Get Your Ship Together!

Murray Pratt Blog, Business Insights, Trucking Leave a Comment

It was pretty straightforward when you drove your own truck. You controlled all the parts of your vehicle. You did your walk-around, your pre-trip inspection. You checked your route map, your trip manifest, and your bill of lading. You made sure that the gas tank was full, and you had a full cup of coffee and water in your cup holders. Mirrors were set just right.

Running your own truck meant that you controlled all aspects of your operation. As an owner-operator, you could pick up and deliver a load as you committed. Perhaps you had your sister or mother help you out with the paperwork as you built your company. But other than that, you were pretty much self-reliant.

And then one day, your biggest customer told you that he was expanding and that he was willing to guarantee you 4 to 5 times more business and give you some other routes. And you took the leap – got some financing, got some more equipment, found some technology that would help you with running the business, and most importantly, secured some staff to help you which a much more complex beast.

You moved from a situation of being ‘self reliant,’ to that of relying on other people to get your results.

And that is perhaps the greatest challenge when you go from an owner-operator to running a medium-sized trucking business – achieving results through the work of other people rather than doing it all yourself.

  • First you have to find good people.
  • You then have to convince them that this is a good choice for them…because, after all, you are going to build a great trucking business.
  • You have to define what they are going to do. Give them an idea of how they are going to do it – tell them, train them, show them.
  • You have to pay them for their work.

That’s a lot of hard work, but the hardest of all is the ‘letting go.’

I have coached managers and supervisors for over 25 years now. I like to tell them something I read one time in a blog on personal relationships. The line stuck with me.

‘You can tell me WHAT TO DO…or…HOW TO DO IT’…but not both’

It was presented in a humorous article, but the more I looked at that statement, the more I realized that it was the essence of good management.

If you tell someone what to do and how to do it, all the time, you are practicing the ‘art of micro-management.’ While it might be necessary and tolerable in the short term (brain surgery for the first time for instance), over the long term, it’s acidic to employee engagement and morale, as your people feel like they are simply cogs in your machine.

On the contrary, if you give someone a task and let them figure out how they can do it (some will ask for specific directions, but resist the temptation and encourage them to explore), then you invite their active engagement in the business. They begin to feel part of the bigger picture and take some psychological ownership of their position and the business.

In the same way, you may have someone who has come up with a great idea, but no idea of how it can get done. You can help them by marshalling the resources necessary, and modeling the actions required to achieve the desired end result.

I would offer up that Google is the smartest company on the planet. I say this, not because there is any objective measurement system for this, (oh – maybe there is, I will have to Google that). I say this because they permit their people to spend 20% of their work time on personal projects. For instance, one of the products that came from this was Google Earth.

No doubt, it’s tough to ‘let go.’ Really tough as your people didn’t see you lying awake at nights in the beginning, worried about where you were going to find that next load, or find the money to pay a bill. But in doing so, you unleash the power of your staff, of your people – their ideas and their passion – to the benefit of your business. You give your business the ability to improve in countless ways. Groupthink is the enemy of continuous improvement. Thought control by a business dictator is a fool’s game. You see short- term benefit, but you don’t realize what this is costing you in the longer term.

In speaking with the owner of our trucking software business one day, I was excited to hear that he had come across these very same concepts. He too had read and embraced the teaching of Captain D. Michael Abrashoff – a commander in the US Navy. I had the chance to hear him speak at a company event some 7 years ago. His message was inspiring, his techniques innovative and his results indisputable.

His book was called:

‘It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy”

Read it…it will help you get your ship together.

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