Are logistics managers too nice?

Logistics operations are under enormous pressure. The human capital in logistics is losing its value by the day. Are logistics managers perhaps too nice to their personnel. Do we talk too much?

What struck me during my recent vacation trip through Europe was that hardly any of the truck drivers I saw on the European highways were Dutch. These days, it’s mostly Eastern European contractors who are dominating the market for international transport. For Dutch drivers the attempt to recapture any of that market seems to be a losing battle.

 

Temporary agency

A Dutch daily newspaper recently had a front-page article about the transport at Ikea. Apparently, Ikea is managing to evade the Dutch regulations regarding transport by using much less expensive Slovakian drivers. They make use of a Slovakian temporary agency for that purpose. IKEA denies everything and claims that their products are made and delivered in under good and honest conditions.

A day later, the papers were full of reports about the “degrading” working conditions at iPhone repair company Pegatron in Breda, also in the Netherlands. “It’s a question of replacing components,” said a Czech manager at Pegatron in that same newspaper. “You have three minutes per part. That is certainly possible, but the Dutch never want to do it the way we tell them to. And they want to talk about it, you know? But you aren’t getting paid to talk, are you?” In short, keep your mouth shut and don’t complain.

Get lost

If customers in the logistics sector aren’t pleased for any reason, they will just tell you to “get lost” and “if you don’t want to do it our way, there are plenty of others who will.” And they are getting away with that. Zalando, Amazon and other companies are stretching working standards further and further. As I remarked several months ago on the Dutch business news site “NuZakelijk.nl”, nothing seems able to stop the race to the bottom of the labor market. The information revolution is leading to a fundamentally different appreciation of human capital.

Logistics managers who still think in terms of “adoring” and “inspiring” may well be completely off track. Shouldn’t those managers be steering their workers mercilessly and unsparingly towards higher productivity and lower costs, day in day out? Or, as the hero in the film “Live Free or Die Hard” once said: “Don’t ever hesitate like that again!”

Walther Ploos van Amstel is Associate Professor of Logistics aan de Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam