Our resident workplace expert, Justin Kerr, author of How to Be Great at Your Job, offers advice on how to deal with common workplace challenges.
Handling last-minute shipments
Q: Sometimes I need to palletize a job and send it out on a truck the same day. It stinks having to rush to get it all done in time! It would be best to have it done the day before, but how do I ask my co-workers to get the work request to me in a timelier manner? —Heather O., shipping and receiving manager
A: It’s more than likely that your co-workers have no idea that the timing of their orders makes such a difference. Determine how these requests are affecting your company’s bottom line. Is this an ongoing issue, or do the last-minute requests happen only on occasion? For one-offs, have a frank but empathetic conversation with the individual and explain how the delay disrupts the procurement process.
If it’s a chronic issue, diagnose why your co-workers are submitting the jobs at the last minute. Is it a paperwork issue? Is it the nature of the job itself (i.e., no one knows what they need in advance)? Is it just lack of foresight?
Once you’ve identified the root cause, the surest way to fix it for good is to update the company policy to require the lead time that you need. Get buy-in from leadership and communicate the new policy to staff to set expectations.
Denying items due to company policy
Q: I review all supply orders. People take it personally if I have to deny any items due to company policy. How can I get them to realize that I am only doing my job and I’m not the person who decides what they are allowed to purchase? —Jesika P., administrative assistant for purchasing
A: When it comes to bad news, remember you’re not to blame: After all, you didn’t create the policy. Your goal is to defuse the situation in an empathetic way. Deliver the rejections via email rather than in person, and make sure the employee knows you understand their point of view. Clearly explain the company policy at the beginning of the communication. Lead with the facts so your co-workers understand you’re not making arbitrary decisions. If possible, suggest an alternative that could meet their needs. You’re more likely to be seen as a collaborative partner, not as a roadblock.
Getting co-workers to follow policy
Q: We have an inventory system that requires staff to scan items when they use them, which then autogenerates an order to replenish. But the staff won’t scan, so inventory is never correct. It’s a battle every day. Help! —Vickie G., director of central supply
A: If employees aren’t scanning items, they probably aren’t clear on why the inventory system is so important. Send out an email to the staff that explains the reasons why it’s crucial to scan items. Let them know you understand their concerns first, and then focus on the “why” and the “how.” Explain that even though scanning the items might seem like an extra step, it ultimately saves them time and headaches because they won’t run out of items they need. Then, emphasize the importance of the scanning policy: Autogeneration of supply orders saves the company significant time and money. When employees buy into a policy’s importance, they’ll make it a priority.
Finding a needle in a haystack
Q: I get requests for “that blue thingy that you bought for that other guy last year.” How do I communicate that what I really need is an item number? —Elizabeth S., procurement coordinator
A: In today’s busy corporate environment, ordering supplies efficiently isn’t always your co-workers’ top priority. They want what they want as soon as possible, so they take shortcuts. But you need the specifics to get your job done.
With this in mind, your challenge becomes how to make it easier for your co-workers to give you the specific supply information you need to order easily. Create a list of prior orders that includes the item number and who ordered the product—many digital ordering platforms have these capabilities. This way, you can quickly look up the order history in your system. In this list, group supplies by common needs so everyone can find items quickly.
Having your co-workers fill out an order template can work, but only if they have access to the right information. If you use a template, send employees the list of the most common orders with product names and item numbers included so they aren’t coming back to you with more questions. And keep the template simple: one or two fields should suffice.
By putting in a little extra work up front, you can save yourself time and frustration for the rest of the year.
What are your biggest work challenges? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org—and Justin might offer a solution in an upcoming issue!
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