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Takeaways from TCA’s 80th Annual Convention

Posted by: Megan Younkin

I had the honor to attend and speak at TCA’s 80th annual convention in Florida last month, titled “The Future of Truckload”. As I sit and watch the snow fall from my office window, I can’t help but reminisce on the palm trees and sun, as viewed through the windows of the resort; you know what I mean if you’ve ever attended a conference or convention! The convention was packed full of informative sessions and industry experts speaking on topics that really matter in transportation right now. There was no way I could attend every session, but in the ones I did attend the focus was clear – the industry is in a good position right now, but we can’t effectively support freight demands because of the ongoing driver shortage. Admittedly, my focus is biased because of my own professional concentration; there were important sessions regarding training and ELD mandates, cybersecurity, how blockchain technology fits with the industry, and more. However, the takeaways I’d like to share with you are much more focused on how we’re facing the ongoing driver shortage.

Current trends and best practices

During a session on recruiting and retention trends based on survey feedback, we learned that there is a big difference in the allocation of resources between recruiting efforts and retention efforts. In Q1 of 2018, recruiting received significantly more resources than retention efforts. What struck me as interesting was that with all of the money and resources fleets are allocating toward recruiting, they’re also reporting that their best source for driver retention after two years (by a landslide) is referrals. The people who are sticking around are the people who were referred by other people who are also sticking around. This leads me to question whether or not adding more resources to driver retention would balance out a loss of resources on the recruiting side. If we’re putting more resources into retaining drivers, we’ll probably have more drivers who will refer more drivers who will stay longer.

In a session titled 9 Traits of High-Performing Trucking Companies, we learned that top performers add by subtraction, which is a best practice concept I love. Before you add more things for your people to do or act on, take the time to understand and eliminate redundancies and inefficiencies. It’s a question that’s often overlooked – what should we STOP doing? I recommend you bring this question to your next operational or strategic planning meeting. It’s not an easy question to answer, but it’s one that is important that we ask and really reflect on.

Culture matters

During a session primarily focused on considerations to make when dealing with mergers and acquisitions, culture came up quite frequently. Focusing on culture before, during, and after any M&A was a strong recommendation given by the presidents/executive officers of the fleets represented during this session. In several other sessions, including my own, the topic of company culture came up. In the session I co-presented with Joey Hogan, President of Covenant Transport Group, we focused on building a culture of shared responsibility for driver retention. It’s not a brand new concept, but one that seems to be gathering steam. Several members of our audience offered up ways that non-driver groups who may not interact with drivers on a daily basis can still take responsibility for and act on improving driver retention. If you’re not sure if you’re in the right place culturally for this, or how to get groups like payroll or maintenance focused on improving driver retention, let’s talk – People Element can help!

Change comes from a shift in the way we think

Just like a gathering of professionals in any industry, sometimes trucking conferences/conventions can start to feel like an echo chamber. Besides a literal acoustical echo chamber, the term has come to mean “… a metaphorical description of a situation in which beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a closed system. By visiting an echo chamber, people are able to seek out information which reinforces their existing views.” (Wikipedia). Some of my favorite “ah-ha” moments from the convention came from questions that were asked that inspired me to think differently and ideas brought forth that felt like stepping outside of the echo chamber.

During the session on The 9 Traits of High-Performing Trucking Companies, Jack Porter, Managing Director of the TCA Profitability Program, posed this question (I’ll paraphrase a bit) – “If I’m a Fleet Manager and my pay is tied to driver performance, what if I look at every call from a driver as an opportunity to connect rather than a burden or distraction?” I believe it’s these kinds of small paradigm shifts that lead to results and can mean big things for both the driver and the Fleet Manager.

Another example of stepping outside the norm came from an audience member’s question during a session on recruiting and retention trends. The question posed was this (again, I’ll paraphrase) – “I’ve been to a lot of these sessions this week, and they all seem to be focused on the same topic of the driver shortage. What if, instead of trying to figure out how we can get more people into trucking jobs, we thought about the job itself and how we can make it a more desirable career opportunity that more people want to sign up for?”. It was a simple, yet thoughtful question and my mind immediately started reeling as I considered the idea and wondered what other perspective we’re not considering as we all try to solve the same problem.

Looking back on this event, I found the most valuable takeaways were these three things – understanding the current state of the industry and learn best practices; focusing on culture; and looking for new ways to attack old problems. I came away from the convention excited and eager to learn more about these topics so I can share new ideas and perspectives with our trucking clients.

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