Maybe you’ve seen this anonymous quote that’s become something of a business legend:
Random CFO: What happens if we train them and they leave?
Random CEO: What happens if we don’t and they stay?
We are firm believers—and I comfortably speak for the entire executive team here at Trailer Bridge when I say this—that improving the employee experience is your most direct route to improving customer experience.
If you want to become the company of choice for customers in your industry, you need to become the choice of employer for the best talent available, and then get them onboard to make it happen.
Why make your people top priority?
From the customer who placed the order to the logistics expert who arranged transport, from the warehouse packer to the truck driver, receiver, and right on through to the last-mile delivery service, each and every one of those people is having an experience.
What kind of experience they’re having is influenced by each interaction they have all the way along the supply chain.
We tend to think of logistics in terms of the complexity of operations, and it’s true that facilities and supplies are an important part of the equation. But more importantly, you have people driving the success of every single transportation logistics transaction, every step of the way. Each one of the transactions tells a story about how the employees love what they do, and how valued they feel in their role.
Whether you’re shipping a car to Puerto Rico, shipping goods from the US to Mexico or sending containers to the Caribbean, you’ll be amazed at what happens when you show the people of logistics a little love.
They become more connected, energized, and kind. Believe me, you can be a complete badass at your job and still be kind. Who ever said that someone who has a lot of drive and a competitive spirit, can’t be a nice person? We have over 200 people here who do are both and bring that to their work every day.
And when our people are taken care of—when they are energized and fulfilled and are plugged into how we serve others—they take care of our customers in that same spirit.
Employee experience drives customer experience across the supply chain. It’s that simple.
If there’s one thing, we’ve learned in developing the team we have today, it is that the key to employee experience is in helping your people grow. You need to develop your teams and give them a place to go, and opportunities to grow into.
Rock stars don’t want to sit still! We want to fill their buckets with tools and talent, to help them become fulfilled and grow the business as a result.
It’s no coincidence that in less than a year, Trailer Bridge has been recognized by Inc as a ‘Best Workplace for 2020’, by the Jacksonville Business Journal as the ‘#1 Place to Work in Jacksonville’, and also as the ‘#1 Ocean Carrier’ in the Quest for Quality awards.
While Inc and the Jacksonville Business Journal base their rankings on anonymous employee feedback, Logistics Management’s Quest for Quality awards measures service quality and customer satisfaction from qualified buyers of logistics and transportation services. The outcomes companies are ranked on include:
- On-time Performance
- Information Technology
- Customer Service
- Equipment & Operations
Across each of these critical elements, success hinges on our team members. Our people provide the exceptional service and performance our customers deserve, and we expect from one another, day in and day out because that’s just how we do business. It’s an unusual culture built on trust and love where employees are motivated to do their very best for customers—and for each other.
Leading with love means giving employees the tools and structure to grow. It means paying attention to what they need, and it means they’re ready and excited when the opportunity presents itself.
So how do you build a culture of love and growth? Since 2015, we’ve put one or two groups per year through our in-house leadership development program. As we grow the business, we’re creating more spots for leaders, and we want those leaders of tomorrow to have a jumpstart on leading with the love that has led us this far (and will lead us forward).
We’re constantly working on creating that next generation of leaders who will take that passion and skill back to their teams.
It goes deeper than your executive team and managers, though. Across the board, we have opportunities to better connect with, engage, and develop our team. We recently rolled out a company-wide skills development initiative that offers all team members their choice of training, from soft skills to hardware to internal job or department-specific training, and everything in between.
Even now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re in the midst of rolling out classes and workshops to help prepare our people for the growth we have planned over the next few years.
Times of chaos and crisis are when employees need you most. It’s also when they need you to be there for them the most.
As news of the Coronavirus spread and we collectively began to understand the impact it would have on business-as-usual, we were nine months into developing this company-wide educational program. And when it all hits the fan, the initial knee-jerk reaction inside so many organizations is to pause everything, then begin to cut.
Yet when crisis and chaos rule the day, that is when your employees and customers need you most.
They need you to be steady, measured, and reassuring. They need you to keep your eye to the longer-term horizon and not react emotionally or erratically.
We were able to pivot quickly and take advantage of videoconferencing and remote work tools to continue the analysis and planning of this program. Even as we transitioned to largely remote work environments with only a few team members still in office, we were able to show employees that we see what they need and are going to help make it happen. Our leadership understood that one of the fundamental objectives of being a leader applies now more than ever – pay attention to your teams.
In addition to the COVID support measures we immediately put in place, staying the course in employee development reminded our team that even in these times of turmoil, we are committed to their success. We’re going to keep going, and we’re going to do it together. We put someone in front of each direct report and said, tell us what you need.
Learning to lead with love. Just do it.
The great leaders that I’ve had the honor of working with over the course of my life and career have taught me that we teach people in ways we don’t even think about sometimes. You can show someone how to do something—sign them up for a course, do on-the-job training, give them a book or a video to watch—but the way you act and treat them every day is what matters.
It’s a big, fat, pay-it-forward to teach your own team leadership because they get to that level and they know that what they need to do is teach and elevate, too. The teaching aspect is so important.
That’s why our Leadership Development Program places such great emphasis on coaching. Sure, I can send someone to a Microsoft class and that’s important. But I can also model my character and teach the people around me that how I make them feel is how we make all employees and customers feel.
And we don’t always get it right. Sometimes we screw up, but then we can model humility. You don’t have to get it perfect every single time to be a leader, and we let our people know that. We model that. We fall down, we screw up, and we learn and move on.
It’s absolutely okay to make mistakes, to model resilience, and move on. If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re trying new things. And we have to be doing that in order to move forward and grow.
Tips for coaching employees to reach their greatest potential.
What does leading with love look like in practice? Here are 4 ways to lead with love:
- Determine your employee’s motivations. We first need to figure out, why are you here? What does this person want out of this experience? The most important first step is to get their perspective and let them identify what they want. That sets the groundwork for a positive coaching and learning environment and there a lot of listening in this phase (as well as the rest of the process).
- Explore what is holding them back. As humans, we’re in our own way a lot. There’s a lot of emotional intelligence in that. Self-awareness is huge. It has to be a safe environment, and trusting, so people are comfortable saying this is what I want, and this is what’s holding me back.
- Introduce them to the tools and supports that will get to that next level. When I see someone experience a breakthrough and achieve that goal they were working towards, I feel so fulfilled, as well. It’s a little bit magical. When people learn that about themselves—that fulfillment you get from lifting up and teaching a colleague—they start to rethink all of their relationships. They start to rethink how they speak to others. I’m growing in that all the time myself.
- Care about how much they want to grow and be in it with them 100%. Leadership is not about the leaders, it’s about the team. The joy of helping someone come through something really has to be enough for you, or why are you doing this?
It’s really cool when it happens, and you see the people you are coaching making it to that next level and grow in themselves and their work. It has to happen every single day across the organization for that shift in culture to really take hold and thrive.
I’m thrilled that our CEO Mitch Luciano is naturally that kind of leader. It’s who he is, and he continues to inspire that leadership across the team today.
These are the types of leaders we look for as we hire new people and develop the team. You get to decide what kind of leader you’re going to be, and you can make that choice once in your life or you can make it every single day.
You get to decide what you stand for. We stand for creating a workplace where people don’t mind spending their days and want to be. We stand for treating our customers and employees with love, empathy, and kindness.
How you treat your people = how they treat each other = how they’re going to treat your customers.
I know it’s a lot of equal signs, but it’s a proven formula.
Transportation is a hard, challenging, fast-paced space—but you can still be nice. In fact, this is the space in which love is needed more than anywhere else, to power freight seamlessly forward through each interaction with the care and attention it deserves.