Change appears to be the only constant in today's trucking industry. Equipment continues to evolve with the addition of new engine technology to the pending use of diesel exhaust fluid. Regulators hav...
Change appears to be the only constant in today’s trucking industry. Equipment continues to evolve with the addition of new engine technology to the pending use of diesel exhaust fluid. Regulators have altered the rules on everything from Hours-of-Service to load securement practices. Shippers introduce new demands at every turn.
Today’s economic turmoil has merely compounded that reality. Companies need to explore new ways to adapt and evolve. Fleets that are purchased by another organization may have to adopt different business practices and computer systems. Layoffs can require remaining staff members to assume new duties.
While change cannot be avoided, it can still be effectively managed, insists Peter Spratt, a principal at the global consulting firm of ROCG.
That proper management begins with a commitment to the planning process.
“Organizations need to think not just about how to implement change, but go right back to the purpose of it. Is it change for the sake of change, or change that will produce positive outcomes?” Spratt explains, referring to the introduction of new warehouse procedures as an example. “That planning piece is sometimes minimized because businesses are under pressure to get it done.”
For the planning process to be successful, managers also need to take the time to communicate the reason the change is required in the first place -whatever that reason may be.
“Don’t do it once. Do it multiple times and using different media,”Spratt says of this commitment. Memos and e-mails may be part of the equation, but they should also be enhanced by face-to- face meetings to explain the situation.
The next step is to encourage “respectful” participation in the entire process.
“It goes beyond just telling people what changes will happen,” Spratt continues, referring to the need to consult staff about the best ways to implement a new system or business approach. “Don’t bring it to me at the 11th hour and say this is a done deal. I may have a better way of doing it or be able to do it faster or be able to do it less expensively. Why not tap into that wonderful body of knowledge?”
Of course, that doesn’t mean employees can simply refuse to change. They need to be informed about who will make the ultimate decision. “But if you want to have meaningful discussions, this can’t be a sell job,” Spratt adds. “Have some discussion. Seek the input. Then clarify the next steps. What’s going to happen?
“They’ll also respect you more if you’re transparent and honest right up front and say, ‘Here’s the situation. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of how.'” A good example of that will occur at the time of regulatory changes.
The final step to ensuring a well-managed change is to supply the necessary support, whether it comes in the form of related training programs or reference material. The affected staff members shouldn’t need to search for information that is required to implement the change that is being introduced.
Above all, fleets always need to ensure that they are open about sharing the reason for a change -even if it involves bad news.
“Don’t hold it back. [The sharing of news] needs to be done with frequency that minimizes the power of the grapevine and minimizes the power of a vacuum. If there’s a void of information, people will fill that void with myth, innuendo and gossip,” Spratt says.
The approach can be particularly true at a time of layoffs. Those left behind could feel threatened, frustrated or even guilty that it did not happen to them. (“They’ll also go through an experience of withdrawal because their social networks are being broken up.”) But a full understanding of the situation can help to put minds at ease.
“I also advocate communicating if you have nothing to communicate,” he says. “Let’s say you’re waiting on a major contract and uncertain whether you will get the contract. If you don’t know, I would ensure that every Monday or every Friday there is an update. At least it says, ‘They are not hiding anything.’ Otherwise your employees will fill that void with misinformation and they will start to assume the worst.”
The Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC) is an incorporated not-for-profit organization that helps attract, train and retain workers for Canada’s trucking industry. For more information, visit www.cthrc.com.
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