Fleet best practices anchored in communication: panel

John G Smith
Transpro’s Eric Carusi, Erb’s Dave Dietrich, and Challenger’s Geoff Topping stress the need to be open in the search for best practices.

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Leading fleets have mastered different secrets to business success, but one of the most effective secrets of all might involve a willingness to be more open with information.

Executives from Transpro Freight Systems, Challenger Motor Freight, and Erb Group – each recognized through the annual Best Fleets to Drive For competition – stressed the importance of communication during a Fleet Safety Council panel discussion about best practices.

“I don’t believe you can really achieve continuous improvement on your own,” explained Dave Dietrich, vice-president of human resources at Erb Group.

Twice a year his fleet actively participates in Truckload Carriers Association benchmarking groups, where participants actually open their books to peers. “It’s been great and it’s not a competitive environment in those meetings at all,” he said.

Geoff Topping, vice-president of human resources at Challenger, observed that the benefits of sharing information reach well beyond an individual organization, too. “For us to have strong businesses we need to have a strong industry, so sharing those practices help,” he said.

Besides, the secrets that work at one company can’t be duplicated exactly by the next. The most effective approaches are still anchored in an understanding of unique needs.

Challenger gained that understanding by reaching out across its organization through a program known as Good to Great, gathering insights through no fewer than 41 one-on-one interviews and 26 focus groups.

“We asked the hard questions. We took all the data from those and we encouraged people to be honest,” said Topping. “We were about five months getting all the data gathered and back out to everyone.” Since then employee surveys continue to track progress.

The ongoing search for feedback hasn’t ended there. The fleet’s recruiting and retention committee meets every two weeks to share information about what they’re hearing, and the members include an equal number of drivers and personnel from other areas of the workplace.

“We knew we had a good culture,” Topping said, “but we knew we had to make it better.”

For its part, Transpro has introduced a series of “360 reviews” in which everyone completed a survey about their direct manager and had the opportunity to complete surveys on others. The results were used to generate themes.

“To make sure we were going to act on this I made sure they were all part of the management team’s KPIs,” added Eric Carusi, Transpro’s general manager. “We want to make sure everyone is heard and feels comfortable with speaking their mind.”

Since being acquired by the Kriska Group in 2015, his fleet has also had the benefit of participating in a “sharing world”, with bi-weekly reviews of everything from key performance indicators to IT systems. “It gives us an idea of where we are in the market today,” Carusi said.

In a bid to reach out to 1,500 employees spread across Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba, Erb Group schedules annual general meetings and town halls at every terminal. Senior managers attend each of them.

That’s where staff receive operational and HR updates, and participate in a safety discussion and an open Q&A forum. But the connections to managers don’t end there. Everyone even has an email address to the president, who commits to answering any notes.

Upfront planning is also vital for any outreach, Topping added.

“Take the time to set that up right. Take the time to ask the same questions to everybody,” he said. “You really need to listen to the themes and not the one-offs.”

Perhaps most important of all, any shared information deserves a follow-up.

“Get back to people with their comments, with their concerns,” Topping said. “We all want to know that we’ve been heard.”

Be honest, Topping added: “Take your lumps for what you need to correct.”


John G Smith

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Canadian Shipper, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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