Sunday, May 24, 2015

Here's Your Rain

It never rains in Texas except when it rains a lot. For years folks around these parts have been praying for rain. Finally prayers were answered. I can just imagine God, in his best Joe Pesci voice, asking ….You Want Rain? You Want Rain? You think I am here to amuse you and give you rain? You Want Rain? Ok, sinners…I got your rain. I got your rain right here. Here’s your rain. Anything else I can do for you this year?

We’ve had close to 20 inches of rain this month at my place. That’s a lot of rain. As much as 31 inches has been recorded in nearby locations. That’s a lot of rain. Lakes in North Texas that were 30-50% below normal are now at or above capacity. That’s a lot of rain. Water is pouring over the spillway here at Lake Texoma for only the 4th time in history. That’s a lot of rain.

In California and other western states, the drought persists. Water will be THE ISSUE of the 21st century and beyond. Whether it’s global warming or just a 500 or 1000 or 10,000 year cycle that’s drying up places like California, we need to find some answers. Whatever we do it’s going to cost money. Moving water or moving people cost money. Whether we’re getting too much rain or not enough, we somehow know that it’s not up to us. We can and should take steps to save our planet and conserve water. Do the best with the hand we’ve been dealt. But, ultimately we are broken people living in a fallen world. It’s going to be messy. I’ve considered many worldviews and this one seems to be the most coherent. (And, if you don’t agree with me on this, you are just proving my point.)

Stay dry or get wet. Sometimes we get what we want and sometimes we get what we deserve. And sometimes it’s just a matter of grace.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Tell Me What You Want …Part IV…Show Them The Money

In the first three parts of this series we looked at the Millennial generation profile, the challenges this industry faces in attracting and retaining Millennials and possible solutions to those challenges. Those solutions are HIRE THE RIGHT PEOPLE, MAKE THE JOB MORE ATTRACTIVE and SHOW THEM THE MONEY. But, as noted at the end of Part III, before you can “show them the money”, you must find the money.

“Finding the money” is THE ISSUE. Most everything necessary to move anything from anywhere to somewhere costs more today than it did five years ago. Fuel goes up and down; and for the most part carriers have finally got that covered. Some do it better than others and therein is the key; DOING THE IMPORTANT THINGS BETTER THAN YOUR COMPETITION. The same is becoming true in other areas of the business. Equipment costs are going up. Some carriers will buy better and smarter than others. Regulations are driving up costs. Some carriers will manage it better than others. Technology is increasingly important and cost money. However, the cost relative to the potential results technology can deliver is improving rapidly. Again, some carriers will invest and utilize technology better than others. Customers will pay more, grudgingly of course. But at the end of the day, better rates are available and some carriers will do a better job of managing their pricing than others.

So the most important step in finding the money, is to be better than your competition WITHOUT TAKING IT OUT OF OR OUT ON YOUR PEOPLE. The days of squeezing your people are done, finished, over, history, gone forever. It will not work with drivers, mechanics, office staff, sales, operations, managers, executives or anyone else who is willing and able to work. They have too many other options. Good people will find good jobs. You better makes sure that you’re offering one of those good job and that includes money. Of course, money isn’t everything, it’s not even the number one thing for most people. But, you must be competitive. And if you’re going to hire Millennials that means you are competing with all of the other industries out there.

If you are already behind the curve and struggling to compete with companies that have better, brighter and more productive people; be prepared to bite the bullet. You either invest in people or become a bottom feeder. Invest in people who can really make a difference. And then allow them to make that difference. Invest in technology wherever possible. The more people you have doing things that could be done as well or better with technology, the more people you need to manage those people. In the long run, investing in technology and streamlining processes will give you more room to hire those people who are “difference makers”. If you’re still running your business like you did ten years ago, you are behind and falling further behind very quickly.

You must hire people who can make a difference at the key leverage points in your business. How much is a great fleet manager worth compared to a below average fleet manager? How much is a great customer service person worth compared to one who can barely get the job done. What is a great Operations leader worth? A great Sales leader. A difference maker in Safety? Capacity development? Maintenance?

You want to find the money so you can hire and retain Millennials? Start hiring Difference Makers today. They will make you money and turn those Millennials into difference makers tomorrow.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Tell Me What You Want....Part III

In Parts I & II we identified some of the challenges this industry faces in making itself more attractive to Millennials. How do we offer upward mobility at a level and pace that meets Millennial expectations? How do we give them enough autonomy and empowerment in an industry that is so constrained by service requirements and regulations? And lastly, how do we address the work/life balance priority of Millennials in a low-margin business where overhead costs must be controlled and operations essentially run 24/7?

Last time I said there was a two-part solution. Having thought more about it since then, I have concluded that it’s really a three-part solution. My two-part solution was HIRE THE RIGHT PEOPLE and MAKE THE JOB MORE ATTRACTIVE. But the more I thought about it, I realized that there is only so much one can do without talking about MONEY. So money is the third part of the solution.

What does it mean to “hire the right people”? In my opinion it means selecting individuals who are not Millennial stereotypes. I think we are at risk of assuming that everyone in a certain age group is going to demand rapid advancement, high levels of autonomy and an ultra flexible work schedule. That is simply not the case. While on balance, Millennials as a group put more value on these factors, there are a lot of them whose values overlap fairly close to those of the older generation. You can still find people who are willing to pay their dues, play by the rules, be a part of the team, and show up when the work needs to be done. This industry has never been for everyone. I’m a baby-boomer and a lot of my peers had no interest in this industry. In fact, they questioned my sanity for getting into it in the first place. You can still hire people who will succeed and enjoy working in this business. You just have to look a little harder and interview a lot better.

The second part of the solution still must be addressed. The crazy, meat-grinder work environment that so often characterizes the transportation/logistics industry simply has to change. All industries have had to change. Factories aren’t what they once were. Farm equipment isn’t what it used to be. Office work has been totally transformed over the past 50 years. The macho, put in the hours, first-in/last-out mindset that has been so much a part of this industry for decades is bullshit. It’s not necessary, never was and certainly is not now, especially with technology allowing people to be tethered to their work 24-7. In fact, that 24/7 tethering makes it all the more important that employees spend less time shackled to their desk. There is more room for flexibility now. The work can become more people friendly. It’s never going to be the most creative, free and open work environment. So don’t hire people who are looking for that type of work. It’s always going to be demanding and stressful work. Which means don’t do needless crap that only makes the job more demanding and stressful. That’s where Millennials will call you out. Why are we doing it this way? Is this really necessary? Can we do things differently? Can we treat each other differently. When a load is late everyone and everything doesn’t have to be called a GDMF-er.

Last, but not least…you gotta pay ‘em. When I started back in the day it was in the management training program of a unionized LTL carrier. I was making 30-50% more than my similarly educated peers. Would I have put up with the hours and the crap for less money? Not just no, but HELL NO. The industry has been squeezed since deregulation and the pressure to control costs is always there. The industry is certainly not a premium pay opportunity for the best and brightest young professionals. And maybe it never will be, nor should we expect it to be. It is what it is and there is only so much juice in the grape. But, we’ve reached a tipping point. It’s clearly there with drivers and mechanics. The industry is responding. It may be too little, too late; but at least there is a response. There is literally no other choice. At some point, they must respond to the compensation being offered to supervisors, managers and executives. Companies are scrambling and hiring people in positions who would not even have gotten an interview, much less the job in the past. Ironically, the more under-qualified, less talented people we hire; the more inclined we are to cultivate the “old school” culture of micro-management, top-down command and control. Thus making the industry even less attractive to the people we need to be hiring in the first place.

The question is always asked, “Where’s the money going to come from?” That’s not a short answer. So we’ll save it for next time.