Ask the expert: Transportation organizations need to define their ‘purpose’

Omnitracs

What’s the key to success in the transportation industry? For each person you ask this question, you will receive as many answers. But most would probably agree that an organization is only as strong as its people.

The transportation industry currently is facing a well-documented set of challenges when it comes to talent. In addition to overcoming the challenge of hiring and retaining skilled workers, human resources professionals working in logistics and transportation must contend with regulatory, training and compensation issues. Beyond these challenges, companies must find a way to engage an often geographically dispersed workforce in order to inspire them to meet current business objectives with an eye towards future success.

Often on the forefront of tacking these many challenges within an organization is the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO).  Often referred to as the “people innovation hub” of an organization, the CHRO is responsible for overseeing all aspects related to the employee experience.

To better understand the challenges and opportunities facing human resource professionals in the transportation industry, we sat down with Omnitracs’ CHRO, Stacey Martin, an executive with more than 20 years of Human Resources experience.    

How important is it to have a vibrant culture in any organization?

STACEY: I like to use the word “purpose” rather than culture. The term, “culture,” tends to generate a lot of buzz among HR professionals. But when I think of purpose, I think of something larger - I think of what wakes me up in the morning, eager to get to the office – what excites me about what I do rather than who I am.

Most people in today’s workforce no longer work for just a paycheck. They think about what they’re contributing to society, to the workplace, to the customer. At Omnitracs, we just launched an internal purpose statement this year to help create those connections for employees. I believe it drives the message home: Our direction is helping our customers find theirs. A purpose statement shows how our work impacts society. The idea is to attempt to summarize our mission, vision, values, and, yes – culture, into a short, memorable phrase.

Along with our purpose statement, we created a video that speaks to the notion of the transportation industry being more than a truck, more than a delivery. It’s about taking pharmaceuticals from point A to point B to help a sick child. It’s about helping to take the food from the heartland of the country to the tables of America. It’s about helping our employees understand that what we’re building from a technology standpoint impacts our ability to serve all global citizens. It’s about helping to make those connections for our employees. We’ve tried to make work more intimate and more appealing to the employee as it relates to their personal passions.

Are companies doing more to offer perks that align more directly with employees’ personal passions?

STACEY: Yes, employers are definitely looking to align perks to people’s more personal interests and motivations. Employers are being more intentional about aligning their organizations with specific social responsibility initiatives – making sure they find something from a CSR standpoint that’s meaningful to both customers and employees.

In the transportation industry, a lot of truck drivers are veterans. At Omnitracs, we’ve intentionally placed a focus on initiatives for veterans. In doing so, what we’ve done has allowed employees to feel like they’re giving back personally and through their employer as well. We’ve been able to help our employees connect their own passions in a meaningful way to local charities or organizations that also happen to be important to our customers.

It’s no longer just about the title you give an employee and how much you pay. It’s about how you engage the employee. In addition to our CSR efforts, we’re creating employee resource communities around themes and content that are of interest to employees.

Resource communities can actually go beyond the value they offer to their members. We’re able to use these communities as a selling point in our recruiting efforts and finding that more and more companies are doing that. People want to give back and be part of like-minded groups rather than just come to work.

What are the attributes of a successful transportation organization?

STACEY: Again, I go back to an organization’s sense of purpose. Do employees understand why they’re doing what they’re doing and how their behavior connects with their goals? Are organization principles designed around a shared purpose? Is everyone in the organization focused on bringing to life something more than a corporate vision statement?

As a CHRO, my goal is to make sure it’s easier for people to come to work every day and do the job they’ve been asked to do. The first step is awareness: You have to identify the roadblocks in your way and put strategies in place for each one. More importantly, you want open communication and transparency with your employees. You have to let them know ‘We hear you, and we’re going to address those issues. At the end of the day, if we don’t address what’s preventing you from delivering a successful solution for our end customer, then we’re not doing our jobs as leaders.’

What are the key attributes hiring managers look for in identifying new hires, and how successful are they in spotting these attributes?

STACEY: Successfully identifying and attracting new talent is one of the most challenging issues facing HR professionals today, regardless of industry. We’re all combating the same problem. The reality is every company is looking for the best talent – and the best talent knows they’re in high demand. When it comes to interviewing, I guide managers to think about the jobs where they need the very best talent and to think through their interviewing techniques for that role. It’s important that the right interviewing questions are being asked for the attributes needed for a particular role. If you need a top performer, you’ll want to identify how hungry the person is and how satisfied the person will be with what there is to offer. If a person is really hungry for growth, and you’re an organization that’s pretty flat without a lot of opportunity for upward mobility, that changes the candidate profile. It changes the kind of candidate you look for.

Let’s say you’re looking for an accountant, on a 10-person finance team, that needs to keep payrolls running year after year. You’ll be looking for someone steady, stable, dependable, with long career stints. If you’re looking for a long-haul truck driver, you’ll ask how important it is that the candidate is at home with family every night. If you’re looking at last-mile delivery, you’ll want someone who can handle stress, who likes the excitement versus the journey. If you’re looking for someone to deliver packages in the inner city, you want someone with a sense of adventure, with a certain amount of creativity and has the ability to adjust and be flexible in the moment.

Employers in the transportation industry are investing more in technology solutions to identify and hire the best candidates. What kinds of innovations do you expect to see in this area in the future?

STACEY: Companies are now using predictive analytics. Omnitracs uses them as a test tool to identify people who are fast thinkers, quick on their feet, can deal with pressure, can deal with change in direction, and a change in priorities. We’ve had some success with it. But the reality is that it’s a test, and, as a predictive tool, it’s only as good as the test taker. So there will be some refining of processes over time.

I believe we’ll begin to see more pre-hiring tests. Data analytics and AI have become today’s buzz. We will see more of the traditional interviewing done using technology. A bot may be used to ask a series of questions and AI could then rate the responses and create candidate profiles. We’re also seeing more interviews done remotely, leveraging video, to eliminate. When you’re sitting there, face to face, subjectivity does play into your hiring decisions. Companies can avoid the expense of travel and have less subjectivity, if that’s appropriate for the role, using the method of interview. Overall, technology will play a greater role in the identification and hiring of candidates.