s answers during an interview throughout the season. 

There are four key strengths that I think have been key to Andy Reid’s success.  These strengths have created highly effective teams and cultures during Reid’s time as a head coach in the NFL.

  • Builds Trust – Reid embraces who he is and allows others to do the same.  There isn’t the “Chief’s Way” of “Chief’s Culture”, it’s an environment where people are authentic and relatable. Beginning with Andy Reid. Reid is a master at building connections and relationships with his staff and the players.
  • Standards and Accountability –  The standard for performance and success is high and the accountability to meet those standards is equally as high. Furthermore, the good of the team was always put ahead of the good of a single player.  Look no further than Kadarius Toney and Jawaan Taylor.  After multiple weeks of controllable errors by Toney, the star of the Super Bowl win in 2023, he was removed from the lineup in the playoffs and for the big game in 2024.  Jawaan Taylor had a similar situation early in the season where he was benched briefly for too many penalties 
  • Attention to Detail – Reid is known for being meticulous. The difference is that his attention to detail and need for control don’t lead to the micro-management of staff and players. There is a difference between controlling everything and being in control of everything. Reid walks that line well. In operations, the former leads to firefighting, frustrations, and burnout.  The latter allows for the growth of both the people on the team and the operation as a whole.  By being in control, the leader can hold the standard, anticipate and see the challenges, and ensure everything is operating as it should.
  • Talent Identification & Development – He is known for fostering environments that allow players to grow. This happened with a “weak” set of cornerbacks in 2022-2023 and with young receivers in 2023-2024 (check it out here). Reid knew the players had potential so he set them up to succeed by getting them experience early in the year without over-extending them.  He allowed them to grow into the players he needed them to be when the lights were the brightest.

How does this translate to your warehouse and operations? 

When it comes to culture, it’s all about the intersection of people and the decisions that impact them. The tricky part? While the leadership of an organization sets the tone for the culture, it’s the people executing the work day in and day out who determine if that culture takes hold. That means it’s not about having the best people, it’s about having the right people in the right seats and enabling them to meet their full potential.

  • Builds Trust – Building trust within a warehouse or fulfillment operation is critical for the success of the team. It’s important that employees understand and believe in the people they are working with and working for. People work for people and put in extra effort for those they feel do the same for them.  Authenticity, camaraderie, and a sense of “we” start at the top.  People and practices that undermine the trust needed must be identified and addressed quickly.
  • Standards and Accountability –  Standards need to be clear and non-negotiable and there needs to be consistent accountability when the standards aren’t met. It sounds harsh but read it again with the mindset that standards and accountability can be constructive and not destructive. When standards and goals are clear, the teams have a tangible “pass/fail” marker.  When standards aren’t met, accountability needs to be present and consistent. However accountability does not always mean punishment.  In healthy organizations, it means understanding the failure and applying the learning moving forward which leads to personal and organizational growth.  There still needs to be accountability and disciplinary action for repeated violations of safety, standard work, and personnel policy, but that should come after coaching and training.
  • Attention to Detail – Operations can be monotonous.  For most frontline associates and frontline leaders, the daily work is repetitive. This leads to a level of comfort and complacency.  Complacency is the silent assassin within operations. Because in operations, it’s not a matter of if something will go wrong but when it will go wrong. Having the basics nailed down and removing as much thinking from the day-to-day work is critical.  The best combination to drive high attention to detail is the implementation of 5S principles, GEMBA walks, and post-shift reviews of Plan vs. Actual performance.  This allows for there to be a constant review and pulse check of the operation and the things that do not always show up in a KPI review or a reporting dashboard.
  • Talent Identification & Development – In operations, the necessary skill sets needed at each level of the organization are different and not necessarily linear.  Additionally, most companies have a strong training program for tactical work within operations but don’t have strong training programs to develop the skill sets needed in supervisory and managerial roles before they are placed in the role. This creates an environment where the long-term success rate of internal promotions from hourly associates into leadership roles is low, leading to most hires for supervisory and managerial roles being external hires. This stifles morale as hourly associates don’t believe they can progress.

 A successful approach can be to create a training program for high-potential associates to help them develop the skills needed to move to the next level of the organization before the opportunity is available.  It is a win-win for both the employees and the company.  The employees see it as recognition and an investment by the company in their success, and the company levels up their workforce while improving retention and employee experience.

In conclusion, take cues from great leaders like Andy and find ways to emulate them in your operation. Focus on your people, details and standardizing the day to day to maximize results and  win the super bowl inside your operation.

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© The New Warehouse.
All rights reserved.