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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You 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,


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.

Time to Update Your Drug & Alcohol Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn Mistakes into Compound Interest for your Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Courage and Commitment to Change

Commitment throughout the organization is important to the success of improving driver retention. Commitment is paramount among the ownership and management team, as they are setting the example for all others in the company. To consider and then decide to embark on a project to improve driver retention means that ownership and the senior management have looked at the problems of excessive costs associated with poor retention, recognized that significant planning and effort affecting the entire company must be undertaken, and that this effort is warranted by the significant savings and service benefits that will be the result – the long-term gain. Put this way, it is very obvious that the cultural change you are about to undertake is strategic in nature. It is Strategic because we will be investing time, confidence and responsibility in company employees well beyond your driving force. In the process, you will be transforming the company from one that is a victim of all that is harmful about high driver turnover, into one that is a positive, supportive and a service-oriented place to work. A company where people, drivers and owner-operators included, want to work. A transition like this is obviously strategic in nature.

Commitment is one of the most critical ingredients to the success of any effort intended to bring long term improvements to the way business is done. To begin, this commitment must come from the directors of the company and it must be very visible – and active. It must be genuine, and it must be unwavering. After all, people throughout the company will have important roles to play and their commitment must be inspired and supported by the commitment they see in their leaders. In short, company leaders must be seen to walk the walk, and make the same commitment that is being asked of the rest of the company and each department. This is why it’s called leadership folks.

In addition to fostering commitment among the staff, the senior-level commitment must be lasting, since this is a lengthy project that will eventually become the new culture of the business, it must be unanimous among the leaders. This last aspect is sometimes difficult to ensure, but it is important that the leadership team speak and act in unison on the need for the company to make the significant changes necessary to reduce driver turnover. At the senior management level, this means that a personal commitment must be mandatory and delivered by each member of the management team. Like a lot of strategic planning initiatives, it would be a good idea to make positive and supportive engagement a part of the personal performance criteria for managers during this project.

Let’s acknowledge that achieving and maintaining commitment among the leadership team is not something that can be accomplished just by asking for it. There are very natural and predictable obstacles along the way and perhaps the most common is the difficulty we all have with adapting to change. This is natural – we all strive for stability and then along comes a new idea or a new process or a new direction and we naturally question and resist the change. But the management team has targeted real benefits for the company and its employees. We have agreed to undertake reasonable steps to achieve great results, we have agreed to change.

Turn that agreement to change into a commitment to change. We have a commitment to reduce Driver Turnover. We are committed to making our entire workforce a Strategic Advantage for our company. Achieving and maintaining commitment will require you to regularly re-visit our plan and objectives to remind everyone that the change we are undertaking is worth it. We do this to reinforce the commitment among the team. Do this so you do not fall back into old habits. In fact, be on the look-out for any wavering of commitment and the creeping in of those old habits.

So, what other benefits can we expect by recognizing the importance of commitment and then taking specific actions to achieve it? We will create a culture throughout the organization that sees and comes to expect a management team that means and does what it says. Secondly, it will deliver proof to the management team that they can achieve significant results by working supportive fashion –  together.

We are getting ready to draw a line in the sand. You can make it a bell weather moment, the one that drove home the need for us to do something serious to improve Driver Retention? The team must be in unison on this for it to have sustainable impact, so make it a practice to occasionally remind ourselves of what motivated us in the beginning. Use the bell weather moment, the frequent reminders about all the benefits that are ahead – and even reminders to the leadership team about how important their commitment and solidarity is to the rest of the company.

We make this commitment to a new strategy because we know that companies with less turnover are safer companies. We know they pay less in insurance premiums, they have lower CSA scores, these two items alone lead to a more profitable company. We know this to be true and after all isn’t this what we’re here for, profit is not a bad word, but profit while those around you also thrive and flourish is the best situation one could envision, and the neat thing is that this vision is entirely within each and every company’s grasp. All leadership needs to do is muster the courage and commitment to design an effective strategy to achieve the goal and get at it.

So, what is holding you back on this? There is no time like the present. We’re too busy. We’re installing a new software program. We’re looking at an acquisition. We have a vacancy on the senior management team. Have you ever thought that maybe you’re the problem, maybe the individual resistance to change is the face in the mirror? I’ve heard it all, believe me, when it comes to the excuses, the “hey we’ll do it later, after this that or the other thing is out of the way”. Well folks the time to act is now, it is never too late to reinvent your corporate culture and do the right thing. Your entirely too smart to be the only thing standing in your way.

Keystone Habits: What are yours?

Four years ago, I read a book entitled The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. I have since re-read this powerful book four times, and purchased a couple of the books cited by Duhigg in the book itself. It introduces the reader to the concept of Keystone Habits. Keystone Habits can be defined as foundational habits which have the power to transform nearly every facet of your business (and perhaps your life).

As an example of a corporate Keystone Habit, Duhigg details the tenure of Paul O’Neill at the helm of Alcoa (the world’s third largest producer of Aluminum at the time). When Mr. O’Neil joined Alcoa in 1987, the company had suffered through a long period of stagnation, and appeared to be on the patch to succumb to the increasing pressures of global market place. Obviously, this put O’Neill under immense pressure to deliver results.

However, Mr. O’Neill quickly figured out that in order to stimulate growth, profits, and employee morale, he had to find a way to motivate the entire company aside from typical financial incentives. In his first public analyst meeting, instead of focusing on the regular ratios, projections and competitive discussions, Mr. O’Neill decided to focus on something which can now be described as a ‘Keystone Habit’, and that was Worker Safety. He told the group of analysts that instead of focusing his attention on margins, input hedging (and stock price), he intended to transform the company into one of the safest companies in America. The goal – Zero Injuries.

Obviously, the analysts in attendance were skeptical (and puzzled), as was most of Wall Street. In hindsight, many didn’t realize that this focus, had the effect of uniting everyone from the Boardroom to the Factory Floor. The results? During his tenure from 1987 to 1999, Alcoa’s market value rose from $3 billion to $27 billion, while net income rose from $200 million to $1.84 billion. Better yet, Mr. O’Neill successfully transformed the company into one of the safest industrial organizations in the world!

What can we learn from this? When companies go through the process of developing its Mission, Vision, and Values, typically at least one important stakeholder group is left out of the mix (either directly or indirectly). Customers, Employees and Shareholders should all be ‘captured’ in corporate goals and missions. Further, the majority of corporate mission statements are excruciatingly vague, in essence they become placeholder text (in fact, if you google some of them – they are placeholder text). What if your company decided to scrap that vague mission statement and focus on something that is not only going to drive profits, but also employee purpose and customer satisfaction?

In trucking, here are some examples of mission statements from some leading North American Trucking operations:

  • “You’re Safe With Me”
  • “Safety: An Obligation Without Compromise”
  • “Work Safe = Home Safe”
  • “We own it. Every mile. Every job. Every day.”
  • “Delivering On Our Promises”

These are just a few examples I could find. Does your mission need updating? Are your daily, weekly and monthly habits in need of retooling? The start of a brand new year is a great opportunity for that.

Making Change Easier

As discussed last week, there are quite a number of causes of resistance. This week,  let’s look at how we can make change easier.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School gives this advice: “The best tool for leaders of change is to understand the predictable, universal sources of resistance in each situation and then strategize around them.” A HBR article (How to Deal With Resistance to Change by Paul Lawrence, HBR January 1969), points out that there are 2 aspects to any change – the technical, which is the making a measurable modification in the physical routines of work, and the social – the way those affected by it think it will alter their established relationships in the organization. In many cases the social aspect is likely to be your root cause of resistance and it is likely to be more difficult to overcome.

Technical Aspect of Change

The technical aspects are generally a training issue, but care must be taken to ensure that sufficient and effective training takes place. Take the learning style of the trainees into account – as an example, don’t use a solely lecture style of training with people who are visual or tactile learners. In most cases allowing the trainee to work hands on with the new process, become familiar with it and get competent with it is a much more effective form. This also allows for the trainer to probe the trainee to determine a potentially more efficient way of performing the process. This will increase employee engagement but be prepared to give valid reasons if they come up with anything that you don’t want them to be doing. Try to anticipate any of those short cuts beforehand as your employees will find them and you may not get a chance later to easily correct them.

Self Preoccupation – Not Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Before we get to the social aspects, Lawrence cautions managers to be aware of what he calls “self-preoccupation”. This is when a change agent gets so engrossed in the technology of the change that they are promoting that they become wholly oblivious to other things that may be bothering people about how the change is being implemented. An example he cites is a process change that robbed machine operators of some of the satisfaction they derived from their work. Previously when they completed an item they would place the output at the end of their work station where everyone could see and appreciate it. The process was changed so that the output was quickly gathered up and taken away. The engineers who implemented the change could not understand why the operators were upset and solely focused on their logical arguments about cost savings (which were relatively small). The final result of this change was a permanent state of hostility by the operators and a chronic restriction on output. The engineers had the right intentions, but they narrowly focused on the technical aspect (the cost savings) that they could not see the social aspect that they were unknowingly destroying.

A Framework for Anticipating Resistance

Lisa Quast (published in the Nov 26, 2012 issue of Forbes), has developed a generic framework towards anticipating resistance.
1. What specific changes are included in the process?
2. Who will the changes impact – both directly and indirectly?
3. How will these changes impact them?
4. How might these people react?

When going through this framework one MUST take the viewpoint of the other people who are impacted. Two Israeli psychologists came up with a simple measure of personal resistance to change (Journal of Applied Psychology, 2010). They found four factors that help to predict an individual’s resistance to an imposed change at work:

1. Routine seeking. How much comfort do they take in their little rituals that a change could destabilize?

2. Stress and Tension. Any threat to stability can make some people experience a high level of discomfort. A change could lead to worry which can lead to a drop in performance for some employees.

3. Short Term Thinking. People tend to focus on immediate inconveniences and not the long term benefits, even when they are aware of them. Generally this short term focus will be somewhat irrational and will require a degree of patience to help the person work past.

4. Cognitive Rigidity. This is sometimes referred to as dogmatism. It refers to the degree that a person dislikes changing their mind and point of view. They also point out a further factor – what is the person’s attitude to the change agent (usually senior management)? You want to try to avoid scenarios where you have individuals who are  resistant to change, but also fundamentally distrust the person leading the change effort. If the messenger is someone that they do trust, then you have a good likelihood that the individual will work with the process and eventually make the change successfully.

Communicate It!

One other thing to have in your implementation tool kit is a plan to communicate, communicate and communicate. Explain why the change is necessary. Tell them what is going to happen. Spell out how the organization is going to guide them through the process and what supports will be in place for them. Keep them up to date as to how the project is going and how well timelines are holding up. In particular communicate any setbacks or delays and what steps are being done to correct them. This is vital as it shows that the project is fluid and learns from its own mistakes – a huge help in gaining trust. Someone who is hesitant about change will feel significantly more at ease if they know that changes will be made if a better way is proven. At the end of the day, the commitment to the change demonstrated by leaders and having employees understand why the change is needed will reduce the level of resistance and minimize any productivity loss that is not due to people getting competent with the new process.

Resistance to Change – Anticipate and Adjust

Over the past few weeks, we have looked at a number of potentially disruptive technologies.  This week we turn our focus on how to handle the inevitable resistance to implementing them.

You have all heard some drivers mention these words: “the day I need to use an ELD/EOBR/automatic transmission/etc., is the day I quit”.  Any new technology will bring on a response like this in some people.  Others will embrace the change from day one and others will look like they are ambivalent to the change.  Regardless of how they appear, each employee or owner operator will have some sort of reaction, and that reaction needs to be managed.  Keep this in mind as even a person that is normally the most supportive, may show resistance when the project is first introduced to them.

Most forms of resistance should be anticipated beforehand, so taking some time to develop a plan to address resistance points will go a long way to easing your implementation.

Typical Reasons for Resistance to Change

  • Not understanding the reason for the change (or if that reason is unclear). This will likely affect your longer term employees, as they have a lot of buy-in with the current way things are done.  This resistance will be amplified if this is a well established process that “has worked for the last XX years”.
  • Fear of the unknown. People need to feel that the risks of standing still are greater than making a change.  They understand how things work now, and have to believe that the new way is better.
  • Lack of Competence. Some people will not believe that they have the skills to be able to transition to the new way of doing things.  However this is something that may be hard to get people to admit to, so managers need to be aware of it and explain which training methods will be offered to help people adjust.
  • Connected to the Old Way. Some employees will have an emotional attachment to the ways things are currently being done, regardless of how logical the need for a change may be.  Keep in mind that you will be changing social patterns that may seem trivial to you, but could be extremely valuable to an employee.
  • Low Trust. There will be (hopefully) a small subsection of people that do not believe that they, nor the company can competently manage the change.  Even if this group is small they are likely to be vocal so make certain that you are prepared to handle their concerns.  If this can be done before the change you may be able to turn a detractor into a promoter!
  • Temporary Fad. Do your employees feel that management is just following the advice of the latest consultant?  Do you change, and then change again without allowing time for the system to normalize?  Any of these may cause employees to feel that you are just chasing the latest fad, and that if they just hold out, then they will not have to make the change.
  • Not being Consulted. Most people will lower their resistance to change if they feel that they are allowed to be part of the change.  This is a bit of a tricky situation however.  If you are going to be consulting your employees about the change, be prepared to make adjustments.  Just letting people have a venting session, without any of those opinions making a difference, could result in a higher level of resistance.
  • Poor Communication. This one is probably the most common.  With any change, the proper amount of communication is almost always more than you did.  Give them constant updates, progress reports, and upcoming events.  This will engage many of your employees and will go a long way towards helping them feel involved in the process. Going the extra mile on communication, will deliver large rewards.
  • Changes to Routines. You are really asking people to get out of their comfort zones, and that will cause a degree of insecurity.   Making people do something different will make them uncomfortable at first, so using the above point and ensuring that the lines of communication are open will help reduce this.
  • Exhaustion/Saturation. Compliance should not always be considered acceptance. People who are overwhelmed by constant change sometimes resign themselves to it, and just go along for the ride.  This results in a demotivated workforce (you only have their bodies, but not their hearts).  Give them time to adjust to the new normal before you adjust things again.
  • Change in the Status Quo. How people perceive the change can affect how they react to it.  Examples that can have a negative impact include people who feel that they will be worse off after the change and situations where one part of the organization feels that another part has “won”.  Make sure to consider how other departments may perceive your motivations.  What may seem to the accounting department as a simple, may cause your customer service department to be resentful if they do not see any benefit to them.
  • Benefits and Rewards. As seen above, resistance will be increased when the rewards and benefits for making the change are not seen to outweigh the trouble involved.
  • Plain Old Fear of Losing Their Jobs. They have seen other changes and the purges that followed them.  It may not have been with your organization, but there will always be someone that “knows someone” who claims to have lost their job due to changes/automation/new technology etc.  Even if the fear is irrational to you, it’s real to them, so be as supportive as you can through the process.  If there are job losses, make sure to handle them as humanely as possible or they will reinforce a perception of change = redundancies and create an even higher level of resistance to your next change initiative.

The above is not an inclusive list, and maybe not all of them will apply to your company.  However you need to do an honest and thorough analysis to anticipate any resistance before it happens so that you can develop an action plan that has all managers on the same page.