Be a Disrupter (Before Someone Else Eats Your Lunch!)

Among the many newsletters I receive each day there was one that caught my eye this morning.  Freightwaves posted an article on Amazon, and how their ambitions on the supply chain should have logistics companies worried.  E-commerce has been steadily gaining market share from traditional brick and mortar retailers, now accounting for 9.5% of the entire US retail market.  Another article I read last night talked about how grocery stores are facing tighter margins, and reduced earnings because of things like Amazon buying Whole Foods and selling more groceries online as well as the rise of online services that make it easy for any small restaurant to allow for internet or app based ordering and pooled deliveries.  Millennials are just not buying cars the way other generations did, but they are more comfortable with the idea of ordering what they want from their phone.  Some traditional retailers are turning to offering delivery to meet this trend.  Some retailers will innovate, but others will follow in the fate of retailers like Sears, Toys R Us and Circuit City into massive store closures or bankruptcy.

Let’s face it, most of us are busy enough trying to meet our short to medium term business objectives.  Who has time to find the next big technology or trend in our industry? Besides, being the leader can be a risky thing.  It’s never fun to put your career on the line for a relatively untested idea. What if you guess wrong?  Why not let those small start-ups live on the bleeding edge while you sit back and wait to see what ideas gain traction?

We need to make sure that there is a culture of Intrapreneurship in our organizations.  We all have red tape and redundant processes that are “the way we have always done things”.   Our managers and staff need to be empowered to question those processes, and be encouraged to come up with alternatives that we support and allow to be experimented with.  I don’t mean letting them just try anything – customers can not be negatively impacted.  At the same time, front line managers must be given some leeway to green light ideas that can be quickly executed.  Nothing stifles creativity more than having a drawn-out process where all changes need to work their way up to senior management and then back down again.  Give your functional managers the ability to approve experiments within a reasonable boundary so that these trials can happen quickly.  Some projects will have impacts across the organization or be capital intensive enough that senior management needs to be involved but look at ways that the process can be shortened.  Smaller companies with a flatter structure will be acting on these sorts of ideas more quickly and start taking your customers away as a result.

Intrapreneurship needs to be something that we build into the recruiting process.  Offering the ability to create new businesses can give you a significant advantage when it comes to hiring the best and the brightest.  This is a strategy that companies like 3M and Google have used for years.  Offering the freedom to have ideas supported (and later rewarded) can provide a way to attract better new hires than just throwing more money at them.

One thing to keep in mind is most of these ideas and improvements will not be big, especially not at first.  How many start ups get to huge valuations within the first year?  Almost none of them!  And many that do become successful probably would not get approved in the typical corporate review process.  Think of many of the great baseball teams – how many of them rely solely on the home run to win pennants?  If that was the way to do it, then this year’s New York Yankees should be miles ahead in the AL East with their new incarnation of the Murderer’s Row.  Unfortunately for them, they are sitting 4.5 games back of the Red Sox.  You are going to get better results relying on small ball to get runs and then when a home run does come around it is just a bonus.  And don’t to try to force things.  In Thursday’s game between the Yankees and the Royals, veteran KC player Alex Gordon ignored the stop signal at third, tried to create a run and got gunned down at home for the final out of the game.  The same thing can happen to your business when it only tries for the next “big” thing.  The reality is that none of us know what that will be (and if you really do know what it is, why aren’t you already doing it?) Encourage those smaller improvements – streamline your billing process, find a way to do routing better.  Those smaller things will add to the bottom line and give you the resources to fund the big ones when they appear.  Besides, having several smaller bets means that failure on any one of them will not threaten your business but going all in on a potentially big one could.  At the end of the day, innovation is like portfolio theory.  By diversifying your holdings, you reduce the overall risk profile.  Most disrupters stated as a small idea that ended up growing beyond what it’s creator hoped for.  So, encourage that innovation within your company and pay attention to what’s going on around you.  That way you remain nimble enough that if someone else does start to eye your lunch you can create and implement solutions that allow you to remain differentiated from the rest of the market.  It’s not going to be easy to give up some of that control, but it will be significantly less painful to give it up on a small initiative than it would be to have to bring in something big because that’s the way the market has gone while you stood pat.

Are You Holding on to Trucks for Too Long and Spending Too Much?

We have all done it – held on to a tractor for too long, thinking that “I might as well keep it since it’s been paid for”.  And most of us have had that exact same truck breakdown as far away from home as possible, and need something like a new transmission or engine because we held on to it for too long.  The reason is simple – we can easily see what the interest and depreciation hit on the income statement will be.  It’s the unknown of how much the maintenance will be that is the problem.  It seems like we never learn and always discount what the repairs will cost.

Some old timers will swear that the 1972 Brockway or 1975 Ford Louisville that they have by the back fence would be less expensive to operate than these “new fangled, computerized things”.  They may have been, at one time, but I challenge you to get your local Mack dealer to find parts for that Brockway and get them to you by the next day.  Even better, let’s try and find a driver who is willing to run coast to coast in a vehicle that has even fewer creature comforts than the most basic rental truck.  While it might sound cool to do once, I would be surprised if you could convince the driver to do it twice.  Last year I had the opportunity take an early 1980’s Freightliner for a drive.  I had forgotten just how different a mechanical throttle linkage responds compared to today’s trucks.  And then there was the noise – you really don’t appreciate today’s sound insulation until you drive something that barely has any.  Looking for the fridge or microwave – sorry, it’s not there.  Looking to stand up in the bunk – you had better be short.

You might be asking why this is relevant.   Compare a 2018 model to a similar 2012 model, and you can see how they have gotten better. Things like automated transmissions, idling reduction technologies that still allow for a full hotel load on the electrical and HVAC systems either were not available, or were still in their infancy and subsequently unreliable.  I had one driver threaten to quit on me once because his bunk heater would only run for about 5 or 6 hours a night and he was tired of waking up in upstate New York with ice in his hair.  It was incidents like these that gave a lot of us a hesitation on getting newer vehicles.

So, what don’t we want to hold on to our vehicles longer?  As I have hinted, driver satisfaction tends to go up when they get a newer vehicle with more creature comforts than their old one.  However, there is little that dissatisfies a driver more than constantly sitting at the side of the road waiting for either a service vehicle or a tow truck because he broke down “yet again”.  Whatever you pay for a layover is less than what they could have made rolling down the road.  Throw in the additional costs of having an outside repair shop and you are probably looking at a large invoice.

So that’s what a breakdown will cost you, but what about the work that gets done in your own shops?  Fleet Advantage recently put out a report that estimates that a tractor requires approximately 2.5 hours a month to maintain while a three-year-old one requires 4.5 hours a month.  A simple guide that many people use is to assume that a technician costs you a dollar a minute.  So, in dollar terms, the newer truck cost you $150 per month while the older one costs you $270 per month (and that will only go up as the vehicle ages).  To put it another way, you will need almost double the number of mechanics for an average fleet age of three years compared to an average age of only one year.  Keep in mind that this only includes the mechanics on the floor, it doesn’t address the additional administration costs of having more bodies in the shop.  It also does not look at the increased inventory and parts costs that are needed to keep an older vehicle running.  For trucks that are only a year old, you are mostly stocking preventative maintenance items like filters, bulbs and fluids.  You will still be stocking those items with an older vehicle, but you will also need to stock brake shoes, drums, various exhaust system sensors and other higher priced items.  The inventory carrying costs are something that many people do not account for when looking at what it costs to keep an older truck.

The Fleet Advantage report suggests that by reducing your vehicle lifecycle from 5 years to 3 years, the expected average maintenance savings would be $17,150.  Reduce it to 3 years from 7 years and those savings go up to $42,830 per unit (to download a copy of the report click here).  Your numbers may be slightly different, but the trend will be the same – the annual maintenance costs will go up each additional year that you own that vehicle.

One other place where you could come out ahead concerns the current value of your used truck on today’s market, compared to what you typically use for a residual value.  In a strong used truck market like we have seen recently, you may see a significant gain (remember to check your financing contracts to ensure that there are no fees or penalties that you are not accounting for).  Yes, the capital cost of a new tractor is higher than the one you are replacing but the residual value should also be higher down the road.

Finally, look at what your preventative maintenance program covers and consider if it is catching everything that it should be within your shop.  Look at how often you have on the road repairs and what they are.  Is there a pattern, specifically are the same components failing at a similar mileage?  If you are seeing a pattern, add it as a pm program and catch them in your shop before they fail.  If not, then try to determine the average mileage to failure and use that as a guide.  Yes, your in-shop costs will rise but there should be a corresponding reduction in breakdowns that cost more than just the repair bill.

Regardless of what method you decide to utilize to reduce your costs, make sure that you are making sell/keep decisions on a total cost of ownership basis, not just on one or two factors.  Looking at all costs as a system instead of isolation will result in determining the optimal time to replace a vehicle with objective data, not just a “gut feel”.  You may just find that you are spending more in additional maintenance than you would in buying a newer vehicle.

Optimizing Shop Layout for Peak Performance

Shop layout is something that if you brought 10 companies together and asked for their ideal layout you would get 10 different answers.  This is because no two trucking companies are the exact same with the same fleet size, makeup or territory.  What will work for a regional carrier that has every vehicle back most nights will not be optimal for a cross-county truckload carrier that has trucks leaving every day of the week.  That said, every shop will have some similar guiding principles – safety, an ergonomic working condition, improved productivity and energy savings.  However, there will be a large degree of variation on how fleets accomplish these objectives.

To start there are two basic configurations for tractor-trailer fleet – a drive-through shop and a pull-in structure.  Both have their strong points depending on your geographic locale. A drive-though bay tends to be safer through the elimination of the need to back a vehicle either into or out of the work bay.  A drive-though layout also increases ventilation as both bay doors can be opened to allow for a cross-breeze and disburse any heat.  However, in a colder climate a pull-in structure allows for doors to be installed at only one end making heat retention much easier in the winter.  For a pull-in layout, additional forms of mechanical ventilation will be needed to keep temperatures comfortable in the summer months.

The number of bays is also important.  One issue some fleets run into is having the same number of technicians as there are bays.  The National Association of Fleet Administrators recommends a ratio of 1.5 to 2 bays per technician.  This is to remove the need to pull a vehicle out of a bay while a technician is waiting for parts to arrive.  Any unnecessary shunting is a waste of time and an avoidable cost. This also keeps your techs working on vehicles and staying productive by doing the skilled labor you are paying them to for.

The size of the bays is another critical factor.  Obviously, it needs to be long enough to accommodate whatever equipment you will be working on.  What may not be so obvious is the width of each bay.  It needs to be able to accommodate the maneuvering of trucks, technician work areas and storage for parts and tools.  Finally, keep the height of the shop as high as possible.  Workers will need the space to work on top of trailers so things like overhead cranes and fall arrest systems need to have sufficient overhead space for a technician to safely work.  If you build it high enough that the space can be converted into warehouse space, then you have made your building more valuable if you outgrow it and need to repurpose it.

The overall design of your shop should be directed at maximizing technician productivity.  One expert recommends building workbenches between each bay and equipping them with common tools such as grinders and vices, instead of only providing them in centralized locations.  This will reduce the amount of time spent looking for an available workspace or tool.  Additionally, look at having your bays designed for cleanliness.  Have the floor painted and provide cleaning items such as shovels, mops and brooms at each bay and make the technician responsible for keeping them clean.  A clean floor reduces slips and falls, making the facility safer for everyone.  Keeping the floor clean will also reduce any losses caused by vehicles running over tools or parts that have been left sitting on the bay floor.

While we are looking at safety, ensure that there is adequate lighting within the bays.  Begin by allowing for as much natural lighting as possible through either skylights or windows.  Next pick a lighting technology that provides a relatively white light.  High pressure sodium lighting gives off a yellow hue, which can make faded wiring look like the same colour.  There are a lot of modern LED lights that provide a white light and are significantly more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs.  They may cost a little more up front, but they tend to have a lower life-cycle cost.  Painting the walls white will also help to reflect the light and make your shop have a brighter interior.

Another common theme when building or reconfiguring a shop is to plan for the future.  Avoiding the use of load bearing walls will make a future expansion easier to manage.  Also remember to leave enough physical land space to allow for future building.  Putting your wall ten feet from your property line is not going to help you add usable shop floor space in the years ahead.  Having enough space in your electrical panel for future growth is also important.  While you are considering it, ensure that your utility room is large enough to handle things like a larger air compressor, a larger air dryer or just more circuits.  While it will cost more to put that capacity in up front it is generally more expensive to retrofit later.

The last thing to look at is the IT infrastructure that you provide your technicians with.  Are you providing computers for them to put in their work orders in a centralized location or are they closer to the bays?  To properly outfit a computer and a suitable cart or stand you are likely looking at around $2000 per machine.  That might seem like a lot to spend on a computer that is being used to enter in work orders, clocking onto job lines, entering comments and billing out parts.  However, let’s use an internal cost of $1 per minute for your technicians’ time and they spend 10 minutes a day just walking back and forth to a centralized computer that $2000 has a 200-day payback based on lost productivity – less than 1 year of working days! There is starting to be a trend towards outfitting the technicians with a ruggedized tablet that allows access to your shop management software as well as having some of the OEM diagnostic software available.  This will allow the technician to enter jobs, notes and parts in real time as well as pulling ECM data at each service to allow for predictive and proactive maintenance.  Your ROI will not only be based on the avoidance of unproductive time spent walking to a computer but also in the reduced inventory shrink caused by missing to bill all parts out to a job.

Not everyone will be able to do all these ideas – either because of budget or space restrictions.  However, it will be a good exercise to compare your shop with these suggestions and do a payback and ROI for each of them.  It’s possible that some of these items could free up enough time to either reduce headcount or having the ability to redeploy employees to a different shift – perhaps offering an evening or weekend shift to take advantage of when equipment is sitting idle.  You may just find out that a reasonable investment now could result in an improved bottom line going forward.

Putting Your Best Face Forward – Creating Better Videos to Drive Results

Previously we explored what equipment you need to make videos. This week we dig into how to make a good video.

First, use the best camera that you have available – this may be a digital SLR or it might just be your cell phone.  Just make sure that it is at least 8 megapixels – most newer smartphones are of this quality or better (click here for a guide to good video creation).  If using a smartphone, ensure that you are using the rear camera as it is the one with the highest quality.  Front cameras are ok for a short Snapchat video but if you are putting this on YouTube or Facebook you will want the better quality – click here for more.

Next, pick a location with good lighting, such as outside on a sunny day, a room with lots of windows or with a lot of good lights.  If you need to try and touch up or brighten a video you will likely lose enough quality as to make it unusable.  Pick a background that has the light source behind the camera to avoid any glare on the lens.  Position your camera at or above shoulder height.  Many experts suggest that a good shot has the character’s shoulders near the middle of the shot and their waist or knees at the bottom.  If you are wanting to do multiple angles, have the other cameras set up and record everything at once so that you can just switch angles with your editing software instead of moving the camera.  Putting your camera in motion is difficult for non-professional equipment to keep it’s focus and framing constant – the odds are it will come out looking like those old home movies that everyone cringes when watching.  Try taking a short video with your phone while moving – you will see how long it takes to refocus unless you move it extremely slowly.  It’s not what they are made for so play to it’s strengths!  While we are at it, avoid zooming in and out.  The time needed to get back into focus will be noticeable.

Having a script is an absolute must.  People will notice if you are trying to ad-lib and most of us are not good enough to carry it off.  Know what you are going to be talking about.  And practice, practice and when you think you have it memorized, practice it a few more times.  You are going to need to be loud as the microphone on a smartphone or digital SLR is only designed for the speaker to be close to it.  A normal conversational volume will come out as too quiet.  Record yourself a few times to determine what volume you need to be so that it can be pleasantly listened to but not so much that it sounds like you are shouting at your audience.  Just remember, you are not a professional and you are going to mess up.  Now, when you are speaking act like you are talking to someone.  Don’t just stare at the camera or any one object.  Shift your weight a bit, vary your voice (unless you really are going after sounding like the home room teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and use your face to reinforce your points.

When you are recording, do it in landscape mode.  This will look the best when your audience is using something other than a mobile device to view it.  To help you keep the angle proper, add a grid to your screen so that you can use the background as a reference to make certain that your video is straight.  Nothing will say amateur as quickly as having your camera tilted to one side.  You may need to go into your camera settings to enable the grid (if it is available on your device).  The grid lets you align your shot with lines on the screen.  If you can use one, try to position your subject’s eyes level with the upper line of the grid.  If you are into photography, use the rule of thirds (see here for a short introduction for those who are unfamiliar with this concept).  This video offers some tips on getting smooth handheld shots

Be prepared to take multiple recordings.  Unless you are hiring professional actors, someone is going to make a major stumble in their spoken parts – it happens.  Similarly, if you are outdoors a bird, squirrel, car or just someone walking is going to photobomb your shot.  When you are indoors, make sure the ringer is turned off on all phones (cellular or land line) and lock the door and put a sign on it asking people not to knock or enter.  Don’t assume that people are going to know or remember that you are doing a video shoot.  Minor things will help make your video look authentic but if something major happens and disrupts the flow just do it again.

Finally, look at what other people are doing to see what you like or dislike about how the recording was done.  Ensure that you understand that if you are doing it then expecting a Hollywood level production is not going to happen but make sure that the quality is reflective of your organization.  There are a LOT of clips on YouTube that offer tips on how to create better videos (such as this one by Peter McKinnon or this one by Video Influencers).  Do your preparation, practice your spoken parts, pick a good location and most importantly, have fun with your video as that energy will be noticed by your audience!

Storytelling Your Way to Better Recruits

To get the next driver in the seat, most trucking companies rely primarily on some firmly entrenched tactics: 1) Advertise in various driver recruiting publications (print and web), 2) Attend truck shows and job fairs, and 3) Visit truck stops. These are time-tested ways to solicit new employees and independent contractors, but they can be costly and time consuming. These are also rather passive ways to get your message out, and passive doesn’t cut it in today’s environment.  Some larger trucking companies have the luxury of resources to promote and incent potential recruits using all of the above media outlets. This coupled with sign-on bonuses, streamlined onboarding and structured orientation, you would think the deck is stacked against the small and mid-sized carriers. I would argue the opposite is true. Most of these larger companies have been doing much of the same for decades – their tactics and strategies have stayed the same. Enter Social Media. The whole purpose of Social Media is to amplify a message, reach people you would never have reached via traditional media, and most importantly make a connection with the person on the other end. In short – a Network Effect.

Throughout this article, I would encourage you to keep the following in concept in mind. The best marketers and recruiters are effective Storytellers. Although this label may seem a bit fluffy to you, when each of us think of the most effective and charismatic leaders, without fail they are all great storytellers. You know, the ones that can convince us to do something we’ve never done before or consider a new way to think about an old problem. To reinforce the value of storytelling in recruiting and business, here is a great article by Peter Gruber on “The Four Truths of the Storyteller”.

Social media is now used for just about everything in life by many people.  It offers you a way to build both a relationship and trust with many prospects that would be otherwise hard to connect with.  Media agencies like Ideas That Evoke uses the following strategy – “Meet your audience on their platform of choice” – Forbes Nov 21, 2017.  This was originally how they handled B2B marketing, but with the large number of millennials using social media every day, it has now become the best way to meet your next associate.

Most companies have a favorite platform, and essentially ignore most others. This is a common error, and is typically the result of a perceived lack of resources. The Hightower Advertising Agency has listed (not ranked) the most important media sites for the trucking industry (see article here).  First is LinkedIn.  When it comes to recruiting, LinkedIn is hard to beat as it is made for job seekers and businesses to connect.  You can create a large professional network without having time or geographic restrictions.  Next is Facebook, because it is the most popular social network.  It’s ability to let you target very specific demographics allows you to have your message reach the right people.  Third is Twitter as it allows you to present your message to people outside of your own network of connections.  The sharing or re-tweeting of messages allows you to get a large reach with only 140 characters.  You do need to make sure that you are offering valued content that is relevant to your audience.  Finally, there is YouTube.  This platform allows potential recruits to connect visually with your people, places, equipment and culture. To see how other industries use these social media platforms for recruiting, see this article on L’Oréal here and how Deloite uses it in a tight Dutch labour market here.

You are probably looking at this list and are saying – so what? How are these going to help me put drivers in seats?  The Society for Human Resource Management recently found that 84% of organizations use some form of social media to recruit.  This is because passive job candidates (ones who are not actively seeking to change jobs) use social media as a way to become open to new opportunities (see this TCI Business Capital article for more information).  There is not a lot of trucking industry specific research, but these findings make a pretty strong case that they will work.

The new skills trucking companies need within their walls are content creation and marketing.  Most companies think nothing of loading up on more admin people and would never think about hiring a graphic designer or social media expert on a full time basis. These companies will eventually this has a strategic flaw. Content creation and marketing is not making a job posting – it’s telling the company story visually and audibly – with consistency and honesty.  With social media traditional “push” messages just are not effective.  The point is to build relationships and give people a reason to interact with you.  Let your people create! Let them tell their story. Let your people create! Give them a reason to come back to you – just throwing up a “we’re hiring” post will only attract the people currently looking for a job – your ideal candidate is not currently looking.  If you engage them and get them to interact with all your social media platforms as well as your website, you start to gain mindshare with them.  They may not be currently looking to leave their current job but if you show them why you are better and provide them with interesting content that they come back for more you will start to have them begin to question why they are not driving for you.  Now you have an engaged candidate who will give you a much higher candidate to new hire ratio!  Recruiterbox.com offers this short article on using social media to hire.

Regardless of which platform(s) you use, here are a few key points to keep in mind:

  1. Just like anything else, discipline is key. Make a structured publishing schedule – and stick to it!
  2. Make sure your people are trained on effective Social Media and Inbound Marketing. Udemy is a favorite with the inGauge team for learning new skills. There are currently 960 online courses on Social Media / Digital Marketing. Take one, take many! Get better!
  3. Find out what platforms your targets prefer and interact with them there. Sounds simple enough?
  4. Offer content that is valuable to your audience. Create items that not only bring people to your content but keep them coming back for more and participating in conversations with you.
  5. Do not just blast out job postings and nothing else. It may be a ‘check’ on a to-do list, but it won’t get you the people you need.
  6. Use the content to draw positive attention to your company. Monitor your media platforms for negative comments and engage those users (ignorance = acceptance).  Find out why they feel that way and offer an alternative point of view without trashing their point of view.  Ensure that responses are done in a timely fashion and aren’t just automated and canned responses.
  7. It’s all about mindshare – give drivers a reason to seek you out instead of the other way around. At the end of the day you will cut down on the tire kickers and retreads and get more applications from the kind of driver you want and who also wants to drive for you.
  8. Get scientific about lead capture and tracking. Ensure you have a mechanism to capture leads throughout your social media channels – targeted ads, and urls with ‘calls to action’. Further, once you capture those leads, you then need to nurture them over time (newsletters, micro quizzes, and follow requests are all great ways to keep you on their mind).
  9. Finally, like any other business strategy, you need to test and iterate. If something isn’t working, change it or stop doing it. Although this may sound like a ‘catchall’, it is the most important point listed here.

Getting Strategic about Social Media

With all the choices we have for social media – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, LinkedIn, etc. – how do you ensure that you are getting a good ROI, while reaching your target audience with a message that resonates with and influences them?

To start, do you have a social media strategy?  Likely you have a website and marketing materials that present a consistent brand image (and if they do not then that needs to be dealt with before you even get into social media).  That branding will guide you through your social media strategy.  The strategy needs to make sure that the content you provide aligns with your overall business and marketing goals.  Make sure that you create specific KPIs that measure against the business goals.  If you can’t connect a social media activity back to one of those metrics, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it (see this recent Forbes article).  For a short video of how to create a social media strategy, click here to see this video created by the Moz Academy.  For a more detailed discussion on social media measurement, please see this Social Media Examiner interview with Dave Fleet of Edelman

As part of the strategy, determine which audiences you want to reach (see this MavSocial article for some tips).  The recruiting of drivers will likely use a different platform than trying to generate leads for your sales force.  Determine what you want to do and then be on the online platforms that your target is spending time on.  As an example, to reach drivers you will probably want a Facebook presence but if you are trying to generate leads for your truckload van division LinkedIn may be a better place to focus on.

Keep in mind the age of your target.  This is also going to influence which platforms to use.  If you are focusing on Facebook to help drive your recruiting efforts you may not be reaching enough younger candidates as they don’t spend as much time on Facebook as they do on something like Instagram.  One additional note – if you are looking to engage millennials, take the time to talk with a few twentysomethings (or at a minimum use a consultant who is familiar with them) to determine which social media outlets they are using and expect to have to change those platforms on a regular basis (for more information see this MIT article here).   The Moz Academy has another short video on identifying social channels here.  Leading Results offers 3 platforms that have been shown to be effective for business-to-business marketing – click here.

Be prepared that how you perceive your image and how the public sees it may be two different things.  You need to go out and ask people how you are positioned.  Do not just sit around a table and think that you know how people see you unless you are actively having those conversations with your target audience.  Otherwise at best you may be putting out content that does not engage your audience and you get ignored.  However, you may be putting up things that alienate your audience and you end up harming your image.  If you want people to understand or position you in a different way, it is very hard to do if you only look at your business’ perspective.  Often you will get it wrong or it just won’t work.

Along this theme is the necessity to be yourself online.  One of the goals of social media involvement is to build trust with your audience.  If your posts just sound like generic pitches that have no context then it will not come across as authentic.  Develop a narrative that explains why you are different and where you want to go.  Consider things like what charities your business sponsors as a way of showing who you are.  Whatever you do, make sure that it ties back to your goals.  As an example, if you are targeting businesses in a large city like New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, then posting that you support the local 4H club (even though it is a worthy cause that means a lot to the business) probably is not going to mean a lot to your audience on that specific platform.  Also, mix up your messaging.  If you overuse a similar message, then it will appear scripted and will detract from your trust building.  This Post Planner article by Ben Sailer can help you write better posts.

Remember that at first it is better to spend a lot of time on one or two platforms than spreading yourself out across many them.  Gaining an effective digital presence takes time.  Spend your time on platforms that are relevant to your strategy and spend time on them daily, especially as you are building your presence.  Having consistent and engaging content is the key here.  The use of some automated tools can be helpful but do not rely on them as your audience will quickly pick up on the fact that you really are not there.  In an ideal situation you will be adding content in the times that your audience is using these platforms.  Ensure that you have some sort of coverage to monitor and engage with comments and messages in real time or close to it.  Your window to engage with those users may be as short as a few minutes.  This is especially true of negative comments that people post.  Every second that you are not engaging and interacting with that user, other people are seeing that negative message that you are not responding to.  Negative comments are just an opportunity to have a conversation that ultimately should strengthen your brand.  Keep your responses respectful and remember that if one person felt strongly enough to make a complaint, there are likely many others who feel the same way but might be just keeping it to themselves and just not considering your business to fulfill their needs.  See this The Financial Brand article for some Dos and Don’t on responding to negative comments on social media.

Finally, social media is NOT the place where people go to be sold to.  Much of your time should be spent having conversations, showing what you are about and what your values are.  Just putting out sales pitches will cause your audience to lose attention to you.  It’s much better to be an influencer that puts you at the top of your audience’s mind space.  The key is to have a respectful and supportive two-way relationship with a genuine value exchange – very much like doing value proposition sales.  It’s all about building online relationships that can lead to face-to-face conversations that will get you to your goals (see this MIT Sloan Review article here).  It’s not going to happen overnight, and it will take a sustained effort so make sure that you do the upfront planning and align it with a strategy to ensure that your stakeholders get the maximum return on the time and money you invest in social media.

Time to Update Your Drug & Alcohol Policy

Without fail, almost every news broadcast these days includes a segment on either the growing Opioid epidemic, or the legalization/decriminalization of cannabis. This dichotomy poses more emerging variables for trucking companies to consider (and address).  This past Tuesday, an Arkansas based driver admitted to smoking cannabis and snorting crushed pills just hours before rear-ending three vehicles, and crashing into the back of a trailer on I-57 near Champaign IL.  The reality is that there are many drivers who do drugs to either stay “alert”, or perhaps just to pass the time while they are away from home.  Most likely, you probably already have a drug and alcohol policy and are doing random urine tests, but have you updated your policy to handle the new realities?  If you haven’t, you are putting your business at risk.

Recently, several states have enacted either recreational marijuana use statutes (9 states) or have decriminalized it’s use (13 states).  29 states allow medical use (with a doctor’s prescription).  Others are considering enacting such laws.  However, cannabis remains a Schedule I substance and is illegal under Federal law.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memorandum in January, removing any protection against the enforcement of federal law in states that have legalized the use of cannabis.  So, what is a trucking company supposed to do?

To start with, impairment is impairment, regardless of if the substance is “legal” or not.  Alcohol is a legal substance, but we do not allow employees to come to work impaired – cannabis is no different.  Cannabis is on the list of products that a truck driver can be tested for (the others are cocaine, opiates, amphetamines/methamphetamines and phencyclidine (PCP)).  So, the law is clear – if you want to do interstate trucking marijuana use is a no-no.  Unfortunately, not everyone is getting the message.  Commercial Carrier Journal this week reported that positive test results for cocaine, methamphetamine and cannabis use have all been increasing have been rising for the last five years.

You may have recently seen that the Trucking Alliance is pressuring Congress to allow the use of a hair sample test instead of the current urine sample test requirement.  The reason for this is that opioid use may not be detected after only a few hours whereas hair screening can detect use within the last 90 days.  Currently some of the larger companies are using hair samples in addition to the required urine testing when they are hiring.  Unfortunately, not everyone has this available to them yet.  This is a vital tool that every company needs to protect it’s both interests and the safety of the public.  The current testing only shows if a driver has used one of the substances recently.  Hair testing will let us know if they are a user, something that they can currently hide.

Regardless of what testing is available, we all need to have strong company policies that not only explicitly prohibit recreational drug use but also spell out the penalties and treatment options should an infraction occur.  The issue is that there is a patchwork quilt of state regulations and or human rights considerations, so you will want to engage both your state trucking association as well as your legal advisor for guidance on what you can or must do.  However here are a few general things to consider.

First, find out what your legal requirements are.  Do you need to offer rehabilitation services or does your state allow you to terminate even for a first offence?  Is there a union contract involved? If yes, make sure that the language in your policy is in line with it and make certain that your next contract addresses it.

Second – make sure your policy is recent.  The courts do not look favorably on policies that are years out of date.  Because of the changes happening Policies should be reviewed at least once a year and the review needs to be documented.  Additionally, have your employees sign off on it, preferably on an annual basis.  Ideally you will also provide a training session for all employees, not just to review the policy but to also educate them on the risks to both the company and their own jobs that drug impairment can bring.  Reinforce to them their own roles in keeping the workplace safe.  DOT fleets are already required to give supervisors training on spotting potentially impaired employees but give some thought on expanding that so that all employees know the warning signs.

Third – do not assume that your employees will remember that federal DOT regulations trump any state statutes around recreational drug use.  The reality is that for some people the slogan “just say no” doesn’t work.  Consider spelling out certain drugs that prohibited (while also including some catch-all wording for substances not specifically named), but if you do make sure that it is kept up to date and that you have employees sign off whenever a new substance is added to the list.  Also remind them of any prescription medications that can also cause impairment.  Consider having alternative duties for employees who have a medical requirement to take these medications.  Regardless of the cause of the impairment, your company could be found liable should an incident occur while an employee is under any level of impairment.

Fourth – consider conducting other forms of testing, especially during the hiring process.  Yes, it is an additional cost, but it may be a less expensive form of insurance against potential liability.  Additionally, it provided more evidence of due diligence that can be used as a defence should you be brought into court.  If you do use other test, be sure to include that in your policy.

Finally, make sure your policy prescribes recommended sanctions to be taken against employees that do report to work impaired or fail a random test.  Be prepared to monitor compliance with these penalties and document all instances.  This must be something that gets 100% compliance.  Ensure that supervisors do not make exceptions – you can’t just feel sorry for someone and “let them off this time”.   Making exceptions opens the door for appeals and potentially could be used against you should a law suit be filed.

Overall the formula is simple – have a policy, keep it up to date, train and document that all employees are aware of the policy and its penalties and finally ensure that management has “bought into” the policy.  The world is changing and not all state legislatures are taking our industry into consideration when new laws are enacted.  It’s up to us to make sure that we not only keep the public safe but to also take steps to our liability when someone inevitably violates our policies.

Turn Mistakes into Compound Interest for your Business

We all strive for the golden ring of Six Sigma, and making as few errors as possible.  Making mistakes has become taboo as we compete in the global marketplace against German and Japanese firms that emphasize efficiency, consistency and reliability.  But what if that quest is stifling entrepreneurialism and innovation?   What if creating an atmosphere where employees are afraid of making mistakes is costing us on the bottom line?

Let’s face it, all of us have made mistakes throughout our careers.  Most them were small and easily corrected, but some may have been huge and had immense repercussions.  At the end of the day we are all humans and imperfect beings.  What’s more important is asking the question – did we learn from the experiences to ensure that we didn’t make the same mistake twice? How capable are we of introspection? The old saying “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice – shame on me” comes to mind here.  For many of us it was our reaction to our mistakes (or the mistakes of others) that proved our worth and moved us forward.  The legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said “If you are not making mistakes then you’re not doing anything.”  So, if learning from those errors helped you in your career, don’t you owe your employees some leeway to make mistakes as well?

Yes, there are certain positions, tasks, or customers that you have no room for error – making a calculation error on the budget or overcharging your largest customer on fuel surcharge are examples of mission-critical errors.  However, each business has areas where perfection isn’t necessary and doesn’t pose a real threat.  We have previously discussed Kanban systems of continuous improvement.  Implicit in the concept of improvement is the possibility of being wrong occasionally.  Amy Rees Anderson in a 2013 Forbes article put it this way – “mistakes are not failures, they are simply the process of eliminating ways that won’t work, in order to come closer to the ways that will.”

Making a mistake means that the employee went outside of their comfort zone and entered a state of learning, which is where new discoveries are made, and lessons are learned.  However, many of us are reluctant to allow employees to make mistakes and the root cause tends to be a lack of trust.  That comes from two sources.

The first one is our own belief in being better at running all facets of our business than anyone else.  Why else do we all carry our phones with us on vacation and constantly monitoring and checking our e-mail?  It’s rooted in the belief that we are better at making decisions than everyone else.  It’s that attitude that’s holding leaders back from becoming greater leaders.  We can’t run successful businesses if we insist on doing everything ourselves.  Let’s face it, there are only 24 hours in a day and eventually we must sleep.  Short bursts of being a hero are possible, but it can’t be sustained over the long run.  Eventually we get tired and need to be recharged.

I was recently talking with a regional VP of a major bank who had just come back from a vacation.  She told me that for the first time ever she did not bring her phone with her on a trip.  A week before leaving she gave her people notice that she was only available by email up until a certain date and that any emails received while she was away would just be deleted.  Her reasoning was she had a team below her that she had empowered to make decisions and she trusted them to do so.  I spoke with her three days after she had come back, and she still felt rested!  How many of us have come back from a vacation only to feel like we had not even gone away?

The second reason for not trusting people to make mistakes stems from how we hire people.  Sometimes we just take the first reasonable candidate to fill the short term need instead of putting an emphasis on trustworthiness during the interview process and setting the expectations from the start.  Yes, it is painful to have to use existing staff to backfill vacancies but if you are just taking the first warm body that seems capable for the job, is it any wonder that we don’t trust them to make decisions, much less make mistakes?

We can all start by setting a culture where a degree of risk taking is acceptable.  Obviously, a VP is going to have more leeway than a customer service representative.  Given that constraint we need to make certain that we allow some room for experimentation so that a culture of continuous improvement can take place.  So how do we do that?

First, encourage people to own their mistakes and learn from them.  That means not lowering the boom on them whenever an error happens.  Do that and they will never develop the habit of looking objectively at the mistake, recognizing what they did wrong and understanding why that choice was the wrong thing to do.  Let them hold themselves accountable for their mistakes and acknowledge them.  If they are more worried about getting ripped into because of a mistake, then they will just hide them and never learn from them.  This will also result in you only knowing about mistakes when they become large and potentially costly instead of when they are small and easily fixed.

Second, make sure that the person who makes the mistake either fixes them or at least is involved in the correction.  I once heard someone say that lessons aren’t lessons unless they hurt a little bit.  Keep in mind that for most people the self-induced shame of having messed up is probably enough, you probably aren’t going to help things by piling it on, especially if it is a relatively small issue.

Finally, work with that person to develop safeguards to ensure that the same mistake will not get repeated.  Do a root cause analysis with that person so that they get an insight into what went sideways and why.  Most of your employees are more than smart enough to determine the root cause, they just might need some help with the framework.  By going through that process, they will gain insights that they can use in the future to start catching errors before they happen.  And guess what, an employee that can do that means better decision making in the future and just maybe you can join that bank VP in taking a vacation where you come back rested or even just go home at night and not feel that you need to constantly monitor things.  By being able to let people take on those new responsibilities you are going to free your own time up to take on items that will either grow your business or just contribute more to the bottom line.  Making mistakes – who thought that it would be a win-win proposition?

The (Semi) Autonomous State of Trucking

In the last year, the transportation industry has taken great leaps towards the development of a commercially available autonomous vehicle.  A recent analysis by Morgan Stanley shows that the race is not slowing down based on what was seen at the recent VDI Autonomous Truck Conference in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Morgan Stanley has found that there is a broad degree of respect for tech giants such as Google/Waymo, Uber, Tesla and Amazon, who have been spending billions on technological developments in the hope of creating a product that works, and getting it to market quickly.  Regardless of who is first, any OEM will need stable balance sheets to be able to survive.  The analysts expect that significant consolidation will occur as the incumbent OEMs evaluate new start-up entrants and identify potential takeover targets.  At the moment, it looks like it will be the incumbents who will be last to market, as the disruptive tech companies are naturally moving faster.  Waymo and Uber are already testing their vehicles, and Einride plans to make it’s “delivery pod” vehicle available to commercial customers later this year.

This rush to market is giving rise to a number of critics who have concerns over safety.  A recent accident involving an Uber self-driving vehicle, that killed a woman in Arizona, has just added to the fire.  One of the big dilemmas that engineers are struggling with is actually a moral question.  “What should an autonomous vehicle do when there is no right answer to the decision it faces? Is it better to swerve into oncoming traffic or the sidewalk where pedestrians walk?”  Questions like this are hard enough for a human to handle in the heat of the moment.  I would not want to be the programmer that is tasked with the creation of this algorithm.

However, even a situation like the accident in Arizona is not slowing down the roll out of Level 3/4/5 autonomous driving.  Morgan Stanley noted that these developments would have little impact on the progress, and that the main lesson is to ensure the safety and validation of prototype vehicles that are subjected to public road testing.  The report continues to project Level 4 vehicles (driver just needs to be available if the system requires input or during the final mile) appearing between 2020 and 2025 with fully autonomous driverless vehicles by 2030.

Another recent development will speed up this process.  Luminar announced last week that it has developed a new sensing platform that can be scaled to the capacity needed to equip every self-driving test vehicle by year’s end.  The manufacturer claims that this is the most sensitive, highest dynamic range InGaAs (Indium Gallium Arsenide) receiver in the world.  The new LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) receiver’s technology, will reduce the cost of these receivers from what originally was tens of thousands of dollars a unit down to $3.  Luminar is one of the first enterprises to focus on economies of scale, creating a possibly disrupting technology.

So, what does this mean to our industry?  First of all, with Einride’s impending launch of its delivery pod that looks like a box on wheels, but is really a self-driving cargo vehicle, is something that should be on the radar of every LTL carrier.  Over the next 2 years the company plans to have a fleet of over 200 of these vehicles (that have a similar capacity to a 24-foot straight truck), running between Gotehenburg and Helsingborg in Sweden with an expected annual capacity of 2 million pallets.  It is currently designed for moving goods from distribution centers to local e-commerce fulfillment centers.  However, it could easily be deployed to run from a cargo hub to customer facilities that have loading docks.  The pods are capable of being self driving or remotely controlled by a human.  Install some cameras in the back, have two-way communications, and local LTL delivery is a very real possibility!

Second, the development of very inexpensive LiDAR receivers means that things like lane detection and back up sensors will soon be available as standard equipment on all vehicles.  You still need to find a driver that knows how to properly back into a dock, but with this sort of technology accident claims from drivers sideswiping another vehicle should be reduced significantly.  With that savings, carriers should see a direct improvement to their bottom line!

Third, this technology will change what your driver does.  It is quite possible that the driver of the future will be running down the Interstate while working on a laptop to arrange his own appointments, finding his own backhauls from either your own network or through a smart network of carriers, many other tasks currently being done by dedicated dispatch staff.  This is potentially how this technology could have its greatest impact.  In short, you will need a much lower operations headcount as the driver to dispatcher ratio will be much higher. You can either increase your customer service staff, or take it as cost savings.

Finally, the driver will get a greatly enriched work environment.  They will potentially become more of a manager, handling many tasks currently done at the terminal.  The decision making will be brought closer to the customer.  Different tacking and communication technologies will be required to help guide the driver, possibly as a decision tree.  This may appeal more to a younger driver and may attract more diversity to the industry. Quite possibly, the recent Hours of Service mandate could vanish because of this tsunami of tech disruption.

Have You Done a Redundancy Audit?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to address something that is common with businesses of all sizes, types and industries. Chasing the shiny new project, product or service is exciting. In fact, it can reinvigorate your team, and build momentum for continued progress.

Clearing the deck for progress, doesn’t just mean establishing tasks, deadlines, milestones and holding team members accountable, it should include a careful audit of all the processes, tasks, and routines that your team is doing on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Further, once the audit is complete, it will be very easy to update periodically to ensure peak efficiency. Many would categorize this as a LEAN Management principle, specifically the “Sort” part of the Kaizen Framework – separating what is needed and what is not needed.

The great thing is that a redundancy audit can be applied to all functions in an organization, and for trucking it can be extended to the driver’s seat. There are non-value adding tasks being done everyday, and for those that want to profit more with the same overhead – this is a crucial step.

Step 1 – Make a List

Have your staff list all the tasks that they do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.  Ask the team to be specific as they can to best identify any unnecessary tasks and processes are being completed.  Conversely, this may be an enlightening exercise – you may not be aware of all the important functions a team member performs each day, week and month. However, be aware that the person doing the work may “hide” some tasks, intentionally or unintentionally, especially if they involve something they enjoy doing, or that have a social aspect to them.  These are areas where you may run into some resistance to your change efforts.  Consider the use of internal auditors, but keep in mind that people will act differently when they are being observed.

Ensure that communications about the process are kept up, and ensure that the audit is not done in a bubble.  Ensure that people understand why this process is happening and get them to focus on what they will gain from it instead of what they will lose.  Ask the staff for input as to which of their items that they feel are redundant.  Solicit feedback as to why they feel these things are good candidates to be eliminated.  At the same time, get their opinion on how they could improve on the tasks on their lists as they may be aware of ways to improve performance that are currently outside of accepted procedures.  Reach out to your customers and see if there are any statements, reports, etc. that you are currently providing that they no longer need or that could be provided in an alternative format.  As an example, have your sales staff ask their customers if they are willing to go to automated invoices, or if they really want to get monthly statements.

Step 2 – Meet as a group to review and prioritize

Use the concept of “would a customer pay for this” as a starting point.  In addition, look for duplicated efforts in various parts of the organization – perhaps both accounting and operations are performing essentially the same task without knowing it.  Pay special attention to the reports people are creating as these are easily duplicated or are candidates for automation.  Maybe you have an underutilized customer web access portal that could eliminate some phone calls and generate customer value by letting them gain access to their information when they want it.  Be aware that some low value tasks or processes may have regulatory reasons for doing them – either for you or your customer.  These are items that you must ensure are not discontinued.

Begin with items that are being duplicated in different departments.  Put those to the affected departments to find a way to do the same thing in a format that all can use (such as reports). Next look for items that provide no or minimal value that will have a low cost to eliminate.   Lastly, any processes that will require major re-engineering or automation will require a full ROI and cost-benefit analysis before implementation.

The last step is to go back to the stakeholders and ensure that there is agreement on what the priorities are.  Be prepared to put your sales hat on, as some departments or staff members will have a harder time seeing the need to change.  Effort spent at this stage will get paid back easily during the elimination or implementation phase.

Step 3 – Eliminate

Focus on the low hanging fruit first – anything that just does not need to be performed or done in a different manner.  Then move forward using Cost/Benefit as your guide. Be sure to re-evaluate as you progress – did you eliminate something that a customer needs?  Be prepared to back track or re-evaluate how you implement the changes based on circumstances that will arise as you implement.  Somewhere in the process you are going to eliminate a report that someone really uses, but did not tell you in the investigation stage.  Be ready to bring something back if this happens and understand that it could stay under the radar for a few months.

Step 4 – Repeat Quarterly

Keep in mind that situations, needs and regulations change constantly.  What is necessary today can become obsolete tomorrow.  Ensure that you take time every quarter to go back to this process and re-evaluate not only the progress but what else can be eliminated.  The team will find that in a lot of cases they didn’t eliminate enough as people will start to ask: “do I really need this, or can I get the same result from something else”?  If the answer is yes, then put that task or process back under the microscope.  In some cases, it may take several iterations until you get that process right.

The first time through the process will be painful.  There will be a lot of “that is how we have always done things” raised. People may resent or be fearful of the process as they will focus on what they could lose.  Get some easy victories first, show people the value of the process and you will see people really get onboard.  As you get into making this an ongoing process it will become a habit, and that is when you will really see a shift in the organization’s performance.