Seeing from another’s eyes

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A frequent question among drivers and dispatchers is what all those other people in the office do. Drivers in particular love to say that without them no one in the office has a job. While that is certainly true, the same thing can also be said for just about every job in a trucking company.

The list on this page covers most of the back-office functions at most trucking companies. It’s worth showing to your dispatchers and drivers. Failing to perform these tasks well can jeopardize the financial health of the carrier. And if they aren’t done at all, a carrier would have to shut its doors.

Everyone in operations should understand this list because most tasks are accomplished through operations. If a driver doesn’t turn in his paperwork, it is up to operations to keep reminding the driver to do so. Or if a tractor is due for preventive maintenance, operations must determine how to get the tractor into the shop.

Most dispatchers don’t like to get involved in these tasks because they seem to have little to do with booking freight and getting it moved. Simply telling them it is important often falls on deaf ears.

To instill this understanding, I have implemented cross-orientation day for dispatchers and office staff. An operations person would spend eight to 16 hours visiting every department in the company. These visits could last one or two hours or up to half a day. They could be accomplished taking one or two whole days or spreading the time out over a few days.

Each department prepares a briefing for operations personnel on what it does, the consequences if it isn’t done well, where it gets it information, how it processes that information and the support it needs from operations.

The goal isn’t training the dispatcher on a different job. There’s nothing wrong with cross training. In a perfect world, new dispatchers would be cross-trained in payroll/settlement and rating/billing. But few carriers have sufficient staff to accomplish this objective. Instead, the goal of cross-orientation is to offer a dispatcher an appreciation of what goes on in the department.

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At the same time, office personnel should receive an orientation on what goes on in operations. The more the office staff understands operations, the easier it will be for them to find the answers to questions they have. Or if they happen to answer a phone call from a driver needing help, they may be able to direct that call or help out the driver.

A cross-orientation program also helps break down the barrier that can arise between office staff and operations. People who know and respect each other’s role can overcome obstacles in the area of systems, procedures or organization. Without that respect, such obstacles become an excuse as to why things aren’t getting done properly and on time.

Consider bringing drivers in for similar orientations with office and operations personnel. But be ready to compensate drivers for the time, perhaps at an hourly rate for an entry-level office worker. If you pay office personnel during orientation, you must pay drivers. Otherwise you just communicated that drivers are second-class citizens.

Many carriers talk about a driver-friendly, open-door culture but this is one way to actually help create one. Just like people in operations or the office, the more someone understands how the company works, the more he can contribute to its success.

David Gooson is a management consultant specializing in the transportation industry. E-mail [email protected].