The Self-Driving Company

Murray Pratt Blog, Business Insights

Self driving truck

Wow… does this ever feel good. Got my feet up on my desk, hands behind my head, rocking in my comfy office chair. Well, only so comfy I guess.

Reading a copy of Transport Topics and the article on the first self-driving truck delivery ever made. A truckload of beer along a Colorado highway while the driver is in the sleeper compartment. Trying to imagine that headline would be interpreted back in the 70s?

Amazing to see the advances in technology and how it will transform the transportation industry.  All this technology is moving so fast.

The only thing you can hold onto these days in business seems to be your company culture. Building the necessary filaments that keeps all the pieces of the business together as you work our way through the buffeting winds of change – whether it be changes in technology, the economy, or competition.

Every day there are so many decisions that need to be made. Decisions that need to be made quickly. It is impossible for one person to monitor and track and decide on everything.

I figured out a long time ago that my role as President is to set the direction for the business. To outline and then reinforce the ‘noble mission’ of our enterprise. To put in place the frameworks and systems in which engaged and intelligent people can make quick and informed decisions each and every day.

The traditional company structure as envisioned in everyone’s mind looks hierarchical. Instinctively we all have a very top down view of company structure… a hierarchy.

But the reality today is that companies are mostly constructed of people with a unique and disparate skill sets. They are an amalgam of specialists that complement one another. It’s actually the cultural and skill diversity of a company that makes it stronger. They are now more apt to look like.

When I joined a Fortune 500 company over 30 years ago, I learned the importance of being a professional. Getting up in the morning and representing a company, its products, its brand to customers, and performing to the best of my ability each and every day. When you are in your mid 20’s you are just learning and adapting to the world of business. I remember asking my first boss after an exhausting first 2-months.

“When does this let up?”

He, knowing that I was still operating in my college (15 hours per week of classes) mindset responded to me saying,

“When you work, the requirement to perform doesn’t let up. You always have to produce, Murray.”

At the same time, I learned that a strong company culture can sometimes be too restrictive. The people become too insular to the point that it stifles innovation with their products and systems. Worst of all, it results in a loss of focus on the customer.

I remember being in a meeting with 30 managers all pulling out their analog ‘Time Management’ systems taking over a ½ hour to ‘agree’ when the next regional meeting should occur. Too many managers, travelling too far, expending too much money in too many meetings. For me, it was a symptom of a malaise and I felt it was time to move on in my business life.

I believe it is the goal of every President/CEO to create a ‘self-driving company’; to create the type of culture and cultivate in its people the ability to run the company without his/her constant and activist intervention. To focus on the key things that need to happen, and increasingly delegate day to day activities so managers can grow. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to go ‘deep’. It just means that you have to pick your spots. As one of my colleagues, and now good friend, once said to me.

“You can go deep, and you can go wide… but you can’t do both at the same time.”

I look at structure as the framework for decision-making. It’s good to look at all the activities of the business as a series of decisions and then ask yourself , ‘Who makes the call?

When you have the right goals, the right focus, the right people in place, and have trained and developed them well – as a President you find that you have to make LESS DECISIONS, but you also find that you have to make MORE IMPORTANT DECISIONS. The only decisions you should make are those that one of your senior managers or colleague CAN’T make because it’s a decision that crosses into another area of responsibility or accountability. Your role then is to reconcile those competing priorities and accountabilities that you need to reconcile.

But that doesn’t mean you can put a sleeper in your office and just let it roll. You have to focus on some of the external factors of the business – the context in which the company operates and make sure it’s tracking on its vision and mission. To look at the risks and opportunities that are there.

When I look at our trucking software business I am encouraged by the growing capability of our team. We improve daily. But I know we have to constantly get better – because our competition is getting better too.

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