How do we deal with the mass delusion that driver turnover is inevitable? Nothing could be further from the truth. Driver turnover is a manageable business challenge like any other. The only thing standing in the way of achieving low driver turnover is the nonsense that we keep telling ourselves in a long misinformation feedback loop. This feedback loop manages to keep us from tackling this problem with the focus that is needed to achieve the desired outcome.
I was a partner, President and COO of a company that went from a turnover that was almost non-existent to one that had 120% in a matter of just a couple years. Some time back I ran into a quote that seems to fit the situation in our industry, it reads “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” I wonder what situation the author was facing when this explanation for their predicament first entered their mind. Quite likely not trucking but it does fit perfectly for the current state of things in trucking. If your company is the victim of its chains of habit that seem too heavy to be broken where do you start? Let me walk you through what has worked for myself and the good folks with whom I had the pleasure of working.
The plan starts with the acknowledgment that turnover is man-made and not inevitable. From there, the leaders in the company must commit to be accountable to the effort and to each other to make the changes necessary to transform the company culture to infuse a focus on a reduction to driver turnover. During my workshops, I suggest that these folks draft a mission statement that they all sign as a commitment to each other. Sounds easy and it is. The problematic part is allowing a peer, to correct you if they see you acting in a manner that is contrary to the mission statement that everyone committed to. Unfortunately, people’s egos come in to play, and they are seldom as receptive to this feedback as they should be.
The next step is what I call the sales pitch in which companies need to explain to their employees why a dramatic reduction in the companies’ turnover is critical to its future. They also need to discuss why it is beneficial to the individual’s future at the company. Lower turnover means things such as a safer trucking company, a more profitable company, and a more fun culture to work in to name just a few of the good things that come from low turnover. In my experience, people get so entrenched in the daily whirlwind of their routines that they get blinders on and don’t see what a little change in how they do things could be of great benefit. To dive a little deeper let’s look department by department.
The sales department benefits from lower turnover through fewer service failures and not having to regularly training drivers as to your customer needs. Fewer service failures means less time begging forgiveness from customers meaning you can likely pursue a more significant opportunity with your current customer base.
The safety department gains by not having to create new driver files all the time, a considerable time saver. Safety personnel will also benefit from fewer accident and incidents to track and files to open. Why? Because a stable workforce can be trained to a higher standard. When you are always starting over, you can’t train a workforce with any effect. Side note — companies with lower turnover have fewer accidents and pay less insurance than a carrier with high turnover. There is a direct correlation to lower insurance cost and best in class operating margins.
Administration gains by not having to educate the workforce as to the company’s information flow and paperwork all the time with a low turnover environment. The company also gains here with its aged accounts receivable, and billing gets out quicker with fewer errors, allowing the money to come in faster.
Maintenance becomes less of an expense when your workforce stabilizes. A four-year life cycle in a company truck with high turnover could have 4-6-8 different drivers in them. Compare that to a company with lower turnover, say under 20%, this company will not only have fewer maintenance issues and an asset that the used truck market covets, it also has a higher residual value.
Lastly, Operations, for a dispatcher to be acclimating the majority of its drivers on an annual basis has to be very distracting and grossly inefficient. How much more time would the individual have in a low turnover environment to concentrate on whatever their KPI’s are. Might be empty miles, revenue per mile, or revenue per day. Consider a one-percentage-point gain in efficiency – the numbers are staggering at that amount. Now stretch it to a 3-5% gain.
Next month I will discuss the platform for change. How do we ensure there is consistency in how we act individually when we take this challenge on and what are the guidelines?
All of the above constitutes part of what I call the groundwork for tackling driver turnover. Overall, there are seven steps to implement to get things under control. I intend on sharing the rest in sequence in my next six articles. I hope you find some value in turning your issues around. It boils down to transitioning your company from a carrier who delivers freight from point A to point B to a company which differentiates itself from its competition with the quality and dedication of its employees.
Given the two options, where would you like to spend your career?
Interested in learning where your company rates on their overall driver retention effort? Go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KF2HG7S and follow the instructions. From there we can set up a call to see if what we have developed at TCA as a Driver Retention Project Plan is right for your company.
Commitment to change for an organization is no small feat when taking on turnover. It starts with the leaders acknowledging that the issue is the company’s doing and agreeing to change the way things are currently being done. Blaming outside forces is very dangerous because it does not allow for ownership of the issue – it can always be someone or somethings fault, or its an external problem. Owning the situation within the company, when it comes to turnover, is where it must begin. Usually, when I have almost finished the one-day workshop that begins the project plan at a management team meeting there is a complete dedication to the effort, everyone is bobbing his or her head in unison to the new strategy. Thing is I can read the room fairly quickly, and although there are always a number of the folks in attendance that are entirely committed to change, there are usually one or two other folks (let’s call them Bobs). Why? Because they are bobbing their heads in agreement, but they are not what they seem.
I’m not quite sure where I tend to lose these Bobs when I discuss the new TCA Retention Project Plan. Maybe it’s when I tell them that if turnover is upwards of 60% at your company then the majority of their employees and Owner Operators do not believe a word they say. That might turn them off. Maybe it’s when I explain the program I offer and tell them that although it takes additional effort up front, in the end, they will save time. Maybe it’s when I explain that they are going to do the same thing in the program as they have always done, but that they will do it a little differently? Could be it’s when I discuss my real-life experience of my management team taking our trucking company turnover from 120% to 20% over two years and along the way doubling our operating ratio and transitioning from a poor insurance risk to winning TCA national fleet safety awards. I’m not sure. The sad thing is that some of these Bobs have influence, usually through tenure with the company or family ties and they can tend to slow an excellent effort to a crawl. These folks have what I call “Loyalty to the past.”
Goes like this: “we have always done it this way, and we got this far so why should we change now?” Of course, this is a rhetorical statement and it is also the root of why the company’s turnover has escalated. Times have changed. The labor pool your draw from has changed in a variety of ways: age dynamic; X’s Y’s Millennials; we are sexually and ethnically much more diverse and so on. Your company has not adjusted to these real-time influences. You’re doing the same things you have always done them, and now you are struggling with high-turnover trucks against the fence, etcetera.
These companies are also usually under an autocratic type management style where creative thinking is not only discouraged but it is stifled as soon as it is found out. Unfortunately, one of the offshoots of this style is that it tends to repel young talent. Millennials don’t buy into this style at all. In fact, once recognized, they bolt from it – both drivers and managers. These folks are into collaboration and creative problem-solving. The good news, of course, is that in this case if ownership is willing to accept this reality, they can use this as a paradigm shift to springboard a new initiative. Like the TCA TPP Retention Plan: to plan for success or to call it a bell weather moment.
Taking on any significant project plan within a company is of course challenging and at times may seem daunting. Add to the mix that to be successful you will likely need to change your companies’ culture. Now you have folks scared. The nice thing is that the process that is offered by TCA is a stepped process that you can move along at your own pace: do step one and then move on to step two once you have the essence of that step mastered and understood. Now do it 44 more times in sequence. It’s like painting by numbers. Easy? NO, but it is much more straightforward than starting from scratch and hoping that you succeed. The program has a successful track record, and it is growing weekly. Got any issues that you would like to discuss? All my contact information is below. Let’s have a chat and see if this new offering is a good fit for your company.
Trucking lost a legend this week when Bill Reed, Jr. passed away unexpectedly at 71. Bill was the CEO of the family trucking business, Skyline Transportation and had a significant impact on the trucking industry. He was an influential member of many industry organizations, including the Truckload Carriers Association. He was a member of TCA’s Board of Directors, the Executive Committee, the Carrier/Shipper Relations Committee, Highway Policy Committee, Independent Contractor Practices Policy Committee and the Regulatory Policy Committee. Bill was also the former Chairman of the Board and a Board Member for the Tennessee Trucking Association, as well as a Board Member and Executive Committee Member for the American Trucking Associations.
Our thoughts and prayers our with the Reed Family during the difficult time. The industry will miss his leadership, personality and that distinctive voice.
William Hubert Reed, Jr. was 71 when he passed away suddenly on December 18th at his home in Farragut, TN. He was a graduate of Young High School and the University of Tennessee. Mr. Reed was known as a great father who always supported his family first, no matter what.
“Big Bill” (as he was affectionately known as) loved to spend time with his family and friends, attending as many of his grandkids functions as he could. Golf, travelling in his motorhome and attending UT football and basketball games were among his favorite things to do. Above all, Bill was known to raise the level of happiness and joy in all who knew him.
The Family has planned a service to celebrate Bill’s life at 2:00pm on January 5, 2019, with a reception and toast to Big Bill to follow. The location for the service is still being arranged.
Bison Transport CEO and former TCA Chair, Robert Penner on the passing of Bill Reed Jr.:
“The trucking community lost a true advocate, a genuine leader and an all around good man. I have always appreciated Bill’s style and approach to problem solving. He was solution focused and always looked for a win-win solution… never at the expense of the other side. I have learned a lot from Big Bill. He will truly be missed.”
Manual Processes are Killing Your Business (slowly)
You’ve done it a thousand times. Walking through operations, you’ve asked yourself “Why am I paying these smart people to spend half their time doing mindless tasks and data entry? What if I could free up their time to allow them to do what they do best – solve problems. That would give them more purpose – that would give our business more purpose”. Ok, maybe you didn’t think those words exactly, but I can guarantee that if you’re a high-performing carrier, it was something along those lines. Although detention and dwell times are the items with the largest targets on their backs with respect to operational efficiency, you don’t have to look to far for the next one on the list – manual data monitoring, entry and management.
We generate endless volumes of data each day in our dispatch and accounting systems. Even more is found in unstructured formats, such as e-mails, POD’s, load tenders, and invoices. Many paid hours are spent taking information from one format and rekeying it into one or more other disparate systems. This duplicated effort is not only expensive, but it opens the (large) possibility of errors through typing mistakes or missed documentation.
The reality is, many of the tasks handled by our operations, accounting and customer service teams are repetitive and prime candidates for automation. In general, any repetitive, rule-based task is a prime candidate for automation. So why haven’t they already been automated? Until recently such automation required a lot of expensive programming that resulted in systems that were not very flexible. Simple upgrades of your dispatch system could cause the automation to fail simply by having a table renamed. When this happens, your team must revert to the old manual processes until the programmer has the updates in place. The other reason is human nature. The growing list of portals and manual updates downloaded to today’s trucking companies is like compound interest. It started with a work-around to make one customer happy and has grown exponentially to the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.
EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) has been used to try and automate the transfer of information. However, it has rarely been able to fully transform a manual task and create efficiencies. EDI protocols can be very rigid as it uses standardized (and outdated) formats. It is also expensive, meaning that most carriers or logistics companies are not able to invest what is necessary to use EDI to its full capabilities. The other challenge is that it is not necessarily in real-time. Things like check calls are not readily handled and a pod request is likely still going to require a phone call or e-mail. The result is many carriers can only justify the expense of EDI setup and maintenance for their largest customers, typically representing less than 30% of loads.
Web portals have become more common for 3PLs and some larger customers to attempt to get around the limitations of EDI. Documents such as PODs can be easily uploaded. Documentation supporting detention can be transmitted, and many can log comments when further explanation is required. However, they can introduce other inefficiencies. A human is still needed to transfer or transpose the information into the portal. Errors are still possible and very likely, despite best efforts. Depending on the internet speed where that employee is located, a lot of time could be wasted if your team member must wait for the information to get uploaded to the site and then wait again for the next screen to load.
The Institute for Robotic Process Automation defines RPA as “the application of technology that allows employees in a company to configure computer software or a ‘robot’ to capture and interpret existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems.” In more practical terms, it’s software that you can “teach” to move information from multiple inputs to multiple systems without the help of a human. RPA is designed to be deployed in days or weeks, not months. It also does not care where the information comes from or where it goes to. One of it’s strengths is that it does not rely on things like EDI or API’s to bridge into other systems or require complex programming to work.
Let’s look at a simple example that happens many times a day in your company. A customer e-mails a shipment request to your CSR team. The CSR is constantly monitoring their e-mail for these requests. When they see one, they are likely saving (sometimes printing) the email to get the request on file. The CSR then creates the order and enters the shipment details. Once it is in your dispatch system, the CSR then logs into that shipper’s portal and enters the pickup date and time. Finally, the CSR replies to the original e-mail to confirm that the order has been entered and received. Depending on how busy it is, each CSR may be doing hundreds of these transactions every day. Each of these steps could be automated by RPA. The robot can monitor the email queues more efficiently than a human can. It will parse each e-mail and pull out the new shipment information. That data is then moved into your TMS where it checks availability and schedules the pickup date, time and location. Because RPA is rules based, if there is missing information or any other exception, it will flag the appropriate CSR to handle it. Once there are no exceptions, the system will log into the portal and update it with the pick-up information. Finally, it will generate and send the customer email confirmation. In this one scenario you can see that the CSR will now have time to work on higher value-added tasks, likely making their work much more interesting. The process will be handled more efficiently, and the possibility of errors is greatly reduced. The best part is you can implement entirely on your own, no need to get in the long queue with your TMS provider to complete on your behalf.
Do the Research – Frank Casale, founder of the Institute for Robotic Process Automation & Artificial Intelligence, recommends that you invest the time to build a business case for RPA and learn about the products available. There are three key boxes to get success and only having two out of three will not work. The boxes include:
Choosing the right technology solution to meet your organization’s needs;
Creating a solid business case for RPA, including developing ROI metrics;
Assessing current processes and organizational issues to avoid political problems. Keep in mind that RPA is a disrupting technology. People will fear that the technology will affect their jobs, possibly eliminating them. The human resources that will be affected are not going to be eager to train the robots that might replace them. A vision and roadmap for the future needs to be communicated and it should include new opportunities for displaced workers. Managers also need to go in with open eyes, a cautiously optimistic mindset. Management of expectations is critical.
Educate Staffers About RPA – It’s important to clarify what the technology will and will not do with regards to employees’ job roles. Many organizations use RPA strategically by helping staff do routine tasks quickly and efficiently so that they can spend time addressing higher priority needs. Determine how your company will use the technology and then honestly communicate what that vision is so that you get people onside with you before rolling the technology out.
Determine Where the Technology Will Work Best – You will want to identify processes where you are most likely to see a positive business impact. Keep in mind that it will not always be easy. However, as the organization becomes more experienced with RPA, other processes will more easily be uncovered. Many successful implementations are very selective as to what processes to automate – look for something that it repetitive and frequent. Once you have achieved some initial success, fight the urge to try and automate everything. If a task can not be done without a very limited amount of human interaction (preferably none), then it really is not a suitable candidate. When picking your first process, remember that while cost reductions are important, improving customer experience is even more valuable. The client experience is what will be your competitive advantage.
Keep It Simple and Modular – RPA works best when it is not complex. As much as possible, keep your bots as generic, common and reusable objects. Mona Kahn of Fannie Mae recommends that you externalize all variables and logic to minimize failure points. This makes it much easier to update when something changes and makes it much faster and easier to test before putting the changes into production.
Don’t Neglect Data Security – Make certain that processes can not be manipulated. Start with any processes that are business or mission critical. These must be secured before any implementation is attempted. Regardless of how critical a specific task is, keep in mind that RPA will process much faster than a human can, so ensuring that a bot is secure must happen during the testing phase and this should be a show stopper if it is not secure.
Test Implementations Regularly – Notwithstanding what we just discussed, testers can only try to test so many points of attack. Weaknesses are going to appear once the robot has gone live. Keep in mind that individual testers may not be as experienced with a process and may only be looking for positive results. If possible, include the staff that actually do the task in the testing phase. Additionally, test the automation on desktops running legacy systems to ensure that the desktop will be capable of handling the infrastructure requirements. It is critical that you understand how different bots work together so that processes do not break.
Develop a Cross-Functional Center of Excellence – By this, I mean put together a team that will share experiences and best practices to other parts of the organization. The idea is to leverage previous efforts to ensure that the wheel does not get reinvented repeatedly. Make sure that both failures and successes are documented to make certain that the knowledge of those experiences is not lost.
Prepare for Future Advances and Challenges – RPA is going to advance, and each company must keep up with the changes. Eventually, each organization will struggle with the management of the automation. End users will find ways to automate desktop processes for their own use, so understanding how the introduction, elimination or upgrading of enterprise applications will affect these deployed bots will become increasingly critical. Like any other asset, bots need to be tracked and managed so that they can properly be maintained. Consider what would happen if a password policy was changed for one of the applications the bot uses and how would you know if data is not being properly passed though?
So, what is driving the implementation of RPA? The obvious one is cost reductions. Forrester Research estimates that about 16% of US jobs could be replaced by RPA by 2025, while creating new jobs that are equivalent to 9%, meaning a net loss of 7% of jobs. This is because bots are generally low cost and relatively easy to implement. In the financial services sector, there is a major shift away from manual, clerical-type jobs and a move towards more analyst or advisory jobs. The shift is being fueled by the vast amounts of data that RPA is creating, resulting in customers needing more human advice to help them process it. In some cases, bots are assisting the human advisors by identifying patterns and offering options that the advisor can then present and explain to their clients.
There are several companies that have experience in working with our industry. These include:
Kofax with it’s products that include Kapow, TotalAgility and Information Capture
Pega with it’s Pega Infinity digital transformation suite
Jacada with it’s Jacada Agent Desktop Automation
Automation Anywhere has it’s Automation Anywhere Enterprise Suite
IBM – Robotic Process Automation with Automation Anywhere
For those with an in-house development team (even a small one), building your own RPA toolkit and ‘army of bots’ is possible. There is even an open-source development framework to get you started. This Python-based framework – Selenium, is used thousands of companies all over the world. Worth examining if RPA is on your to-do list for 2019.
As a real-life example, Kofax has publicized a successful implementation with Crete Carrier (see the full case study here). Specifically, Crete automated their appointment scheduling process because they previously only had CSRs available Monday thru Friday even though their business is 24/7. If a shipment tender came in on the weekend, it would sit there until someone came in on Monday morning. Meaning that some of the shipments would have been missed, and the shipper might have ended up using a different carrier. This is likely a scenario that you have all have faced at one time or another. Crete created Kapow robots that handle a range of information about the shipment. The bot then uses those parameters when it receives a tender and uses them to pick an appropriate pickup or delivery slot. In most cases the bot can schedule an appointment on the first pass. If it is unable to find one, it then passes all the information that it has received to a human operator who can establish a new set of criteria and have Kapow take a second pass at it, with additional human help if needed.
Crete also uses RPA to enhance visibility of its freight as it moves across the country. It uses a near real time tracking of trucks, trailers and what freight is on each trailer. Previously they would need to send an employee to inspect a trailer to see if it was available, even if it was reported on a yard check because of the difficulty in going through numerous e-mails or reports. Kapow can go through all the reports and emails and give the operations staff the location and status of equipment as they need it.
A third use is allowing Crete’s customers to have improved freight tracking. Dedicated web portals are used to keep certain clients informed as to where their freight is. Staff would have to manually update the portal information, a time-consuming task that resulted in information-delivery delays. On off-hours and weekends, the customers knew that the portals were not always up-to-date, resulting in more calls to the customer service team for load tracking. The introduction of bots to this process have resulted in updates happening instantly, resulting in happier clients who now have faith in the portal information. On the back end, it eliminated some very tedious tasks, freeing up the customer service team to spend time on other tasks with a more strategic focus.
The use of RPA has allowed Crete to book freight further in advance, allowing them to have greater access to delivery slots that work for them and maximizes their meeting delivery targets as well as maximizing their effective use of rolling assets. Additionally, they have found that staff were able to be dedicated to more customer-facing services instead of only having the time to handle routine tasks. A better customer experience and a more efficient way for Crete to run the business are two major results.
Any of the companies or open-source packages that offer RPA tools, can allow your company to achieve similar or even greater success. The key is to know what it is that you want to accomplish – without a defined project scope there is a significantly reduced likelihood of goal achievement. In fact, without spelling out what will constitute success and how to measure it you are probably dooming the project to failure right at the start. It also means that you are more likely to use someone or something other than the optimal solution provider. Similarly, the management of expectations is another critical component. In the example above, Crete has been using RPA for over four years. Your people need to understand that it will take some time to optimize and implement these bots. If someone is offering to come in and “have you up and running in a week”, be very skeptical and ask some very pointed questions as to how that will happen. It is possible that they have extensive industry specific experience and have semi-customizable templates that can get you implemented quickly. If they tell you that “customer service is customer service” then they probably are not going to work. A quick example is from the scheduling process used by Crete. If an RPA provider does not understand how HOS can impact appointment times, then they may program a solution that ignores the mandatory break after being on duty for 8 hours. A lack of industry experience does not have to be a deal breaker, but it will mean that your project team will have to spend more time and be more explicit in their requirements and specifications document.
So, in summary, some quick takeaways on RPA are:
Robotic Process Automation is a potential game changer for our industry, possibly causing a revolution in how we handle routine customer service tasks.
People are going to be afraid of losing their jobs when they hear the terms “robot” or “automation”. Expect that reaction and have education and communication resources prepared to help people get over those fears.
The potential for head count reduction is there, but it should not necessarily be the driving force behind this initiative. It is more likely that you will be able to handle more productivity out of the same number of people.
The ability to cover off-hours without having to add to your head count is a very real possibility. If things like location requests, driver direction requests or load tenders are why you are considering adding or maintaining off hours staff then this may be a lower cost solution for you.
Do not treat automation as an ad hoc process. Have some form of control over where bots are implemented and try to use common programming as much as possible. This will allow you to know what needs to be updated when other systems are upgraded. Additionally, it will greatly reduce the time needed to develop fixes when problems arise.
Start with processes that occur regularly so that you have a few highly visible wins to the start of the project.
Expect there will be setbacks. Many of these processes have dependencies and it only takes one to cause a failure. Involve the people who currently do the job in the testing phase. They will have seen the process breakdown before and can offer insights as to where to challenges may come from. This in turn will allow for more robust testing pre-implementation. It will also increase the acceptance of RPA as they will have some say in how it is implemented.
RPA is not a magic bullet. Managing expectations is critical. Exceptions are going to happen. Crete considers having 40 to 50% of appointments scheduled by the bot a success. Other processes may achieve closer to 95%. Some processes may require human interactions. Your team needs to be prepared for these to happen. At the same time, let them know what that 40% means in terms of freeing up time to handle their other tasks that might be getting pushed off to the side.
Its a priceless mantra that we’ve all used many times. However, knowing what you are going measure (and why), how are you going to measure it and how are you going to turn your new knowledge into an actionable and worthwhile result is the real challenge.
What I’m talking about is reducing driver turnover and using the real data that is right at your fingertips, if you chose to mine it and use it for better turnover results. When I ask most companies about their turnover rate, rarely do I get a response that is more than a guess. I find that surprising, to say the least. In today’s trucking environment it is all about the driver, hiring them and keeping them. Here is what I measured, how I measured it and how I used the results when I ran my company.
We had 6 dispatch boards with approximately 300 trucks. We measured short-term turnover, meaning those who had been with us for under 1 year. We grouped this by drivers, O/O’s and overall. We tracked companywide turnover, meaning the board fleet as a group, again segregating company drivers and O/O’s. We also measured turnover coming out of our training trucks on entry-level drivers. Total reports were 4-5 per board, depending on whether they had ELD or not, and overall total reports were 27 – 33.
We used an old JJ Keller formula that I still use, it really doesn’t matter what you use if it is consistent, and it is a rolling 365 day a year tool. We used the following:
Short-Term Driver turnover ratio 12 Month = Drivers no longer with the company that were hired in the last 12 months divided by the number of drivers employed in the previous 12 months.
Long-Term Annual Turnover Formula = Drivers no longer with the company (YTD) divided by elapsed days X 365 divided by total # of Drivers. By the way, an employed driver is one that has turned at least one mile of work in which revenue was generated. The fact that you have any no shows at orientation is an entirely different issue.
We’re looking for variations in the numbers. Why are some boards results better than others? We’re not looking for bad guys here. The exercise will reveal two things are at play here that can help our results:
First, you will likely see where you are getting some stellar results – an individual or two that have turnover rates that are well below the rest of the gang. The obvious question is how are they getting these results? Are there things that they do that can be shared with the rest of the dispatchers? Do these individuals have behavioral traits that we can identify and possibly hire to those traits in the future? Can this person or persons mentor other dispatchers?
Secondly, are there things we’re doing or not doing that are creating poorer turnover results on those boards that have the higher turnover numbers? Take a second level deep dive into common root causes on these boards and let’s see what’s really going on.
Once the measurements process is set up and functioning, it is quite easy to generate these reports on a monthly basis. Give it a try and see what opportunities you might uncover. Measure and manage – here we come.
We all do things that waste time. Some of us will do low-value tasks that we really should be delegating (or just not do at all), but we feel that no one will be able to do it as well as we do. Others will look at a huge project and procrastinate because it appears to be too big and complex, likely doing unimportant tasks to put off that large task that scares us. Still others are perfectionists who continue with a task long after the return on the additional effort is negative. Alternatively, a perfectionist may put off tasks because they are uncertain that they can perform at the unrealistic level that they set for themselves. Finally, there are some of us who get a feeling of importance by never saying no to requests. It feels good to be the go-to person that everyone thinks can do the impossible. However, by never saying no we make everything a priority, and, in the end, nothing gets done. Let’s face it, time and task management are not something that any of us will ever get perfect. What we all need to do is determine what is “good enough” and then use that as a starting point towards continually improving.
There are several ways that one can use to improve our time and task management skills. None of them are one-size fits all. You may find that some are better at one stage in your career, but they may need to be changed or modified as you change roles and responsibilities. You may have other ways of managing that work better for you. The important thing is to create a system that works for you and continue to improve it over time. Holding on to things that don’t work is another time cost that we put on ourselves!
Organize Work Around Energy Levels
Find your most productive hours and schedule high value and high energy tasks during those times. As an example, if you are a morning person then do your most critical work when you start your day. After lunch, your energy level may drop a bit so use that time to do more administrative tasks.
You should also know your energy levels by day. Most people find Tuesdays and Wednesdays as their most productive days, so scheduling their most difficult and important tasks on those days will lead to getting more done.
Start the Day with Critical Work
Mark Twain once said “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” He was talking about determining what is your most important or hardest task and dealing with it first. Getting it done will bring you momentum for the rest of the day. Think about it – if you have already achieved your most important goal for the day then tackling the rest of them will seem easy by comparison and that positive mindset will carry with you throughout the day. Elon Musk suggests that you “don’t waste time on stuff that doesn’t actually make things better.” Sometimes we deal with the squeaky wheel or the easiest tasks first and never get to what was important. Resist that urge and leave those simple tasks for that time in the day that you know you are at your lowest energy.
Knowing how to prioritize is a must – if everything is a priority then it moves towards nothing being a priority. One way to determine priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. The goal is to focus on accomplishing the important and urgent before moving on to the other tasks.
Do it now
· Pressing clients
· Deadline driven projects
Decide when to do it
· Long-term planning
· Calling back a client
· Replying to a specific email
Who can do it now?
· Booking a trip
· Scheduling interviews
· Social media
· Working on a dead report
Start by writing down all your tasks – at this point don’t worry about the order, just get down everything that you need to do.
Identify what’s urgent and what’s important and note which of them applies to each task. Tasks can have one, both or none of these identifications. If the task has none of them then find a way to purge it.
Assess value. Look at the important tasks and identify the high value items. Determine which tasks have priority over others and how many people are impacted by your work.
Now estimate the amount of time is required for each task and order them from the most effort to the least.
Insert the tasks into the Eisenhower Matrix to gain a full overview of your work tasks
Some tasks will be urgent, but not important. These are tasks that are good candidates to get delegated to others. You don’t need to do everything yourself and moving these tasks to others can free up time to get the important and urgent tasks done. Remember that holding on to these tasks can have a large opportunity cost – they are time that could be spent doing something that is yields a greater return on your time investment. When delegating, keep these things in mind:
Find the right person – they should have all the necessary skills and be capable of doing the job.
Provide clear instructions – write down the steps and be as specific as possible.
Define success – be specific about the expected outcome and the timelines.
Clarity – have that person explain the tasks back to you. Clarify what they are unclear about, rewriting the instructions if necessary.
Expect that the person will not do it exactly the way you did it – in fact they may find a better way. Don’t let your pride get in the way of delegating things that you should not be doing yourself.
Automate Repetitive Tasks
Find the things that you do multiple times a day or week and see if you can use technology to help you work smarter. Examples include setting reminders so that you don’t forget anything; creating canned responses for emails that you keep writing repeatedly; or creating spreadsheet templates for reports that you do on a weekly or monthly basis. Find those common elements and figure out ways to stop reinventing the wheel each time you do them. Saving a few seconds here and a few seconds there will eventually free up 30 to 60 minutes a day that can be spent on your important and urgent tasks.
Next week we will look at eliminating distractions, how to say “no” more often and gaining more time through batching similar tasks.
The core of the TCA TPP’s newly released driver retention project plan is a focus on managerial discipline. It lays out a step-by-step process that is designed to layer a gradual focus on creating a driver-centric culture at any given trucking company starting with the commitment by the senior management team to the successful execution of the program.
Through the process of rolling out the DR Project Plan to a new company, we encourage an on-site visit and workshop that I facilitate. Having done these on numerous occasions, I can usually expect that one of the common concerns that are revealed is that consistency is crucial to the successful execution of the DR Project Plan itself.
The manifestation of this concern among senior managers is in and of itself very telling of the culture of the business and it is a likely sign of a company (although it may be successful) is likely not performing to their maximum potential. What do I mean by this? This is likely a business that operates in silos and not as a high performing, focused unit. Each department is trying to keep up to the pressures of the day, living in the whirlwind. They are not genuinely supporting each other and suffering when it comes to focusing on either a common purpose or accomplishing a WIG (wildly important goal).
One of the benefits of the DR Project Plan is that at its core it strives to hold people accountable for staying to the project plan. If an individual is not onside, they will be called out on their lack of focus by other members of the team. Hopefully this is done in a supportive way (as is encouraged). This support is a core commitment that each senior manager makes to the others as part of the program, and it is critical to its success. The program also addresses the blame game, finger pointing, and dodging accountability, which of course is nothing but a child’s play and a waste of spirit. The turnover in this industry and at each company I work with is a result of the company’s entire personnel’s efforts to get where it is – period.
Taking full accountability and ownership of the situation each company is in is the starting point for the program. There is no future in finding bad guys or playing the blame game, none. Everyone at the company and everyone reading this article for that matter has done everything perfectly correct and in perfect order to be where you are today. In your careers in your relationships in your communities, you have to own that paradigm, not to say that challenges and in some case significant problems didn’t present themselves to you, but you decided how to react to those issues. No one else but you, so own your successes own your failures, own your past and own your future.
Without this core understanding as a starting point, the DR Project Plan (and any other WIG for that matter) has a very narrow chance of ever resulting in the success that it was designed to achieve. It has been my experience that most new revelations, including the new DR Project Plan, are nothing more than common sense revealed. Hope you agree. You can find out more about the new TCA TPP DR Project plan at: https://www.truckload.org/tpp-retention-project/ or at https://tcaingauge.com/the-retention-action-plan/
November 2, 2018|Kristen Bouchard|in category StrategyComments Off on Getting from Idea to Action Quicker: The GTD Method
Getting Things Done (GTD) is a time management method created by David Allen. This method is based on the idea of moving planned tasks and projects out of the mind by recording them externally and then breaking them down into actionable items. This allows one to focus their attention on acting on tasks instead of recalling them. For a great explanation, David was interviewed on this edition of The Dealer Playbook podcast. For a short version of what GTD is, David does a 90 second explanation here. For a quick infographic on what GTD is, click here.
Most of us are too busy to work on our values, mission and ultimate purpose. Why? Even though our minds are great at creating things, it is terrible at tracking it. (For a great example see this video from Successful by Design) There is a very good chance that you are tracking tons of things in your head right now. That stuff drains your energy and clogs your creativity because you are relying on yourself to remember it. This stuff makes it hard to stay afloat on a day to day basis, forget about being able to think bigger. In this TED talk, David talks about getting in control and creating space:
So, what’s the solution? You have likely been told it’s start at the top and work down. That’s what’s got you struggling. Start by mastering the bottom (by mastering getting things done efficiently) and then when you are no longer drowning you can think about your mission, purpose and values.
Getting Things Done is a collection of processes and habits that aim for:
A clean and updated calendar of time-critical actions;
A clear, current and comprehensive list of next actions you can take anywhere, anytime, without the need for further thought or clarification;
A full list of outcomes (big and small) that you’re committed to achieving in the next 12 months; and
A complete system to organize and keep track of all the “stuff” in your life.
By implementing GTD you will:
Never let anything important slip by again;
Always have pre-prepared options of actionable and productive things to get on with;
Have total oversight of everything you’ve committed to in the near future; and
Have a totally clear head with no need to mentally track of remember anything.
In short, it’s a way to get your life under control. Through getting things out of your head and into a trusted system you will trust yourself more. You will know when to say “no” and still feel confident about handling anything that is thrown at you. By making space in your head that the “stuff” used to inhabit, you will have the time and energy to start working on the bigger things. David talks about “The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” in this video here.
Capture – Collect what has your attention. Use an in-basket, notepad or voice recorder to capture 100% of everything that has your attention. Little, big, personal and professional – all your to-do’s, projects, things to handle or finish.
Clarify – Process what it means. Take everything that you capture and ask: Is it actionable? If no, then trash it, incubate it or file it as a reference. If yes, then decide the very next action required. If it will take you less than 2 minutes, do it now. If not, delegate it if you can; or put it on a list to do when you can.
Organize – Put it where it belongs. Put action reminders on the right lists. For example, create lists for the appropriate categories – calls to make, errands to run, emails to send, etc.
Reflect – Review frequently. Look over your lists as often as necessary to determine what to do next. Do a weekly review to clean up, update your lists and clear your mind.
Engage – Simply do. Use your system to take appropriate actions with confidence.
Plan complex projects to get from multistep outcomes to actions.
Here’s a short video where David walks Dutch TV host Linda Geerdlink though getting started with GTD.
Let’s look at these in more detail.
This includes all your outstanding stuff. Gather every out of place and unfinished thing in your head, your e-mail, your briefcase and wherever else it is stored and put it into a few external inboxes. An inbox can be a basket, a notebook, a spreadsheet or any other way of getting it all into a small number of places. You want to get it external to yourself because otherwise it will stay on your mind, eating energy and killing creativity.
Stuff is anything (an action, commitment, project or object) that:
You want, should, could, ought or need to act on, now or later; or
Anything that is even slightly unfinished or out of place.
Allen refers to this stuff as open loops. By not having been closed yet, they cause stress because they are things that we could forget. They are constantly telling your brain to “think about me”. That stress is what is killing your energy and your creativity.
By collecting you empty these external inboxes so that you can move to the clarifying and organizing stages. It’s sort of like doing spring cleaning. Once it has been collected you will have an overview of everything that is unfinished or out of place in your life and it allows you to do the next steps quickly and effectively. Once you have the system set up, collecting on a weekly basis will become shorter and easier. While collecting, do not process as you go – you will be much more efficient if you batch all collecting first before trying to process it (the only exception is for items that can be completed in two minutes or less). If the item is impractical to move (say you need to sell your old car, boat, etc.), use a physical or digital note as a placeholder so that it gets into the system. Tooodledo.com offers a great infographic on how to do a brain dump here.
Clarifying is the process of determining what stuff is, what’s the desired outcome and what is the next action. You need to answer all these things. If you don’t know what something is, how can you tell if it is important? The desired outcome lets you know when the thing has been completed. The next action follows determining the outcome as this is the next step required to move towards that outcome. By not answering these three questions the item will sit in the system and you will not act on it until you are forced to. Allen says that “you often have to think about stuff more than you realize, but not as much as you’re afraid you might.”
When determining the next action, be complete enough that someone else could do it without needing further clarification or thought. If the next action is “call garage to schedule an oil change”, include the phone number. If you don’t know it, then the real next action is “find phone number for Joe’s Garage”.
A few rules for working through your inbox:
Always start with the top item on the pile.
Handle only one item at a time.
Never put anything back into an inbox.
Not sure how to get your inbox to zero? David offers some advice from his blog in response to a help request from a user here.
This is the process of:
Doing, delegating or deferring next actions;
Tidying up useful but non-actionable stuff into its proper place; and
Trashing what is left.
There are a few tools that you will need for organizing:
A calendar for time-critical meetings, events and actions;
A way to take notes for lists of actions, outcomes, plans and ideas;
A filing system to store information you may need to reference but can’t act on; and
A trash can or paper shredder depending on how sensitive the document is.
Allen prefers physical systems but the choice between physical and digital is yours. Just make sure that the setup is relatively easy and works for you. Want to know what apps David uses to keep his lists? He discusses them in this short clip here. David offers some other ideas on what tool to use here.
In the note taking tool create four new notes with the following headings:
Waiting For – a list of all things that you are waiting for from others;
Next Actions – a list of every doable next action to progress to an outcome;
Outcomes – a list of every multi-step outcome that you’re committed to realizing in the next 12 months; and
Someday – outcomes or actions you may like to undertake one day under different circumstances.
In your filing system create two new sections or folders inside of it:
Plans – visualizations, milestones and next steps for complex outcomes; and
Ticklers – stuff you will “mail to self” for later re-processing.
Within the ticklers, set up 43 folders:
1-12 are labeled with the name of each month; and
The remaining are labeled 1 through 31.
How does this work? Say you received an email for and event that you want to attend that opens registrations in February. There is no actionable item for right now, but there will be, so file that invitation in the February folder for later re-processing. The remaining folders are for items in the current month. The items will go into the folder representing the day that they are due.
Once an item has been clarified, you now have five choices:
Do – if the next action takes 2 minutes or less, do it now;
Delegate – if the next action can be done by someone else, delegate it;
Defer – commit to acting on a next action at a specific or general time in the future;
Tidy – find a proper place for everything and put everything in its proper place; and
Trash – dispose of anything that is no longer important or needed.
The best approach is to keep things simple. Have one proper place for everything and put everything in their proper place. Try to only use one list and fewer folders wherever possible. Sort things alphabetically – avoid the urge to categorize by sequence and priority. Reducing complexity will just add thinking that will result in things not getting done and undermining the system.
The one place where many is better is in your next actions list. Allen recommends splitting next actions across several lists by context, such as place (where you must be), person (who you must be with) or tools (what you must have on hand). These contexts will help you to remember to be in the right place, with the right people and at the right time. They will also allow you to batch similar actions together.
At a minimum, do a weekly review where you look for items from the previous week that have not yet reached their desired outcome, have been deferred for various reasons or just have not been actioned on yet. Re-run steps 1 to 3. Review, update and refresh every one of your folders and use your freed-up headspace to get creative, think big or maybe start a project from your someday list. For each item answer the following questions to determine what to do with it:
Where am I on this?
Is it still relevant?
Is it still in the right place?
What’s the next action?
Once your system is up and running, this is where you will expend most of your time and energy. At this point all that is left is the doing and because it has been organized, the doing is much simpler. Everything has been funnelled to your calendar and your master list of next actions.
So how do you decide what to do next? First, rule out things that you can’t or shouldn’t do based on:
Context – what can’t you do based on where you are or what tools you have available?
Time available – What can’t you do based on the time until your next appointment?
Energy – What shouldn’t you do based on your mental or physical state?
Out of what is left, trust your gut and do what feels most important right now. Even if you procrastinate, as long as you are working from your list you will be making progress on something. However, as you get more proficient, there will be less and less reason to avoid doing anything. David discusses procrastination here.
Something to keep in mind is to never respond instantly to work as it shows up, no matter how “urgent” it is. Spend a couple of minutes running the request through steps 1, 2 and 3 of GTD. Review any next actions you have identified within the context of all your next actions. Only engage with the new request if it still is the most important and urgent thing on your plate. David offers more tips on how to deal with interruptions in this 4-minute video here.
Sometimes just a moment of thought and effort that’s needed to identify a project’s next action, but its usually better to have a plan. A good place to start is:
Define the purpose and principles – why are you doing this and what are the constraints?
Visualize outcomes – what does success look like?
Brainstorm – what are all the ideas that you can think of and eliminate the bad ones.
Organize – what ideas will you use, which are the most important and what order to do them in.
Identify next actions – what is the very next physical action you can take to progress the project?
The goal of GTD is to get things done, so don’t make planning an end in itself. It must draw out next actions! Jacob Bronowski puts it as “the world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation.” If you are spending half of your time building and maintaining your system, you just aren’t doing it right. Trust your instincts, simplify your system and get things done!
This post is the third in a series of five focused on narrowing or eliminating the gap between ‘Knowing’ vs. ‘Doing’. In our personal lives, we all know what we ‘should’ be doing, but our daily habits and tactics don’t always line up. Similarly, in business, a business without an achievable strategy, a business will ultimately deteriorate to the point where it’s simply a series of fires being put out. The Knowing Vs. Doing series is a lead-up to our TPP Seminar on December in Indianapolis focused on preparing trucking enterprises for success in 2019. Take the Knowing Vs Doing Survey here.
In last week’s post, we reviewed the S.W.O.T. process. This mechanism, regardless of industry or size, is a crucial step in developing a short and long term strategy for success. Specifically, discussing and owning your company’s current weaknesses and failings is the type of introspection that should occur regularly, with feedback from all roles in the business – from the C-Suite to the Driver’s seat. Further, I’ve always felt that successful businesses, and their leaders, should always be a bit paranoid – in both good times, as well as bad. After you’ve gone through the S.W.O.T. process, and you’ve determined the major objectives for the business (see Part 1 of this series), it’s time to put the plan into action. In general, all well-executed plans have the following key components:
The goal is well defined. Each team member understands what IS to be achieved, and the impact on the business – whether from a financial, as well as from a corporate culture point of view. Each member of the team assigned to the objective should be able to clearly communicate verbally the objective, and the key benefits to the business.
A timeline is established.Execution does not happen without a deadline. Put that on the wall in every room of your business. Conversely, if you want to remain on the treadmill of mediocrity, don’t set deadlines.
Make your people accountable. This part may seem like a no-brainer, however, being a fan of business, I’ve read about (and witnessed) many well-known businesses that got too comfortable. This comfort was rooted in a lack of accountability – from the Board room, all the way down to the front lines (e.g. Kodak, Sears, Toys R Us). Making specific people and teams accountable will ensure continued momentum. This step is also an important vetting process for future business leaders. The ones who step up, and want to reap the rewards (and the potential penalties) are the type of people you build your business around
Incent, Incent, Incent, Succeed. Within TPP, many of the top performing companies use variable compensation to light the fire for success. Outside of asking your people to become shareholders, there are very few other tangible ways to ensure that your people have Skin in The Game, other than variable compensation. Proper variable compensation plans need to aligned with, and constantly readjusted to make sure they tie to the goals, deadlines and the overall financial impact of the individual actions and decisions made by people and teams. While contemplating these programs, ensure that the compensation program methodology is easily understood, and the objectives, variables and measurement are within the control of the individual and teams being rewarded.
Review and Adjust Regularly. No explanation needed here.
In all industries, leveraging existing frameworks for the above process can vastly improve the speed of developing and executing on a strategy. In TPP, we have a significant amount of discussions on the items above. Further, many high performing companies have implemented third-party programs such as the Four Disciplines of Execution. Using 4DX or another third-party program narrows the focus, and clearly defines the steps needed to rapidly move forward. Next week, we’ll move from the Macro to the Micro, and discuss the importance of time and task management to executing on your plan.
For your Sunday viewing pleasure, here’s a short video about the 4DX program to get you thinking about your action.
No General leads his or her army into war without knowing both the terrain he or she will face and what the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy they will face. In the current market environment, achieving profitability should not be difficult, even with pressing weaknesses. However, just like seasons change, the market will swing the other way. The smart companies know this, and are reinvesting their profits into building networks and advantages, to put themselves ahead of the their competitors when tide goes out. Knowing what your business needs to do next comes naturally to some business leaders, but for most, setting a course for the future requires equal parts Collaboration, Introspection and Honesty. An excellent way to get you started on this path is with a SWOT analysis.
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths and Weaknesses are internal business factors while Opportunities and Threats are external factors and variables. There are several different templates out there that can be found with a quick Google search and each organization will have their preferences. However, the physical form is not as important as actually doing the exercise.
This analysis is not just for use at the enterprise level. It is equally powerful when done at the division, department or even product line/customer account level. You are probably already doing a similar analysis on all your top accounts but possibly not in as formal a framework. By using this method in conjunction with being closely integrated with your large account you should be able to foresee any threats to that client and be prepared to fend off any attempts by other carriers to take over some or all of the business.
Look at factors such as:
• What are the organization’s advantages?
• What do you do better than others?
• What unique resources can you offer (ideally ones that a customer will pay for)?
• What does the marketplace see as your strengths?
• What is your unique selling proposition?
When looking at your strengths, also look at where you are in relation to your competition. If all your competitors are achieving 98% on-time deliveries then you achieving that is not a strength, it’s a market necessity (a table stake). Also take the viewpoint of the customer as they are the ones making the buying decision!
• What could you improve on?
• What should you avoid or eliminate?
• What does the marketplace see as your weaknesses?
• What does your competition do better than you do?
• What causes you to lose sales?
• Are their perceived weaknesses that you could easily overcome?
Be honest in this step as downplaying weaknesses will not allow you to move forward and address them.
• What are emerging trends?
• What changes in technology are coming in the near, medium and long terms that you are posed to exploit?
• What competitors are family owned and are showing signs of cash flow issues?
• What new developments are your current customers working on?
• What new businesses are coming to your marketplace?
One approach to take is to look at your strengths and ask if they open any opportunities. At the same time ask yourself if the elimination of any weaknesses could also create an opportunity.
• What obstacles do you face?
• What are your competitors doing?
• What technological game changers are coming that you are not ready to exploit?
• What is your financial position – any cash flow or debt problems?
• Are quality standards or specifications for your product or service changing?
• Are there any weaknesses that could seriously threaten your business?
• Are there any Political, Economic, Socio-Cultural or Technological (PEST) factors to consider?
Once you have made an exhaustive list for each category, it is now time to pare down the list and prioritize each item. Where possible ensure that all statements are precise and verifiable – for example you want “a cost advantage of $0.05 per mile on the Chicago to Des Moines lane” instead of “competitive pricing”. Finally make sure that any options generated are carried through to later stages in the strategy formation process. Make certain that you follow through and create a strategy once the analysis has been done.
An important task is to measure the gap between where you are and where you want to be. This helps you create goals that can be measured and verified. It’s much better to say “achieve a 5% increase in miles per gallon” than it is to say “improve fuel efficiency”. Understanding what these gaps are will guide both you and your staff towards implementing an effective strategy to get to where you want to be.
Finally, be prepared to revisit this analysis on a periodic basis – possibly yearly for the entire enterprise, more often at the product or customer level. Look at what has changed. Did you improve or eliminate any of your weaknesses? Did your competitor find a way to close the gap on your price advantage? Did something new that has the potential to be a game changer come on the market recently? This should not be a static document and it should be one of the first things you turn to when a new threat or opportunity comes on the horizon. By understanding what is happening on the playing field means that you can make the proactive moves of a market leader instead of reacting like a follower.