Sending your business to the shop

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Heartland Express introduced a new driver pay package called the “GREEN MILE$” program, offering rates as high as 50 cents per household goods mile for company drivers and 95 cents per HHG mile for owner-operators before any additional fuel stabilization pay per mile. Company drivers and owner-operators will earn an additional 7 cents per mile for all HHG miles driven in what will be known as the “Green Zone” – an area north of the southern border of Maryland and east of Interstate 81 running through Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York.

Comdata Corp. introduced an online permit order system, known as PermitLink, to allow fleets to order permits through the Web 24/7.

Washington State Department of Transportation is planning to overhaul the Mount Vernon, Wash., overpass on Interstate 5, which at 14 feet, 4 inches has the lowest clearance on the West Coast highway. After the project, the clearance will be 18 feet, 7 inches.

FedEx Ground does not expect to raise prices or implement a fuel surcharge before January. President and CEO Daniel Sullivan says the carrier is using technology to help plan routes to become more efficient and lower costs.

Boyd Bros. Transportation last month completed the merger of BBT Acquisition Corp., resulting in the privatization of the Clayton, Ala.-based flatbed carrier and the delisting of its shares on Nasdaq. BBT is owned by certain members of the Boyd family, including founder Dempsey Boyd and President and CEO Gail Cooper.

You can’t fix something if you don’t know what’s broken. If you are repairing a truck, you have a variety of diagnostic tools available to pinpoint the problem. But when owners or executives of a company want to fix a business process, few of them use systematic tools to diagnose what needs to be changed in the operation.

Suppose you decide to improve the process for paying drivers or owner-operators. You want not only to ensure that pay is accurate and timely but also that each driver believes he received all the pay he deserves. To achieve this goal, you must establish a process that measures hard results, such as payroll accuracy, as well as subjective results, such as drivers’ perceptions. Both are important. You can have the most accurate payroll possible, but a driver still may leave because he felt cheated.

A simple but effective tool to diagnose what is wrong with your process is to list out in sequential order all the steps involved in processing payroll and creating expectations in the driver’s mind about how he is paid. Remember, driver expectations often start by what he is told over the phone by a recruiter. In developing this list, be sure to include copies of all the documents a driver or contractor receives.

The act of laying out all the steps and documents will highlight a few problems in your process. Before rushing to implement changes, assess what is happening. Evaluate the process as follows.

Simplify. Usually, the more steps in a process – and the more hands that are involved – the easier it is for the process to break. Try to eliminate unnecessary steps or those that add little value. I once worked with a major carrier where the drivers were dispatched out of terminals. If a road driver was used in the city, someone in headquarters had to approve paying the driver for city work. This step could delay the process by two to three pay cycles. It also made no sense. After all, who would know more about whether the driver deserved the pay – headquarters or the terminal manager?

Avoid confusion. Most carriers develop steps and forms as they grow. To people involved in developing the process, it all makes perfect sense. But to a newcomer, it may seem confusing. For example, many carrier-contractor settlement sheets look like the Internal Revenue Service designed them. Sometimes carrier pay packages are so complex that drivers need to be an accountant to figure out how they are getting paid. Worse, the rules of when a driver gets paid for an item sometimes are open to interpretation. As long as the process creates confusion, a driver rarely will believe he received full pay. If the average person cannot understand a form or rule, it needs to be changed.

Ensure adequate resources. One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is to constrain or cut staff in an effort to save money. However, if pay issues are not resolved because of a lack of staff, then that’s a false economy. If you don’t want to add staff, think about training dispatchers for more of the mundane pay issues such as researching if a driver got paid for a certain item. Consider using different resources, such as an outside company to process and mail paychecks.

Manage “moments of truth.” In every process, there is a payoff – an instant when either you succeed or fail. In sales, for example, the moment of truth comes when you finish the pitch and ask for the business. In the context of driver pay, the moment of truth comes when a new driver receives his first paycheck. Many carriers fail to recognize the significance of this event and simply send the check out the door. When that happens, you have no ability to control how your process is perceived. A better practice is to have someone go over the first few checks with the driver to ensure that he understands that he was fully paid.

Driver pay is just one example, of course. When you want to fix a business process, take the time to think through where you want to end up and what is wrong with where you are now.