Setting Up Employees For Success

These first two weeks with our first employee have been a fascinating experience for us.  John has picked up the job much faster than we anticipated.  He’s getting more work done more accurately and in less time than we could have ever predicted.

Now, a good portion of that is because he’s a very hard working, intelligent kid.  I think we realize that not every employee is going to pick things up quite as fast as he has.

But the other portion of that, the part that we have more control over, is how well I think we set him up for success.  All of the efficiency improvements over the past year that we’ve made have not only helped save us time and increased our accuracy, they’ve also made it so that our employees naturally have less room for error.

Consider the process of pulling an order, now vs last year:

  • Invoices used to print out sorted by date, but FedEx labels will only print out in ABC order.  Previously, we had to alphabetize the invoices to match the two before pulling orders.  Now they both come out in ABC order and the two piles match exactly.  When you go to pull an order, you simply take the top slip off of each pile and get to it.
  • With a few recent improvements to our algorithm, we’ve got our box size system accurately picking boxes well over 90% of the time.  The box prints on the bottom of the invoice so all you need to do is pick up a pre-made box of your choice and you’re off.
  • The recent layout revamp makes pulling the products a piece of cake.  They are ordered on the invoice in the order in which they are organized in the warehouse, with the most popular products on the easiest shelves to reach.
  • Our packing area used to just be a cluster of tables where people checked and packed orders.  With the current assembly-line-like setup (expanded a bit since that post) packages flow smoothly from puller to checker to packer to the door where they wait for FedEx.

The cumulative impact of all of these improvements has enabled him to learn way faster and work way faster than any of us thought.  And remember, he’s only worked around 30 hours total in the two weeks he’s been with us.  Now we’re thinking we may be able to triple or quadruple in size by just adding one full time employee and keeping one part time one.  Previously, we could speculate, but now I think we have a pretty good understanding of how simple it is to train an employee within our system.

I think the grander lesson is how important it is to put your employees in positions where they can succeed.  The more foolproof you make your systems, the easier it will be for them to hit the ground running.  Not only that, they won’t need to spend time worrying about all of the same problems that you did because you’ve eliminated them.  All of which leads to exponentially increasing the chance that they do their job effectively and efficiently.  And at the end of the day, you need that from your employees.  If they can’t do it at least as fast as you can, you’ve failed – either in hiring someone with the wrong skillset or in putting them in a position that makes it difficult for them to succeed.

8 comments on Setting Up Employees For Success

  1. Your employee is an anomaly. If you can hire 3 in a row of the same caliber then maybe making such rosy projections about employee productivity would be prudent.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Bill –

      Thanks for the comment. As stated in the post, I was working under the assumption that not every employee will pick things up quite as quickly. Regardless of whether the next 3 employees are just as good or only 50% as good, we’ve set up systems that make it easy to learn and hard (not impossible) to make mistakes. That was the point I was trying to make. Kind of like how McDonalds can plug any 16 year old in the world into their system and it works. They set up their employees for success.

      Also, the other thing to remember is that we didn’t put those systems in place for our employees. We put them in place for us. We’ve shown over the last year that we can double in size, but make less mistakes and work less hours because the processes are more well defined. Those things just naturally extend to the employee. I think we’ve seen them work for the four of us and now a fifth person, so I don’t think that it’s a “rosy projection” to assume that it will work for #6, #7, and #8.

      I’m not saying we won’t ever have an employee who doesn’t work out. Maybe they’ll be lazy or maybe they’ll steal from us, but that has more to do with the hiring process and not the actual operational systems we put in place. In some workplaces even good employees are destined to fail. I don’t think that’s the case with us.

  2. nethy says:


    How much time do the owners spend in the warehouse?

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Nethy – total estimate here, but I’d say we each previously spent about 12 hours/week (so 48 between us). John’s time is almost completely chipping away at that, so I’d say starting this week (the first week he’ll be totally on his own) he’ll knock us each down to about 8. Mondays are always pretty busy – there needs to be all 5 people packing orders on that day. The other days he can do almost everything himself, but one of us needs to check his work prior to shipping. Plus, he only works some Thursdays and no Fridays, so those days the packing and shipping is all us. The nice thing is, even on those days, if a large delivery comes we can just leave it for him and he’ll unpack it early the following week. Those unexpected interruptions where we previously had to drop everything and go unbox a large order for an hour really hurt our individual efficiency on warehouse days.

      • nethy says:

        I was going to say that now you have a more tangible choice about how to spend your hours. I anyone thinks they can spend their time more profitably then $x, they can go do that.

        But a couple of half days packing boxes is probably better a boost to productivity, not a drain.

        • Adam McFarland says:

          The actual packing really isn’t that bad. I don’t mind getting up and moving around with the guys, and I don’t mind getting to know the products a little better. The thing that this first employee is really helping with is all of the other BS warehouse work like breaking down boxes and unboxing large deliveries. Those hours are really draining and of almost no value.

          Plus, getting someone in is just part of the larger plan of getting to a point where none of us have to go to the warehouse on any given day. I think now we’re more comfortable saying that with one full time employee and 1-2 part timers we could do that and still grow. Now it’s just a matter of being prudent financially and not rushing into anything. Another good 6 months and we’ll be able to do it I think.

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