Third Party Logistics (3PL) Service Providers with a lean culture create an atmosphere in which people are the most important assets. If floor-level workers do not understand the problems or take ownership for fixing identified problems, the gains achieved in a kaizen event are apt to be lost after two or three months. It is also important to celebrate successes. Since these are widely known concepts, when reviewing responses to their requests for proposals (RFPs), companies should use care to distinguish between those 3PLs that are just parroting standard lean rhetoric and those that actually employ and believe in the practices. To do this, you need to look for bottom-up engagement.

3PLs use different models to provide warehousing services. In one model, the 3PL takes over a client's warehousing operations, using the client's warehouse and people, but assuming management responsibilities. With this model, the 3PL starts the continuous improvement process with a base of existing workers that know the business and already have the basic warehousing skills necessary to do their jobs. Since it doesn’t need to hire new warehouse staff, the 3PL can better engage and motivate the existing staff based on lean leadership.

To accomplish this, every day would start with a shift meeting. Discussion items could include how things went the previous day, a safety message, and the coming day's specific challenges. In discussing how things went the previous day, floor personnel are asked about what did not go right and how things could be improved to avoid reoccurrence. Once managers have engaged their workers, they have to execute on those suggestions. The suggestions are written on the board and the manager assigns an owner to that suggestion and get an answer by the end of the week.

In other cases, shippers need to relocate their existing warehouse to be able to respond better to current demand patterns. In these cases, new warehouse staff may need to be hired. Here, the 3PL's human resources people should be able to explain what types of workers they’re looking for to be able to support lean initiatives and what they need to do to hire these workers.

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