Warehouse Startups: Organizational Readiness Strategy

So you’re working on a warehouse startup. Everyone is excited about the conveyors, the systems, the new building’s size and renderings. But it feels like something is missing. What is it… oh, right, people! You need a plan to bring on the people to operate the facility and make them effective. And many businesses find that hiring, training, and retaining people is one of the most challenging parts of their operations.

This is where creating an organizational readiness strategy document is helpful. It is essential if the organization does not have much experience in either starting or operating warehouses itself. If the organization does this already then there are likely established processes and procedures for handling all the information.

Let’s look at this tool.

What the Organizational Readiness Strategy is

The organizational readiness strategy should contain baseline organization information and the overall approach of how the organization will develop.

Keep in mind that this is about readiness, not just headcount. And readiness includes the ability to support the entire operation. So we identify two main sections for the strategy: Recruit & Hire, and Organizational Capability.

Recruit & Hire information

It’s important to have baseline information in a digestible, consolidated format for review and alignment. The HR and Operations teams need to see eye-to-eye during the whole startup. Unfortunately, many times they don’t and end up scrambling to make changes or understand what’s needed. A reference document can go a long way in reducing confusion and improving responsiveness from day 1 of the project.

  • Agreed-on baseline staffing headcount by position, including exempt and non-exempt roles
  • Agreed-on budget. It’s helpful to have budget goals identified by position. But for some organizations this isn’t visible to non-HR or non-project owners
  • Facility operating schedule requirements for inbound and outbound, on daily, weekly, monthly, annual basis.
  • Department names and codes for all roles and/or activities.
  • Document shift schedules for all roles.
    • It’s helpful here to also identify hours worked per shift, length and number of breaks, and lunches
    • Identify overtime (OT) schedules and their hours. It’s helpful here to also capture the percentage increase in volume using overtime would enable and whether any additional equipment would be needed to enable the OT.
    • Many sites run centralized shift management through their timekeeping software like Kronos due to the high volume, structure, and reporting requirements. But other software tools can help define these if the coverage requirements and systems allow.
  • Holidays and how they are observed
  • Shift differentials types and amounts
  • Temp-to-Permanent employee target ratio, peak and non-peak. This will help the HR team deploy the strategy.
  • Seasonal staffing expectations to align on recruiting requirements in peak times.
  • Turnover assumptions.
  • Recruiting process summary and the assigned team. It’s good to know what the steps and processes for hiring are, like how sourcing works, what required assessments are, interview scheduling practices, and so on.
  • Hiring timeline or schedule. Identify how many of which roles are required when, and document assumptions for how long recruit-to-hire will take. This can also identify dates of key hiring events. If the ramp plan is available, then this schedule can also include projected hiring ramps to meet the volume requirements. If not then schedule a check-in to update it when the ramp is available.

This information will be used by the recruiting team, the Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS) teams, and by the operations team.

Organizational Capability

This part of the strategy can be a separate document like an appendix or new section. The purpose is to identify the organization’s unmet needs to be effective and an approach to meet them.

  • List of policies existing and to develop.
    • Check if the organization has an employee handbook already. See if there is an attendance policy, behavior policy, safety policy, performance management, PTO, hygiene/clothing… you get the idea. If any key policies are missing, they have to be written and approved through HR, Operations, Legal, and possibly other organizations. This can take a lot of time!
  • Identify any capability gaps and who will address them:
    • new roles to the organization and therefore new training needs
    • Identify new responsibilities or processes that existing positions will have to fill
    • Identify new responsibilities or processes that there are no existing positions to meet and therefore new roles will be needed
    • Addressing points 2 and 3 may involve borrowing from organizational change management approaches like ProSci’s ADKAR method. Don’t underestimate the importance of communicating and training the rest of the organization. Supporting functions’ adaptation can be critical to a successful ramp.
  • Identify a training approach (for example: train the trainer, train-the-end user, what documentation such as work instructions is required)
  • Identify who is needed from other facilities or traveling teams to support the start-up period.
  • Training calendar draft at the weekly level. The daily and hourly schedules will come as planning progresses, but key training dates need to be aligned to hiring and start-up schedules.


One of the quickest ways to have a terrible launch experience is to not have enough of the right people and fail to train them. Then the organization has to plan for fill-ins from other facilities which stresses the whole organization until the new site gets on its feet. And in the meantime the new site is firefighting to get production up, defects down, and shipments out the door.

At the same time, getting the right people hired and the right capability developed is often challenging. There are many scheduling pitfalls to avoid. One critical way to avoid big problems in this area is using the organizational strategy document. Setting baseline requirements and expectations early in the project will help avoid surprises and keep the people on track.

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