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.

Retention – Building a Base

I recently had the great opportunity to speak at the KSM (Katz Sapper & Miller) Trucking Business Owner’s Roundtable. This is a first-class accounting/consulting firm that continually impresses me with their integrity, innovation and dedication to the industry. Every six months or so they assemble many their trucking clients, primarily made up of senior leadership, along with several leaders from non-clients to a half day education session. I was asked if I would be interested in speaking to the group on my take on the current state of driver retention. Also on the bill was my partner Chris Henry from TPP (Truckload Carriers Profitability Program) to speak on benchmarking, industry trends and the nine traits of high-performing trucking companies.

When I was asked, I quickly jumped at the opportunity. I admit I was more than just a little eager because, as I explained to the crowd, usually when I speak to the topic of retention the crowd is made up of recruiters and safety personnel. Don’t get me wrong. I have great admiration for the job these folks do, especially considering what they must deal with if they are in a high turnover environment. So, I warmed myself up to the crowd by suggesting to them that at every retention session held, at any event, that THEY should be the ones in the room along with their other senior managers. When ATRI (American Truck Research Institute) surveys the industry, as they do once a year, and the results have the driver shortage at #1 issue to the industry and driver retention down at #5, what I see is a complete disconnect and it starts with them – the leadership teams.

Does it ring as true to you as it does to me that suggesting that the primary issue in the trucking industry is a shortage of drivers when that same industry historically bleeds turnover at close to 100% – is it not nuts? Talk about the emperor’s new clothes.  This makes no sense!  There is a large volume of carriers who have their heads in the sand on this thing – they don’t get it and it saddens me. There are many trucking pioneers that dedicated themselves to building this great industry’s legacy. They did it by starting associations, fighting ridiculous legislation brought forward by uninformed politicians, organizing and leading. We do them no honor when we allow an environment of distrust permeate the industry between management and it’s driving force that we have named churn. This has gone on for far too long.

The other thing that riles me to the bone is that the situation is entirely fixable – been there, done that, bought the tee shirt.  You can beat it!  Where a lot of it fails is that leadership needs to look itself in the mirror and recognize that it starts with them. They need to step up and tackle the issue and make the decision to take on the challenge and beat it. I’m a huge association fan as any of you who have been reading my articles for a while know. Having said that I am also aware that associations can be a harbinger for a common lack of performance. Reports from an association come out suggesting that the latest numbers say the industry is at 100% turnover and members with their peers at industry events will suggest that their doing pretty good at 80%.  I have seen this many times. Talk about hysteria, news flash buddy – at 80% you suck, period.

The nice thing for me at this stage of my life is that I don’t need to hold back. My future does not depend on anyone’s opinion of me but my own. Telling a room full of senior executives that they need to get their heads out of the sand on this thing is kind of fun, I have to say. I don’t do it in a rude way but in a direct way, as is my nature. Did they listen, or did they tune me out?  That’s the real test and I have to say, as usual, some did, and some didn’t.  I got several business cards shoved in my hands. I talked to a smaller carrier whose turnover was at 30% and they thought it was way too high – outstanding. Then I was asked by a large truck fleet that I know has triple digit turnover if I would share a copy of my presentation with them, which I did. Then in their email to me they thanked me for sharing the content and said they would forward it on their recruiting department. Man, are you kidding? Didn’t you hear a thing I said?

At any rate, I’ll carry on. I have a couple items that I sell related to turnover that I believe have value, but I’m really neither here nor there if folks buy them. My real interest and passion is trying to get the message that high turnover is not necessary –  it can be beat; your safety record will improve dramatically, your insurance cost will go down along with your recruiting cost and guess what, your bottom line will soar. It makes me wonder what business some carriers think they’re in.

I also gave them this to think about – if you have high turnover your people do not believe what you say – they distrust you. I think this is a hard message for many of the ego’s in the room to handle but it’s true. If you are going to take this issue on it starts by self-reflection and looking in the mirror. Somehow, someway the culture in your business has turned sour, and that’s on you. If you can’t get by that then you’re in for a hard row to hoe in the years to come. Turnover will not be able to be compensated for by just hiring more volume. The tide is turning on that strategy in my humble opinion.

 

 

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?

100 and Counting!

100 weeks ago, we started publishing our weekly email newsletter. At that time, there we just under 100 recipients on our distribution list. Today, there are close to 3200 people that receive the inGauge Data + Action newsletter each Sunday. I’m well aware that this level of growth wouldn’t get too many professional marketers excited, but frankly I don’t care. It’s been entirely organic, and I can see first-hand that people are reading it (and hopefully getting value our of it). Our focus is to improve 1% each and every day.

When you start something, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of trying to make something ‘viral’, instead of staying committed to consistency and the core purpose of whatever you are bringing to the table. Preaching the value of benchmarking and sharing ideas hasn’t been easy. In fact, four years ago (yesterday), we had our first development planning session to discuss the core features of inGauge – essentially trying to predict what our future clients would value.  Today, we are proud of the fact that 158 companies and their subsidiaries are actively using inGauge to move their businesses forward, and modify the ‘status quo’. With that being said, we are not even close to reaching our goal as a service, an Association, and as a group of forward-thinking Trucking organizations committed to continuous improvement. This last sentence captures what inGauge and TPP is all about – working as a group to advance the status, profitability and sophistication of the North American Trucking Industry. In today’s post, in light of the above milestone, I thought I would share a snapshot of both our short and long-term vision of inGauge for the TCA Profitability Program.

Short-Term Vision and Strategy

I’ve always been my biggest critic. I think this trait has been helpful in building a service that provides real value. Odds are that when a member communicates a ‘missing piece’ or any other type of service ‘deficit’, I’ve already identified it, and perhaps ruminated (and lost sleep) over it. The biggest problem in building a valuable benchmarking or comparison tool is ensuring that participants are speaking a common language. Language has nuance. If you’ve used Google Translate, you have seen this first-hand. Each trucking operation has slight difference in ‘dialect’. Although many of the variables are the same, you all address those variables in slightly different ways. Conversely, these slight differences affect how, and what you account for with respect to your financial and operational data internally. The biggest obstacle to continued growth of benchmarking in Trucking is the creation of a common language that removes (to the greatest extent possible) that nuance, which can obviously pollute the comparative data. I’m pleased that we have made significant progress on this specific topic. Recently, with the help of Best Practice Group members and valued partners, we published the first TPP Chart of Accounts. The TPP Chart of Accounts, available to every company free of charge, by clicking here, is result of sixteen years of contemplation, discussion, and iteration from Best Practice Group members. The TPP Chart of Accounts, fill a massive void (based on my first-hand daily experience) in the trucking industry. We haven’t necessarily created a new language, we’ve improved an existing one – and removed much of the nuance.

It would be foolish to think that companies will simply do a complete (and quick) ‘renovation’ of their internal reporting processes and models. As such, having an easy to use interim step is (and will always be) important. This missing link needs to be able to translate existing data, that may not be in the form that is required (has that nuance). In July of 2017, we started building a data mapping tool to address this critical requirement. Prior to that, we expected inGauge and BPG members to perform that interim step themselves. Many have, and continue to do a great job in this regard, but it has been a big barrier to entry for companies looking to get started. We are now (as of late Friday evening), on our 79th version of this data mapping tool. This tool allows companies to swiftly categorize, allocate (in six different ways) and report their financial and operational data in a standardized fashion. This tool, I am proud to say, is saving members a significant amount of time each month, and providing inGauge with better data – which as a by-product, improves the credibility of the results and the elevates the status of our platform in the industry.

However, we’re not done (not even close). The current version of our mapping tool is simply a ‘proof of concept’. We have already started building what we are now calling the inGauge Data Engine (please send me your feedback for a better name). This cloud-based tool will not only provide the critical mapping functions, it will also provide an enhanced developer environment, to allow you to more rapidly connect your databases (securely) to inGauge. Further, using machine learning, it will perform the initial steps in the data mapping process for you, automatically. Finally, and most-importantly, it will allow you to connect data, build dashboards, KPIs and visualizations for your own internal purposes, as opposed to external benchmarking.

In short, our short-term vision and strategy is making it increasingly easier for existing and new members to extract the most value out of the exercise of benchmarking, while at the same time reduce the resources required to transform the data into that common language required.

Long-Term Visions and Strategy

The biggest value of the Best Practice Groups is that the program provides companies with the ‘How’ (simply stated). Each group is comprised of people that want to get better, and desire external feedback on their strategies and activities. No one leaves a group meeting without at least one actionable task, project or thought to take back, and implement within their respective organizations. However, the onus is on that individual attendee to ensure that they deliver that idea, next step or strategic change when they arrive back to their business. Understandably, people can get caught in the whirlwind as soon as they arrive back at their facilities. Although it’s understandable, it still represents a massive gap – one that needs to be filled.

In early 2017, we introduced inGauge Actions, a simple project management tool to help capture and translate some of those great ideas that flow out of group discussions and presentations. We are pleased that some companies have used this tool, but we also understand that this feature is simply (again) a proof of concept. On that note, part of our long-term vision for inGauge is three-fold:

  • Increase the number of inGauge users, within each participating company with access to inGauge. Additional ‘subusers’ are free – and very strongly encouraged.
  • Automatically capture, and assemble pre-built projects within inGauge Actions that companies can utilize to move their businesses forward. These projects will be both group-specific.
  • Provide a auto-suggestion feature, to scan the library of good ideas (based on the group-specific presentations and discussions) and automatically recommend, based on performance on one or multiple KPIs. For example, if your Driver Turnover results are subpar, inGauge will automatically scan the pre-built projects that can help you to improve your results, and link those team members (based on their defined roles) to the project.

The above is an ambitious pursuit. Any time you attempt to link the qualitative with the quantitative, you will encounter many obstacles on the path. However, once we have our short-term vision and strategy completed, it will clear the deck to allow us to attempt this ambitious strategy. Stay tuned and feedback welcomed!

Onward and upward!

Thanks to all the BPG and inGauge members who have made all of the above possible. Your support is greatly (and graciously) appreciated!

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.

Emotional Intelligence

During the TCA Annual Convention I was lucky enough to be in the audience for a General session entitled “Creating a Dedicated Skilled Workforce”. This panel session featured Karen Smerchek (President of Veriha Trucking), Brent Nussbaum of Nussbaum Transportation, and Steve Hitchcock, COO of Duncan and Son Lines. This panel was actively moderated by Jim Ward, President & CEO of DM Bowman. Although the premise of the session was building a skilled workforce with driver value proposition as a main feature. The panelist went off in many, very interested directions.

One key path that I focused on was when Jim Ward brought up the fact that Veriha trucking had an abnormally high percentage of female and millennials in their office and on the road. As Jim reinforced, the percentage of women in leadership roles has continued to be low in trucking. Further the workforce in general has shown a continued disdain for the growing population of millennials in the workforce. Considering these two facts, Karen was quick to point out that these two groups are not a result of a novel strategy.  It was a gradual tide that has led to a renewed and thriving business. Of course, trucking isn’t conducted in vacuum, so you have to give some props to the strong market. With that being said, I think Veriha’s workforce diversity could be a great indicator of the future of trucking.

During the session, Ms. Smercheck mentioned one term that struck a cord with me – Emotional Intelligence. Her hypothesis was that women have a higher Emotional Intelligence than males, which (paraphrased) leads to continued introspection and empathy for fellow team members. Without going into the rabbit hole of gender stereotypes, I think she is spot on in this regard.

Building on this thought, here is the Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of Emotional Intelligence:

“the ability to understand the way people feel and react and to use this skill to make good judgments and to avoid or solve problems”

 Now, let’s put that definition in context. Without fail, every person I speak to these days say the same thing (essentially) – “I have tons of demand, at great rates, but am short on driversLess pedigree more people skills

So, as a trucking industry leader, if you have finished this post with some lingering skepticism, or perhaps a realization that your Emotional Intelligence quotient is low, maybe you should start thinking of hiring more with a higher quotient. Maybe your next company President is female, maybe she is a millennial, maybe she is currently serving you coffee at the local Starbucks. Trucking needs new blood, and different opinions.

It’s Time to Wake Up Your Strategy With a SWOT

While scanning through my inbox today I see several merger and acquisition announcements –Ryder acquires MXD Group, Knight buys Abilene Motor Express, Belmont Express joins Daeske. Despite the current market environment, firms are hitting financial difficulties everyday (the new management team at Roadrunner says it’s going to take time to “right this ship”). Everyday our industry landscape changes from these consolidations and changes. Those 35 to 50 truck, family run firms that used to be your direct competitors might now be part of a much larger operation. How do you compete? What part of the market do you target? Which part of your “lunch” is that “bigger dog” staring at, waiting for you to turn your head so he/she can swoop in and take it?

No general leads his/her army into war without knowing both the terrain he/she will face and what the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy they will face. In today’s competitive environment each business needs to understand what they are facing and where they fit. An excellent way to get you started is with a SWOT analysis.

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths and Weaknesses are internal factors while Opportunities and Threats are external. 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.

Strengths
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!

Weaknesses
• 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.

Opportunities
• 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.

Threats
• 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.

An Empowered Team: Compound Interest for Your Business

“Empowerment is not giving your people the ability to make decisions. Empowerment is the giving your people the ability to mistakes” – Steve Hitchcock, COO Duncan and Son Lines

The above quote (one of hundreds of golden nuggets I heard at this year’s TCA Convention) got me thinking deeply about empowerment – true empowerment, which also requires a necessary absence of micro-management from senior leaders and managers.

I use the concept of compound interest as a frequent analogy for many business processes and functions, which I think is totally appropriate, since it is (as Albert Einstein once declared) the 8th Wonder of the World. The concept of compound interest doesn’t just apply to money, it can be easily applied to human capital, and technological capital. For human capital, if you have the right ingredients – people with a decent set of technical skills, and better-than-average amount of character and purpose, the gains your staff can make (if you give them the right tools) can catapult your business to the next level of profitability and efficiency.

The above can happen if you have two necessary table stakes. First, you need the right people (I know easier said than done in this low-unemployment environment). Second, you need to employ the correct approach to managing those people. Specifically, you need to have a strong culture and set of shared values that leads a current or future associate to respect the business and want to add value to it – day after day.

If you ask a leader with a micro-management problem, in my experience, they will undoubtedly admit to this ‘addiction’. Normally, this business-limiting issue affects the entrepreneurs who built the business from the ground up. He or she has invested their blood, sweat, and many tears over the years to get to where they are today. It’s natural that they are emotionally torn when it comes to trusting someone else with an important business function. However, for those that are true micro-managers (many say they are, but they aren’t), they don’t realize the opportunity cost of looking over their team’s shoulders day after day – they are not receiving any interest payments on their human capital. To visualize this, think of a hamster on a wheel. Lots of busy work, but no progress.

I started this post off with a quote about empowerment. I had not heard it defined like that before. Empowerment is not, at it’s basic level, about giving an associate the ability to say no to a customer, authorize additional compensation for a great driver, or perhaps decide to stop doing a process you’ve been doing for eons. No, true empowerment is allowing them to make those decisions, without fear of reprisal if the decision(s) didn’t work out to the company’s advantage. Further, true empowerment requires a lack of unnecessary oversight (see micromanagement).

My challenge for you this week. The next time one of your trusted associates brings a business-critical decision to your desk, simply reply “I’m good with whatever you decide”. Conversely, when a team member (who has been trained properly) discloses that a previously made decision didn’t turn out the way it should have, simply reply “Good, we can learn, and get better”. On the last one, watch this great video from Jocko Willink for inspiration.

It’s time to start earning higher rates of interest on your human capital.

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.