Mentorship: The Best Education

Within the last two weeks I said goodbye to a great friend, and mentor. Gabe was in the prime of his life; a world traveler, a respected entrepreneur and a compassionate human being. Am still processing his passing, and it’s surreal scrolling through the many text messages we sent to each other.  Gabe had very strong opinions, and many ingrained habits and principles. Some I wholeheartedly agreed with, and others I simply respected. He had an impact on my life, without a doubt. I was lucky enough to spend a day with him prior to his passing, and I told him how much he meant to me.

This sad moment also provided a time for contemplation about all the people who’ve been my mentors over the years (whether they knew it or not). When I visualize a timeline of my life, there are certain ‘eras’, and during those times there was always at least one person who I looked up to, and in turn provided both direct and indirect feedback, this feedback changed everything. In fact, I kind of feel like Forrest Gump sometimes, for being so lucky to connect and learn from such a dynamic group of individuals. The great thing about mentors is that they are normally connected to a role or activity your involved with during certain segments of your life. In order words, they not only can provide parts of the ‘operating system’ for navigating your way through life (the strategic), they will most likely impart practical and tactical knowledge that can catapult you in your career or another pursuit. The added advantage of mentors is it normally does require any direct cost. Mentors are the form of education with the highest return on investment.

In the whirlwind of business, it’s easy to forget the importance of quality mentoring with respect to employee development. The mentors are, naturally, being pulled in a million directions. The ‘mentees’ who can most benefit from mentorship are being thrown into the deep end, sometimes without a life jacket. I don’t want to generalize, as I know there are many companies doing a fantastic job with formal mentoring programs. However, they are the exception, not the rule. More companies need to stop giving lip service to the word ‘mentorship’. Stop paying a third party to do something you can better internally, with an emotional connection like no other.

If you’re successful in life or business, some part (small or large) of your success can be linked directly to a little bit of luck, and a connection to some person (or persons) that changed the direction of the arrow on your compass. Conversely, the probability is high that there is someone in your work or life bubble that admires you, and could benefit significantly from just a little bit more of your time. Give them that time, the return on investment doesn’t just accrue to them – it comes back to you.

For a great summer read, and to put the importance of mentors in proper context, I highly recommend the book HillBilly Elegy, by JD Vance. In summary, this book not only provides insight into the strength and enduring nature of ingrained cultural norms and habits (the good and the bad), it also reinforces the significance of mentors in changing the course of peoples lives, and future generations. The author’s ‘Mamaw’ was that person. Mamaw didn’t just change the course of author’s life, she changed the lives of his children, grandchildren etc. That’s my kind of compound interest.

In closing out this post, I want to take the time to say thank-you to all my mentors, past, present and future. These men and women are the true professors of my life. The degrees and designations are meaningless in comparison to the education which they have (and will have) given me.

Are You Looking for a Professional Driver?

I have been speaking and consulting about retention, almost exclusively, over the past number of years. What I have found, and it is my experience, that high turnover in any trucking company can be brought under control.  That’s a fact, been there – done that, bought the tee shirt. Any half insightful management team that can muster a measured amount of committed effort, can show impressive decline in lost drivers in a matter of three to twelve months. With ongoing programs, it can be maintained indefinitely.

Recently I have been asking my trucking executive audiences how many of them would prefer to hire professional drivers.  To put this in context I classify drivers in three categories.  First, the lost and forlorn, they’re just driving until they find their real calling (and BTW, they rarely do). Second, there is the truck stop cowboy, these folks are in love with the image of being a truck driver more than being proficient at what they’re doing. The 3rd is a professional, always looking clean and sharp, concerned with doing things properly and being accountable and responsible for all their actions. After I ask what type of Driver and Owner Operator they would like to hire, what I see is a room full of hands that have shot in to the air for, of course, the professional.

So, here’s the nest question to the group, so you all want professionals in your company, okay that makes sense, so what do you do to foster that desire, this is when I get the glazed over look. Most companies currently have professionals in their infrastructure that they support. You may have a CPA that you assist in making sure is current with all accounting rules and probably pay for their annual CPA dues. You may have a head of HR that you support who needs to be kept abreast of all the new labor rules. How about your Safety Manager? The company likely sends this individual to regular safety council meetings and has paid for them to get their CDS designation. This is to name just a few positions.

So, you want professional drivers and Owner Operators at your company, what do you do within your fleet to support this claim? How do you make information available so that your people have a source of knowledge that will allow them to excel at their trade, such as: how to be a successful Owner Operator; new proposed rule-makings; advanced defensive driving; new equipment innovation; and conversational sales, to name a few examples? If your answer is nothing, then you should stop claiming to want professionals at your company because you do not have an infrastructure that supports that claim. If you want professionals, treat them like professionals.  As Don Cherry would say “It’s not nuclear surgery”.

And it is so easy. There are so many great resources for educating oneself these days on how to be successful. This is not to say that there wasn’t some good information back when I drove but back then it was in book form and after I put in my long days’ work it was time to hit the sack. Reading a couple chapters and absorbing anything of value from a general business self-help book was not in the cards. And when I got home it was down time – get recharged and then head back out.

Today there is a great wealth of information specifically on being successful as a driver or Owner Operator and it is available in the most convenient forms – whether streamed from internet, YouTube, listening to satellite radio and online courses. Much of it can be listened to while the driver watches the miles go by.

For those drivers out there thinking of purchasing a truck and possibly becoming an owner operator or even starting a small trucking company, here are some of the materials that I would suggest that you get a hold of and listen to as a way of formulating a plan to move forward.

I would listen to Trucking Business and Beyond by Kevin Rutherford on Sirius XM Radio’s channel The Road Dog. I would also check out the training he offers here .  Kevin is an old friend of mine, and has a sea of knowledge on how to become a master Owner Operator. I took Kevin’s Certified Master Contractor course some years ago and it was excellent – well worth the money. I would check out ATBS’s Knowledge Hub program as it is an excellent resource of valuable information, a great website ..  In addition, there are many good industry publications whose editorial has valuable information that is there for the reading. On any variety of business topics and life in general I happen to love Udemy . The volume of quality educational content is staggering and very economical. If there isn’t something there that peaks your interest, maybe it’s time you consider retirement.

The list of good information that is there for the listening can go on and on. Much of it is free and the rest is very economical. I remember being at a seminar where the speaker was then Miami Dolphin coach Jimmy Johnson. During the Q&A period he was asked this question. Coach Johnson, how do you mold the crop of young boys you get each year into men who are professional football players? The coach’s short answer was “talk to people that look up to you the way you want them to behave and they will become that. Talk to them the way they are, and they will stay that way.” You want professionals? It’s simple, treat them that way.

Take Good care and Safe Trucking,

RJH

Time to Tear Down Those Invisible Walls

Picture your typical terminal.  Dispatch and Operations staff are glued to their computers.  Safety people are trying to determine the best way to implement the latest regulation that is coming down the turnpike.  The driver manager is grumbling out loud about the driver doing the Sheboygan lane being late “yet again”.  And there is your driver, standing behind the half door (that prevents them from entering the office), hoping to get directions to that new customer that she has never delivered to.  She’s witnessing the office whirlwind firsthand, and wondering what is being said about her when she’s out on the road.  She is disconnected. Just after leaving, she speaks with a friend who tells her about how well he is being treated at his new carrier.  Deb likes the runs and the pay where she is, but something is telling her to look at this new place.

We all know that driver retention is an issue – it’s always been one.  Putting drivers in seats is what’s holding a lot of carriers back from growing their business, and taking advantage of one of the best freight markets in decades.  So why do we keep treating drivers differently from the office staff?  Richard Branson has a perspective on human capital that many should adopt, perfectly framed by this quote: “Your employees are your company’s real competitive advantage.  They are the ones making the magic happen – so long as their needs are being met”. Notice he didn’t state some of your employees. A Fast Company article put it this way:

It’s tough to argue with Branson’s logic.  Satisfied employees are simply more productive and more efficient.  They tend to work harder, contribute more and call in sick less.  They feel empowered, appreciated, and are more loyal.  They stick around so companies don’t have to spend as much time and money recruiting and training new workers.  Happy employees also tend to rave about their workplace, which can often attract new talent.  When job seekers are clamoring to work for a company, that company gets to choose the cream of the crop to join the team.  – Fast Company – 06-18-2015

Let’s address something right off the bat – drivers know that they get different treatment.  Follow a few of them on Facebook, if you don’t know what I mean.  Let’s take Driver Appreciation Week as an example.  You will see posts like “driver appreciation week – when the office gets a BBQ and the drivers are out on the road!”.  Some may also have other special events throughout the year that get great attendance from the office but there are only a few drivers who happened to be there.   Others have gotten away from holding golf tournaments or Christmas parties simply because so many of their drivers are on the road and can’t make it.  While this does level the playing field it might be causing the office staff to “blame” the drivers for causing “them to lose something”.

So, what can we do better?  First, individual attention matters.  Stop treating your drivers like they are being a pain.  These are the public faces of your company. So why are you sending out demotivated people to be in front of your customers.  Finding business is not the issue these days. If you have customers that are not ‘driver friendly’, time to put them on notice and take the step in the right direction. Further, drivers get this is a competitive and fast-paced business, but they do want to hear when they do things right, not just get blasted when they mess it up.  Sometimes it might just be that they have spent the last 7 days on the road, and need to have someone listen to them.  While they are part of a team, they still need some personal recognition to make them feel appreciated and that their efforts do make a difference.

Two, leaders set the example.  Make sure that senior managers are spending time on the loading docks, or in the orientation room getting to know your employees.  If you want your operations staff to break down the barriers, you need to be doing similar things.  Just telling people that there is now an open-door policy isn’t enough (everyone says they have an ‘Open Door’ policy, but very few mean it).

One dedicated carrier that I know once landed what was the company’s second largest account doing store delivery milk runs.  The customer was transitioning from using LTL carriers and shipping whenever it was needed to setting up a schedule and lanes that would balance the customer’s need with what a driver could reasonably do in a day.  One thing that the general manager did was send the salesperson in charge of the account out with one of the drivers for the first week’s worth of runs so that they understood exactly what was being asked of these drivers.  This had two major results – one, the manager got to see some of the tight places that they were asking the drivers to squeeze a 53-foot trailer into.  The second was that the carrier now had first hand driver input into the runs and adjusted what equipment we were using for the final deliveries.  Yes, it meant they had to go back to the customer and make some changes, but they now had happy drivers and the result was they only had one driver ask to get off these runs over the three years that the contract ran.

Finally, having physical barriers between drivers and dispatch should be minimized.  To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: “Mister dispatcher, tear down these walls”.  Communication needs to be two ways.  PC Miler might tell you that a certain route is the best, but a veteran driver may look at it and say that a particular state route is great in the summer time, but it becomes treacherous in the winter.  By taking that input and modifying the routes in the winter may add a few miles but reduce accidents and minimize hours of service issues.

Your drivers just want to be treated equitably.  They are on the road a lot so they may not get equal treatment, but it needs to be seen as fair.  Little things like giving a restaurant gift certificate to drivers who were on their runs during the company BBQ or Christmas party, will go a long way towards correcting things.  Consider having company-branded items that are unique to the drivers, or at least get distributed to them first.  Finally, consider having your orientations to include having drivers sit in dispatch and dispatchers going on day runs so that both sides understand what the other must deal with.  A little understanding can go a long, long way.  By getting rid of these differences you should have a more motivated team of drivers, a reduction in turnover and your company spending more time improving your driver force instead of always looking for another new employee.  Drivers are the face of your company to the customers – wouldn’t you rather it be a happy one (or at the very least – content)?

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!

Where Do Leaders Go For Advice?

Effective leadership in business, politics, a family, or in any situation or organization is a critical success factor. I have seen, and been involved in many situations at many trucking companies, non-profit organizations, and community efforts that would not be suffering but for one missing element, effective leadership. Someone with dedication, vision, and a strong moral compass who walks the walk can fix almost any issue in any circumstance; I know this to be true!
 
Leadership used to be tied to that person being a role model but that idea is suffering badly in the public eye. I have been fortunate in my lifetime, along with many of you I’m sure, to be exposed either through teachings or first hand witness to many great leaders that were in the public purview. Folks like Tommy Douglas, father of the Canadian Health Care System, Winston Churchill and his heroic stand during World War 2, JFK and the unfolding of the civil rights movement, Terry Fox, Mike Hanson and the list goes on and on! These were and are great role models, and these were folks that knew the price of leadership whether they sought it out on purpose or it came to them as a result of a heroic effort, they rose to the occasion for all to see and stood proud.
 
Of course today’s scrutiny is much more of a micro lens than the macro lens of just a few decades ago, but even so when these folks were elevated to their pedestals by “we the public” it seemed that all we did was shine a light on what was already there. Their style and class was not contrived or manufactured, what we saw was nothing more that what already existed and it was class and it gave us all something to aspire to. The world seemed a better place because of the folks that were our role models of the day.
 
I’m confident that these same types of role models exist today and these same types of folks are walking in our midst as I write this piece. That Micro examination of today’s media though shows every freckle, wart, and hiccup that ever existed in ones past, and regardless of ones character you will be vetted in the public eye to that situation or circumstance. Let’s face it, who needs that type of scrutiny. Even if you were prepared to endure the focus on yourself, all of those around you will suffer the same level of scrutiny and should they have a skeleton in their closet, condemnation by association will be swift.
 
Where big business and the mainstream media direct their spotlight and whom they place on a pedestal these days is of course the youth of North America, the trendsetters, and the consumers. Look at what’s happened in just the past 3-5 decades, during that period our elders who were once upon a time invaluable advisors to our youth, have been transformed from role models, knowledge givers and resources of a life of experience they were willing to share, into a burden on society. The very infrastructure that they built for us to live in now is turning on them and blames them for the high cost of supporting them in their advanced years and the cost associated with health care and other social infrastructure. 
 
I am no conspiracy theorist but I believe what’s happened is that the mainstream media’s focus has lead us down a path that is directly pointed at the youthful consumer, and the advertising dollars that come with selling products and services,. In doing so, they have discounted our elders in today’s society. The focus today is on youth and future possibilities not accomplishments of the past and calling on that wisdom to offer opinion on today’s reality. 
 
Direction is given and taken from advertisers trying to solicit young consumers by portraying them as the chosen generation, the folks who will evermore carve our trek into the future, new is better, old is bad. It was just a few short decades ago that seeking advice from one’s elders was common practice, and always looked upon as a prudent thing to do. How often do you hear of that today, typically the elders among us are uninitiated in the world of technology, and are made to feel left out of the loop and disconnected from the rest of the world, discounted in their value as people! I think young leaders in our industry would be wise to consult and listen to the successful people before them who made our industry so successful.
 
Nothing takes the place of experience and common sense; it was explained to me this way by an acquaintance that has a PhD in education, he says that young people have what is referred to as liquid knowledge. Which is the knowledge that comes from studying a particular subject or learning as they move through a situation? Mature people have liquid knowledge and have crystal knowledge, which is the additional knowledge that comes from having worked through a particular subject or situation once or many times. It is additional knowledge that comes from experience, trial and error, getting better and better at something, minimizing the scares, bin there done that, know the drill!
 
So whom do you call on when you need advice whether you’re a Driver, Owner Operator, company Owner or a Department Manager ? We all from time to time should have an experienced confidant to bounce things off of and to act as a sounding board. Those industry topics that keep bubbling to the top, despite some slight changes in appearance, are the same ones that those elders encountered 3-4 decades ago. According to the TCA, they are, HOS and the shortage of qualified drivers, fuel issues; congestion; government regulations; tolls and highway funding; tort reform and legal issues; truck driver training; environmental issues; and on-board truck technology. See anything new? I don’t, and remember “A wise man learns from the mistakes of others while fools learn from their own mistakes.
 

Using Video As a Recruiting Magnet

Over the past couple weeks, we’ve been reviewing best practices with the use of Social Media.  If you were on the fence, hopefully you’ve now bought into the idea of using social media strategically. We’ve mentioned video a lot – mainly because it gives the audience a first-hand look at your operations and your culture. To reiterate, the whole purpose of using social media is to achieve scale, and produce a network effect – reaching an audience you would never be able to reach without. Once you’ve reached those people, nurturing them over time to the point where, if conditions are right, they come to you for a job instead of the other way around (inbound marketing).  Today, let’s dive deeper into video. When most people think about video, they equate it to massive budgets, production, editing, scripting etc.   How can you use video, in an affordable manner, while also capturing a genuine and professional glimpse into your company’s culture, work environment and ambitions?

First, a Demand Gen survey found that 70% of respondents prefer an inexpensive format that pretty much any of us can produce with something that’s likely in your pocket or on your desk.  We’re talking about that smartphone that all of us carry.  Most phones manufactured in the last 3 years are capable of recording 1080p, high definition video.  If you have a little bit larger budget then invest in a digital SLR camera, such as the Nikon D3400 or Canon Rebel T5 – both priced under $500 – and a tripod to keep things steady (see this great article on some equipment suggestions).  You will get a better product and have more options with a decent digital SLR camera but

The next thing to consider is having the proper lighting.  When in doubt, face your light source.  If the light is behind you it will cast you in a silhouette and make it hard to see the images that you are trying to present.  In addition, if you are outdoors and have the sun behind what you are recording, they will get washed out.  So, a few other tips.  One – the sun is free so use it as much as possible.  Two – make sure to do a few test shots if you are using artificial lighting as many bulbs can give a yellow tinge that may not be visible to the naked eye but will show up on the camera. The better the lighting, the more professional the video will look.

Third is invest in a good microphone.  Poor sound quality will quickly chase your audience away.  The one on your smartphone will be ok if your subject is close to the phone and the filming is done in a quiet room with no background noise.  If you are shooting outdoors in a windy or noisy location, then the background noise will likely drown everything else out.  If you don’t use an external microphone, expect to spend more time with your video editing software and doing voice-overs that may or may not match up to your video.

Next, set up a professional looking background.  This could be as simple as a nice bookcase, the awards case in your office or even a nice park that is nearby (check out this article on backgrounds).  It is usually much better to not complicate things (see this vidyard.com post for some more tips).  If you decide on a backdrop, be sure to have it professionally printed.  And avoid having your branding if it will not always be visible – more on that later.

Spend the time to investigate what video editing software is best for your needs.  There are a number of free or open source options, such as Handbrake (for Windows, Mac or Linux), iMovie (for Apple products) or the free version of HitFilm among others so don’t assume that you need to get something expensive, especially to start.  Make sure that you can add in graphics so that you can show your branding throughout the video.  Software like Canva, or SnagIt ($49.95 one-time cost)  as well as free photo sources such as Unsplash, LibreStock, Gratisography, Pixabay or Pexels will help you create professional looking graphics that will increase the credibility of your finished product. We use Camtasia from TechSmith at inGauge. It allows you to edit, screen record, and comes stocked with lots of additional media resources to add to your content.

Ok, so now you have gathered the equipment to use.  But how do you create a great video?  Like most things, it takes a bit of planning.  First, what is the goal of the video?  Remember that with social media you are looking to gain trust and open conversations, so going for the sale (or at all)  is just going to put them (your audience) off. If you go to the pitch right away, it is now different than playing a video ad – all credibility is lost. The best videos don’t pitch anything. Always think storytelling as opposed to marketing. Speaking of them, what is your intended audience?  The more targeted you get here, the more effective your video is going to be.  Finally determine what resources you will need to bring this all together. This will form the basis of your production document which will act as your road map to pull this all together.

Once you have a goal and a target audience, craft your story to capture their attention (see this short video by Alan Alda discussing telling better stories).  Make it interesting and ensure that the target has something to take away (and even better, give them a reason to share your video).  If you are using this to recruit drivers, find one of your enthusiastic drivers and let them tell their story of interesting situations during their life on the road.

Pay attention to the pacing of the video and of the speaking.  Keep it at a conversational pace.  Look towards the camera – you want the viewer to feel that you are talking to them.  Most importantly just be yourself.  If you are a family run business that is in a rural setting, you don’t want to come across like you are a Wall Street firm in your video as people will see through that and you will lose credibility very quickly.  Tell them how you came about – put in any hardships the business has had to overcome – that makes a good story that people want to hear.  And have some fun.  That sort of infectious energy is what will convince people to not only watch your post put to share it with their social media friends.  The more people who see it, the more mindshare you are going to get.  Just remember that you are not going to hit a home run n the first try.  Expect to have to put up a few videos before you gain enough attention that people will start coming to you and sharing what you have to offer.  And that is how you are going to leverage a small investment into a great ROI.

Next week, we’ll discuss the ideal skill sets, and traits of the next generation marketing professional for your organization. Here’s some hints, they understand content creation, scale, and social media. They are light on degrees, and buzz words (and may have a couple tattoos).

TPP Profitability Spring Seminar – Register Today!

TCA Profitability Program

Spring Profitability Seminar – Retention, Development and Recruiting

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Location: Renaissance Chicago O’Hare Suites Hotel – Chicago, IL

Agenda

Register Today! Click here

Meeting Facilitators:          Jack Porter, Managing Director, TCA Profitability Program

John Lyboldt, President, Truckload Carriers Association

Tim Hindes, CEO, Stay Metrics

Ray Haight, Retention Consultant, TCA Profitability Program

Meeting Room Opens at 7:30am with Breakfast

  • Call to Order at 8AM (Jack Porter)
    • Anti-Trust Review
    • Roundtable Introductions:
      • Name, Role
      • Business Attributes: Location, Terminal Locations, # of Trucks, Operating Mode
      • TPP On the Spot: Your worst business or career decision you’ve ever made? (ice breaker)
  • “Hot Topics” (Jack Porter) – Opportunity to go around the room and have attendees discuss what they are seeing in their respective ‘recruiting’ market, including the added pressure due to the hot freight market.
    • Have you expanded your geographic recruiting range?
    • Relaxed your hiring criteria?
    • Added new Pay / Work Packages to be more flexible to potential recruits?
  • TPP Retention/Recruiting Survey Results Review #1 (Jack Porter & Ray Haight) :
    • Turnover results – six month period
    • Current driver demographics – Age/Gender/Full and Part-time/Teams
    • Minimum hiring criteria? Internal vs External (Insurance or Gov’t req’s)
    • Lead sources
    • Compensation trends
    • Referral programs – are they working?
    • Driver Recruiting and Management Platforms
  • Break at 10:00AM
  • Retention First (Everything Else Second) – Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to Fix Your Retention Problem (Ray Haight)
    • Maslow’s Hierarchy from a “Trucking Perspective”
    • Focusing on human needs instead of the low-hanging fruit (e.g. compensation)
    • Creating a congruent company culture inside and outside your office walls
    • Action items – things you can do immediately to improve retention
  • TPP Retention/Recruiting Survey Results Review #2 – Your True Cost of Recruiting (Jack Porter & Ray Haight)
    • We will review the results of the “Driver Recruiting and Onboarding Cost Survey”
    • Did the results come close to previous internal estimates?
  • Lunch at Noon
  • How TCA Can Enhance Your Ability to Retain a Better Workforce (John Lyboldt)
    • The new Truckload Academy
    • Advocacy efforts to help widen the net for recruiting
  • Using Data to Make Better Decisions about your Retention and Recruiting Efforts (Tim Hindes)
    • The Stay Metrics Process
    • Trends
    • 10 Key Actions Items
  • Traits of High-Performing Trucking Companies – What the Top Performers in TCA’s Best Practice Groups are doing to Improve Retention (Jack Porter)
    • Trends – Turnover rates (30, 90, 120 Days)
    • Fixing orientation
    • Continued development
    • Providing career paths beyond driving a truck
    • Making their voices heard
    • Equipment Specs for better retention
  • Orientation / Remedial Training – Deep Dive (Jack Porter)
    • Equipment
    • Customer Requirements
    • Live Training vs. Online
    • Instructions / Documentation
    • Proper Techniques to Prevent WC Injuries (Lifting, Slips, Trips, Falls, 3-Points of Contact)
    • Communication methods
  • Break @ 3:00 PM
    • Driver Utilization (Jack Porter):
      • We will ask all the attendees to come prepared to discuss the following;
        • Do you use forced dispatch or have minimum standards (miles, days worked, etc.) that drivers have to meet weekly?
        • Do you require drivers to get days-off approved ahead of time, or do they let them take days off whenever they want?
        • How do you determine full/part time employment status for their drivers. What criteria they use to transition low performing drivers to part time and removing benefits
        • Driver scorecards – how do you measure, what do you measure & do they work?
        • Driver development and training, risk assessment tools, driver performance Evaluation Processes used?
        • Cameras how is it working for you. If not do you plan on putting them in.

Register Today! Click here

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.