Adding by Subtraction: Say What??

Every business leader with a pulse is intrigued by new products, services and strategies which promise a ROI. Regardless of the size and scope of these new equipment offerings, devices or services, it will undoubtedly require resources – both direct investment, plus a diversion of existing human resources to implement, maintain and leverage. In some cases, it may require more people, and added physical infrastructure. The point is, everything comes with a price, both direct and indirect.

To stay on point with the title and purpose of this article, we will focus only on the labor (human) part of the equation. When I first published the article “The 9 Traits of High-Performing Trucking Companies (and their Leaders)”, we received multiple emails and calls about #1, which was “Adding by Subtraction”. In the article, I reinforced a common tactic among the best leaders was to clear the deck of unneeded and redundant tasks, products and services to make way for the new – like how a forest revitalizes itself with fires (but maybe not as dramatic). Understanding that time (human time) must be freed up to make way for the new service is the first step. Likewise, the best leaders know that implementation is only part of the equation, ongoing maintenance/monitoring and continuing education are all factors which need to be considered.

To relate this concept back to trucking, although I don’t have empirical data – just anecdotes, many have relayed their estimation that most trucking companies are only utilizing 10-15% of the capability of their TMS platform. This same utilization factor seems to fit with almost all common software services (e.g. Excel, Powerpoint, G Suite etc). Further, if scientists are right, we have approximately the same utilization factor for our brain, but that’s another story. The whole point of a suitable TMS platform is to allow companies to do more with lessnot the same with more. So instead of just budgeting for the install and implementation of the TMS, you should also budget for the indirect and direct expense of educating your team (to various degrees, relative to their ultimate reliance on the TMS) on all parts/modules, and time to stay up-to-date on new features, integrations etc. At this point, many readers will have stopped, and are asking: “Ok, but after implementation, I don’t have anything left over in the budget to train my team”. My first response is that will change in coming years. The upfront cost of a properly spec’d TMS will drop in the coming years due to the increased popularity of cloud-based or ‘hosted’ solutions – which will drive down much of the upfront hardware and customization expense. Also, the new breed of TMS services will have a rich library of user-driven knowledge (just like Google / Microsoft etc.), and updated company driven knowledge for users to consume. My second response is that the more you invest in the knowledge base of your key personnel, the better. Not only will you benefit from better TMS utilization, you will also empower those people – thereby reducing turnover.

Getting back to adding by subtraction, to free up time (reminder that the whole point is to do more with same or less), your team must stop doing the things that a system or service will do for them. Further, they must simply stop doing things that are redundant or irrelevant. This is one of the most difficult things in business: 1) Deciding which tasks, functions and processes are no longer needed, 2) Getting people to stop doing them (the hardest of them all). Humans don’t like change in general. This is further exacerbated when your company has become stale, and the concept of change and flexibility has been removed from your mission and strategic plan. Businesses can get in a rut, just like humans.

In summary bullet-point form, here is how your company can get out of a rut, and start adding by subtraction:

  • Survey your team – ask them to provide a list of three tasks or functions – daily, weekly or monthly, that are either redundant, or the value is consistently questionable.
  • Meet with your team (using a defined agenda and time limit). In the meeting, list all the identified tasks and functions from the survey.
  • For each, list all departments, and other processes and customers that are dependent on these tasks and functions.
  • Prioritize this list, moving those tasks and functions that can be immediately stopped or reduced.
  • For the remaining tasks and functions, identify whether you can automate, either with an existing or new service.
  • Finally, quantify the number of labor hours you will have saved by eliminating or reducing these tasks and functions. This is the amount of time you can re-purpose for a new service or product – which should, in turn, result in more automation.
  • Rinse and repeat.

You’ve just Added by Subtraction, if you are confused, simply watch this video from my mentor Mr. Michael Scott.