An interesting discussion this week, when I asked a supervisor “is the speed limit different going downhill?” He was super quick off the mark with his answer; “of course it is!” Something made him think about what he’d just said as he followed it up with a bit of umming and ahhing and “there’s a bit of leniency on hills though isn’t there…?”

On the whole though, the tide does seem to be turning. These discussions were not even being had 5 years ago, and now there is a definite sense that operators are taking another look at what is happening to their brand and their costs on the road.

A glance through the agenda for the upcoming forums shows a topic list of “compliance, profitability, compliance, risk management, compliance…” Spot the theme?

No matter the varied opinions on it, the Operator Rating System is having an effect. In addition, GPS records are increasingly being referred to post-event by both operators and officials, and e-log books are on their way. There is a gradual recognition that it is time to work within the system rather than to keep trying to beat it. Rising insurance premiums, withholding of permits, finance conditions and other external factors that can strangle a business are driving that message home.

Operators who have grown a successful business from one truck to 30+ through sheer hard work and gut feel are now ready to shine a torch in a few dark corners and get their housekeeping in order. If this is you, the problem you may well be facing is that you are already busy, and everything you look at feels like a big project on top of the day to day running of the business. As always, where there is a need, there is suddenly a whole industry of solutions springing up. There are a lot of people out there offering advice that starts with a “you should….”

As a business owner, when I’ve been looking for advice, as we all have to at some stage, advice that starts with “you should” sends me into a fit of despair – because I am already busy and adding things to my job list just means it will take longer before they get started. What I have found works best for me is to share the load – get some of my people onto the problem, agree why we need to change and how all of our jobs will become easier when we have made the change. That way we are all committed to working towards the goal, it isn’t another “whim of the boss” that my staff feel they have to fit in with. From improving one thing, we can then logically move onto the next thing as the first improvement was so good, we want to keep going.

Likewise, if you are getting the feeling that it is time to address a few compliance niggles, try to look for a way that you can involve your staff, and keep consistent encouragement to keep improving, and communicate how things are progressing. Sending a couple of people on a course, in isolation, will motivate those two for a couple of weeks, but with no changes to the operation, they will soon sink back to the old ways. Speed limiting the trucks might cut out a bit of speeding, but it will also aggravate the drivers if you don’t warn them it’s happening and explain why. If you can’t or don’t have regular staff meetings, at least find a bit of space on your notice board to provide an update about “this month’s goal” and leave space to get some feedback. A lot of thinking goes on, on the road and some of it is really useful.

I’ve used this column in a number of ways over the months that I have been writing, but whilst I truly believe technology is a fantastic tool you will also have noticed my desire is to have technology recognised as being no more than a tool, not the whole answer. Technology can help you to investigate what has happened, measure how much it happens and communicate to a lot of people very quickly if this is OK or not. To get the benefits of that, it is so important that your personality and genuine desire to run the best transport business in town come through.

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