Getting a Freight Business Back in the Black by Mapping & Extending Strengths

By Jeremy Scrivens

Background

Fastest Freight is a wholly family owned business providing freight solutions and logistics to customers in the overnight freight industry, specializing in less than full truck load (LCL) logistics solutions.

The company picks up local freight from a sending customer’s premises and transports this freight to the nearest Fastest Freight depot where it is consolidated and forwarded to another depot interstate by way of the company’s line haul fleet. At the receiving depot, the freight is deconsolidated and delivered directly to the receiving customer.

The company has grown from a base of two depots, 4 trucks and 10 staff in 1990 to today’s position where Fastest Freight now operates 8 depots with 70 trucks and 160 staff, servicing over 1400 customers and a revenue of $30m.

Although the company had achieved rapid growth, with an ambitious expansion plan for the future, a number of issues had emerged relating to variable performance, service quality, accountability, culture, behaviour and retention of good people which threatened to put at risk the achievement of future business goals, unless addressed.

When we asked the MD, Bob Roseworthy what some of these key issues were he nominated

  • Lack of clarity between people over job roles and accountabilities leading to “ passing the buck “ for service and customer
  • Growing levels of firefighting and scrambling to cope with recurring problems which don’t seem to get fixed properly
  • As the business had grown, the MD and senior managers have caught in making operational decisions to the detriment of the longer term stewardship and direction of the business.
  • Concern that some of the best staff were leaving to go elsewhere
  • Increasing demands from customers for higher standards of service and more rapid respond to creating and delivering innovative solutions which the company was struggling to keep up with because responsibility for key customer relationships and service development lay with the MD.

In addition, Fastest Freight had invested in a new employee and cultural development program called Character First which focused on developing a productive and happy workforce through character development. Bob had seen an immediate improvement in staff morale and service since starting Character First and wanted to build on this by finding out from company staff about what they liked best about the program and to get their ideas about what organisational practices should be strengthened for good governance and growth which would come from putting Character First at Fastest Freight.

So Bob asked for our assistance.

 

Appreciative Inquiry at Fastest Freight

We undertook an Appreciative Inquiry and Organisational Mapping at Fastest freight involving interviews with around 40 staff and directors at all levels and in all depots and Head Office.

Participants were asked a series of questions designed to find out what really Fastest Freight is really like at its very best- a best which is very good indeed – so that Bob and the management team would know where to put their focus, energy and time in making the changes that would result in a high level of support and commitment from staff members and solutions to the identified blockers to realizing the company’s vision and expansion strategy.

Participants were asked questions like

  • Describe a time, a specific situation, when you felt most alive, most involved and excited about your work and contribution?
  • What are the best qualities we excel at in Fastest Freight?
  • If everything worked perfectly at Fastest Freight all the time, what would you see around you?
  • What would draw you to work with more enthusiasm every day?
  • What things could Fastest Freight do to make the above happen?
  • Imagine if Fastest Freight was featured on the front cover of The Australian newspaper in January 2010 as the company of the decade in Australia
    • What would the newspaper say we were being recognised for?
    • What would the company have done between now and 2010 to make this happen?
    • What would they be saying about your contribution?

The interviews were coded for stories and themes and this DNA brought into an all day Exploring Our Potential workshop with Bob and his fellow directors.

The overriding themes to emerge from the mapping, and in particular the messages from the drivers and other customer facing staff “on the ground floor”, was that they were at their best

 

  • When they had their own dedicated customers with whom they could build trusting relationships, rather than being assigned different customers each day
  • When they planned their work directly with their own customers, rather than have a supervisor Fleet Controller do this allowing the driver respond quickly and accurately to any changes the customer wanted
  • When they had direct information from their customers and the other depots on the status of the freight, rather than go through a third party
  • When they were allowed to finish the job they started, rather than hand over the customer or the freight to another person, shift team or depot
  • When they were involved in setting up the customer directly with the service or any changes to the service, rather than having this done by a senior manager or even the MD who struggled to delegate this work to the ground floor
  • When whoever was responsible for sending through the freight and the paperwork from the wholesale customer ( point of origin ) made sure that the freight and the accompanying paperwork stayed together and were never separated

What then came out of the workshop energized the executive team and became the basis for a radical shift in the underlying paradigm behind the way Fastest Freight thought about its people and its organisational people.

Bob and his team discovered that at their best. i.e. when the drivers and other customer staff did the above things, the service was at its highest levels of efficiency, the customers expressed the highest levels of customer satisfaction, the company made the most money, the customers wanted more and different services which the company responded to quickly and with flexibility and finally, the staff were happy and stayed with the company.

Bob and his team identified four strategic competencies from the above DNA. i.e. Fastest Freight would build its future on the following characteristics

  1. Ownership and respect for the customers essential needs and their preferences through a one to one relationship between an empowered Fastest Freight member and a customer
  2. Delivering what we promise
  3. An environment that encourages rapid decision making at the source by drivers ownership of the customer, the service, the rewards and the consequences – i.e. treating our drivers as adults
  4. Practical customised solutions through an understanding of the customer’s specific business needs coupled with our specialized knowledge of handling LTL freight

 

Project Ground Floor

Bob commissioned a project involving ground floor staff from all the depots who came together for a period of three months to design a new way of providing the service to customers across the whole company which

  • Built on Fastest Freight’s DNA and strategic competencies
  • Reflected the Organisational Principles of Abundance rather than the old compliance or industrial paradigm
  • Released the creative contribution and talents of people on the ground floor
  • Simplified current processes, eliminated waste and duplication and created “line of sight” for the service, the customer and depot teams
  • Focused on serving each other in the process to the same standard as the customer

Key features of the new way of working which has now been implemented across the company include

  • All drivers and ground floor service personnel have their own customers, dedicated trucks, set service runs and service KPI’s including revenue, quality and safety. Customers can now go directly to their service representative to order services, track the service and make changes. They now longer have to go through a manager or a supervisor.

 

Regular customers have been established as account customers with scheduled pickups and internet based ordering and invoicing significantly improving the accuracy of order taking and reducing credits by 95%.

  • Non account customers have been set up with pre-paid ordering, resulting in a 90% reduction in debtors work and unprofitable invoicing
  • In the old way of working, 21 different Fastest Freight people were involved in serving the journey of the freight from the time it left the sending customer’s premises to the time it arrived at the receiving customer’s dock. Under the new way of working only 5 Fastest freight people are involved in this journey resulting in transparency for service, rapid service recovery, ownership at the source and cost efficiencies.
  • Previously, the managers tried to take responsibility for safety with mixed success. Now the freight bays in each depot have been organised around runs with drivers and yard teams having their own area of responsibility, resulting in a tidier and safer working environment.
  • Each customer team has a scoreboard which is being used to set stretchable goals, review performance, make continuous improvements, strive for excellence together and recognise and celebrate achievements. The scoreboard includes measures around character qualities and drivers are rated by their customers and their peers for their behaviour, as well as their contribution.
  • Fastest Freight is building a Character based recruitment process to ensure that only people of good character are hired. This is a first in their industry which has traditionally not paid a great deal of attention to character, let alone makes much of an investment in the recruitment of good people of character.

 

By refocusing and releasing what the company does best and by having people work together to a shared purpose and principles of abundance, the company has become profitable, staff members are happier, customers more satisfied and plans are under way to expand internationally.