Changing the Storeroom Culture to Best Practice Performance

By Wally Wilson, CMRP, CPIM, Life Cycle Engineering

Maintenance, Repair and Operation (MRO) storerooms and spare parts are a necessary evil that most businesses tolerate as a part of doing business. As options are explored to reduce costs and optimize every dollar invested, changing the way spare parts are managed is a hidden cost that many times is overlooked. Defining the best practices, procedures and processes is actually the easy part. The difficulty lies in implementing these revised ways of doing business. As you roll out training for the revised way employees will do their jobs, the resistance starts to surface and execution of the project starts to slow. Introducing behavior change in the way employees do their jobs becomes the hard part of changing the storeroom culture. 

This is the all-too-common result business leaders encounter when they try to change their business practices to stay or become more competitive in the global market. These failed initiatives are often referred to as the “flavor of the month” and as these failures stack up it becomes more difficult to execute future initiatives. Without a defined strategy and core team to facilitate the needed changes, the odds of successfully changing the behavior of your employees are not good. 

Preparing for Change in the Storeroom

Creating the strategy to change employees’ behavior starts several months before any changes are implemented on the storeroom floor. To establish the scope of the project, you need to define what the changes are going to look like and create the vision of benefits that will result from the project. 

It’s always a good idea to get a new set of eyes to look at a current situation and ask why we do things this way. To assess the barriers and issues facing the storeroom employees, select a team of employees that represent a cross-section of the organization. The team should consist of a team leader, sponsor, and four to five team members. Members of this team should be employees that are viewed as leaders in the organization and that are comfortable brainstorming for new ideas to provide solutions to current storeroom practices that are causing waste. 

To define how large the change project should be, the team selected to lead the project will need to conduct an assessment of the current storeroom operation. The goal of the assessment is to identify areas of waste in employee activity, waste in inventory storage, and unsafe storage practices. The result of the storeroom assessment is the basis for the strategy to implement the proposed changes to storeroom operation. 

These new eyes will see the waste that has become acceptable to employees working in the area day after day. As the team members conduct face-to-face interviews with the current storeroom staff and employees working outside the storeroom, the conversations will expose inefficiencies that the proposed changes will address at implementation. It is important that the interviews are conducted in a structured but conversational way to ensure the employees are open and honest in their comments. 

Managing Change in the Storeroom    

If your organization is like most, before the meeting is adjourned the rumor mill will be spreading the word that management is changing things again. Resistance to change of any kind is a part of human nature. A second common cause of resistance is fear of the unknown. To mitigate the rumor mill and the fear of change, it is important to have a newsletter or some means of communication to the workforce that outlines the purpose of the change and how it will make the employees’ jobs better and the business more competitive. 

With an understanding of what is causing resistance, the leadership team can provide support through one-on-one coaching, employee training and a communication plan that outlines the benefits of changing the way the storeroom will operate. We can coach and train all we want, but if we don’t manage the areas of resistance to the changes in storeroom operation, the result of the project will be another flavor of the month. 

The storeroom supervisor plays a key role in the success of changing the culture in the storeroom operation. The supervisor or manager can also be a point of resistance. Assessing these employees’ support for the changes is critical at this point in the project. A tool that can be used to assess the readiness of individual employees to change is Prosci’s ADKAR® Model

Awareness of the need for change (why)
Desire to support and participate in the change (our choice)

Knowledge about how to change (the learning process)

Ability to implement the change (turning knowledge into action)

Reinforcement™ to sustain the change (celebrating success)

Understanding resistance to implementing the needed changes will allow you to avoid setbacks to progress. Setbacks can slow momentum during the implementation phase of a project if we don’t understand each employee’s attitude about the changes. An employee could have experienced several projects that promised improved work conditions, but failed to deliver. Or there could be a low trust level between the hourly and management groups that causes suspicion of any changes suggested by the managers. 

It is important to understand these issues and many other causes of resistance up front so a resistance management plan can be put in place to counter these objections. Creating awareness of the need for change in the workforce can be developed through definitive measures like waste identification and performance tracking of storeroom activities. Just because a manager, supervisor or employee says they are aware that changes are needed doesn’t confirm that they will support the changes.

Instilling the desire to change in an employee is more difficult than creating awareness of the need for change. The desire to change is a personal choice and sometimes even though we know it is the right thing to do, we decline to take the steps to make the change. The two elements that can create desire are to explain thoroughly “what’s in it for me?” and the consequences of choosing not to change.

Wanting to make the changes and desiring to support change isn’t enough to get the job done. Employees need to know how to make the desired changes to the storeroom operation. The storeroom employees will develop this knowledge through a training program that addresses revised business practice in storeroom work processes, inventory management practices, storeroom layout, and policies regarding storeroom security and access. These changes could be considered a complete storeroom makeover by many organizations. The size and scope of the project identifies where the focus of change will be directed. 

As employees are trained they gain the ability to implement the changes in storeroom operation. Implementing the changes is, again, the easy part. The tough part is to execute the changes that follow implementation. To manage the storeroom it is critical to have performance metrics that monitor how well the areas of change are functioning.  A few examples of key performance metrics that are indicators of how well the storeroom is operating are listed below. 

  • Inventory accuracy: the percent of accurate cycle counts of inventory
  • Employee utilization: the activity of storeroom employees by transaction 
  • Receiving exceptions: items received that required additional actions
  • Requisition fill rate: the percent of requisitions filled upon request
  • Inventory integrity: the percent of parts identified to an equipment asset
  • Storeroom space utilization: the percent of locations assigned inventory 

Resistance to the changes implemented in the storeroom is an ongoing issue that will need to be monitored. This resistance can be expressed as active or passive resistance. Passive resistance shows up in the form of “say yes, do no” and is usually found in the manager and supervisor’s behavior. Active resistance will show in the form of challenges to the changes that were implemented. Active resistance is much easier to confront and mitigate. Passive resistance is more difficult to identify and confront. Both forms of resistance cause the expected changes to stall and can cause the entire project to fail if not resolved. 

Implementing an audit process of storeroom work processes gives the storeroom employees a means to express their opinion and make suggestions to improve the process. It is important to understand that the storeroom work processes are living documents and revising them to improve the performance is expected. The storeroom policies and practices too, should be in a continuous improvement atmosphere. When areas of waste or inefficiency are identified, it is important to implement corrective actions to eliminate the problem. Not following through on corrective actions and constantly looking for ways to move forward will result in a failed change management initiative and another flavor of the month.   

©Prosci All Rights Reserved. Used with permission under terms of license agreement.


Wally Wilson, CMRP, CPIM, has more than 25 years experience in plant management with three Fortune 500 corporations. As a Senior Subject Matter Expert specializing in Materials Management with Life Cycle Engineering, Wally has helped both domestic and international clients realize multi-million dollar savings through lean inventory management practices and Supply Chain optimization. You can contact him at [email protected].

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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