Communicate Vision - A Case Study
April 24, 2014
Operations and IT Consultant
Topicscase studies, Communication, shared vision, Vision
Author’s note: This is a story from my first management position, not my first “leadership” position. I think you’ll agree, I was a manager with a leadership problem.
My first management opportunities came with very small groups of people. This story is about the time I became branch manager of a small trucking company. The headquartered in one location for 10 years and were opening a branch office in another state. The objective was to open a branch facility by moving the existing business from the HQ to a warehouse 400 miles closer to the primary customer’s distribution points.
The initial start-up was wild. We worked almost around the clock for the first few weeks to get the sorting lines setup, procedures established, and people hired. My bosses (the chief and his partner) were people I had known and worked for before. The undertaking was tremendous because we were obligated to make twice-weekly deliveries of necessary merchandise to a number of chain retail stores. No merchandise meant no sales. The customer needed merchandise to sell, so we had a tight timeline.
After a very few weeks one of our over-the-road drivers (OTR) quit! They refused a dispatch and quit. Driver turnover is a big problem in the OTR trucking business, so I chocked it up to a bad hire. Within a few days, a 2nd driver quit. This one told me what was going on. He was told he wouldn’t have to go to New York City.
One of the great challenges in the trucking world is driving a truck into New York City proper. There are specific rules, everything takes forever, space is tight, there's no place to park, or be, and freight coming back isn’t as plentiful as you’d like. When drivers are paid by the mile, they make very little money for their time in NYC. Unless companies made special arrangements, a trip to NYC was a bad week for most OTR truck drivers.
Because of the busyness of setting up the warehouse, I had delegated the driver recruiting to another employee. This person was telling drivers that “we never went to NYC.” Obviously, this was a communication problem.
Many leaders and coaches at this point might call this a communication problem. I didn’t communicate well. And to that point, they’d be right. This is why communication is often sighted as a key factor in a leader’s success. If leaders don’t communicate well, they won’t lead well.
But, after I approached the employee and discussed the disconnect, I learned communication wasn’t the problem. A lack of a shared vision was the true problem. My dream for the company was that we would create a work environment where everyone pulled equal weight. If someone had to go to NYC, we’d do our best to get them some gravy on the following week. Each person would chip in their best effort to make the organization successful and the organization would, in turn, share that success with the people who contributed. My vision of a successful company created this need to go to NYC. It created this need for people to take the good with the bad.
This employee’s vision was just for his job. He had been asked by the chief to recruit so he did. Getting them signed up was his job. Whether or not they stayed was my problem. The lack of a shared vision with equal individual buy in and commitment was the core problem. My lack of clear communication and delegation postponed the true identification of the real problem.
There were other issues that contributed to both the reason for this issue and the actual end-result that occurred. But rather than take you through what I did, we here at Lead Change would like to know.
What would you do? How would you address this problem?
This is a great article! To me this is also about effective delegation. Over and above communicating a shared vision and purpose, I would also be involved in the initial hiring purpose to ensure my purpose or requirement is understood and successfully implemented. This is also a great way of transferring intangible knowledge and insights and helping the other person understand the requirement from my perspective. On my part, I would also realize the ground-level problems faced by the other person while fulfilling my purpose.
Geeta, thanks for the comment. I fully agree. I’ll have a more detailed response but I did have to get more involved as I couldn’t communicate my vision any other way. Like you said “transferring intangible knowledge” is key. Thanks again, Mike…
The issue cited here is anchored more around collaboration than communication. It’s not the message. It’s the massage. It’s the way a bruised ego is soothed and salved with empathy for the driver’s plight. Here’s what I would do:
1. Ask my recruiter what objections and concerns truck driving candidates raised in the initial interviews. Assuming the NYC objection then:
2. Research how competitors try to solve the problem (bonus pay, local truck driver assistant who partners in a two-man team in the city, etc.
3. Discount outbound pickups. Phone canvass 10 nearby businesses to solicit outbound business that generates the bonus revenue for the driver.
4. Designate NYC specialist drivers (geographically, say lower Manhattan). They are your go-to drivers for that area and over time they become more expert driving in that locale)
5. Limit NYC deliveries to X per month per driver. Anything over that you increase the bonus (even if it cuts into your profits on that trip,) The volume of trips should generate enough cash flow to support the increased bonus.
So this problem is about gaining a partner in the business not hiring a truck driver. The more the driver sees that you as management are treated him or her as a partner, the more cooperation and collaboration you will get.
Peter, great analysis and very detailed. The phrase “gaining a partner” versus “hiring a fill-in-the-blank” to me is the key to being a successful manager. My two years at that company taught me the dark side of hiring because I wasn’t originally trying to gain partners. Once I did, things started getting much more fun and interesting. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m going to follow up with another post in a couple of days.
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