Trucking executives share 7 tips to manage change

Avatar photo
Kriska’s Mark Seymour, Tandet’s Scott Tilley, and TYT’s Patrick Turcotte all see a value in well-managed change.

TORONTO, Ont. – Change is said to be one of the only constants in life. This is particularly true in the trucking industry — and not just when it comes to the new trucks rolling into fleet yards.

Paper logbooks are giving way to electronic logging devices (ELDs), the data from telematics systems is being used to rethink longstanding route plans, and a new generation of workers continues to challenge the status quo.

Managing such change is no small task, but three fleet executives participating in a panel discussion at Isaac Instruments’ recent leadership summit offered insights into how they tackle such issues.

  1. Engage your staff in the change

“Everyone likes change when they’re in control of the change,” said Scott Tilley, co-president of the Tandet Group. “The challenge is when they have change forced upon them. There’s a resistance.”

When his company wanted to shift to VoIP phones, replacing the traditional black phones that sat on everyone’s desk, staff were asked to try the technology for six weeks. But they were also given the chance to ask for the return of their old phones after the trial. Everyone stuck with the new technology when given the choice.

“It was getting them over the hump and getting them comfortable with it,” he said.

When it came time to introduce ELDs, meanwhile, the company equipped just a few drivers at first – and ensured they were among the drivers who tended to resist change. Those who learned to work with the devices became champions for the wider rollout.

“Then you get the rest of the group either looking forward to the change – and at least not fearing it,” he said.

  1. Be open to different thinking

Encouraging staff to develop innovative ideas can also mean stepping out of the way.

Tilley, for example, remembers walking into a dispatch office at 1 p.m. one Thursday afternoon when the 35-year-old manager was preparing to send everyone home. All the orders had been organized at 11 a.m., he was told, and everyone had cell phones. Once outside the office they still took calls whenever they arrived, whether at 3, 5, or 9 p.m.

Team leaders are ultimately responsible for monitoring group activities and ensuring goals are met. If they fail, they fail as a group and need to determine the reason.

When asked how they could enhance their existing work experience, staff at the Kriska Group asked for an extra week of vacation. President Mark Seymour admits the first instinct is to say that isn’t possible, but they’ve asked for the chance to figure out how it could work.

He’s giving them that chance.

Even those leaders who wish things would stay the same need to recognize that a new generation of employees has a new way of thinking.

Patrick Turcotte, president of TYT Group, remembers that drivers were once recruited with nothing more than a nice truck and a good salary. These days potential recruits are asking what the fleet can do for them.

But any 20-30-year-olds who are attracted through the door are essentially pre-programmed to try new ideas, he said. This can help a fleet manage further change.

  1. Communicate every step of the way

Tilley also stressed the need to communicate with everyone as a changes take shape.

“People don’t like a change that is a surprise,” he said. “Even [with] small changes, you really want to be on the same track.”

And when everyone is on the same track, a change is easier to implement.

“If you convince them, the changes will go faster,” Turcotte said. “The best tool is your employees.”

TYT’s leaders are actually deployed into small groups who are committed to convincing other people about an idea. Gradually they enact a change along the way. “Super users” of new technology are also established to offer extra support after any initial training is completed. “There’s always questions that’s coming, even if you bring the best training,” Turcotte said, explaining the need.

It’s sometimes easier said than done. Turcotte admits that TYT’s attempt to introduce propane-powered trucks failed even after drivers were educated about the extra fueling time and offered a list of locations for refueling. He thinks the explanations just fell short. Within six months, that project was abandoned.

  1. Celebrate the changes

Once a new approach does roll out, Seymour sees a cause for celebration.

“It’s really important to celebrate anything and everything,” he said. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make people enthusiastic.”

Simple signs of appreciation like free pizza on a Friday, or the gift of a Tim Hortons gift card, can acknowledge those who are embracing change and leading the charge.

  1. Step out of the way

Still, not every change is led from a corner office. When that’s happening, it might be important to simply step out of the way and let people manage their own teams, the speakers said.

“You’ve got to stay out of the weeds,” Seymour told the crowd. He admitted this can be a challenge after working in the same family business for 35 years, but makes a point of avoiding watercooler conversations with other long-time employees who share doubts.

After all, good people will take their talents elsewhere if executives continue to interfere.

  1. Buy into the change

It’s equally as important to ensure everyone buys into changes that are made.

Tilley remembers introducing written tests for new job candidates, requiring a score of 45-55 before someone would be hired. But even he was guilty of hiring those who scored outside the range. The first guy he hired scored a 59 and was gone in four months after trying to change absolutely everything, no matter what it was. And the driver who scored a 42? He was let go after several incidents.

“There was a change we put into place. We did it for a reason. We tested it,” he said, admitting to the mistakes. “We fought the process. I fought the process.”

  1. Recognize that more change is coming

It’s hard to predict changes that are still to come, but Seymour offered an idea of how radically business approaches could be reshaped. For example, he’d like to see future in which drivers dispatch themselves. Picture a customer service rep taking an order, planners watching over equipment moves in a dark room, and drivers selecting the loads they want to take on a tablet – with all the required information shared in the back end. This would eliminate some of the natural friction that occurs when dispatchers tell a driver what to do.

Maybe computer algorithms could be used to match loads to a driver’s preferences, he added. “Why wouldn’t we use that technology? It can sort all that out.”

There will always be some resistance to change, he said. Some people are just wired that way. But fleets need to change if they want to survive.

Those who lead organizations that resist change are going to be run over at some point in time, Seymour said.


Avatar photo

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.