View from the Edge

What Your Purchasing Process Says About Your Culture

In this issue, CarriersEdge co-founder Mark Murrell looks at different purchasing processes and how they reflect the overall culture of the business.

It may seem like an odd combination, but there's a bigger connection between these two areas than most people realize.

We recently announced the 2019 Best Fleets to Drive For, and one of this year's new questions looked at how fleets evaluate and select technology. Since we didn't want participants to answer the question just in the context of trucks and related hardware, we put it at the bottom of the section that talks about how the company uses technology to improve efficiency.

Most people still answered thinking only about trucks and hardware attached to them, but once we got past that and started talking about software-based technology systems, the question itself made people think.

I can appreciate that it may seem strange to look at the process for purchasing technology when evaluating the quality of the workplace, but they do fit together.

At the most basic, companies that truly have a strong culture, and effective management, will have a particular approach to evaluating and implementing technology. Companies that don't have that approach will never have a great culture, despite their other efforts.

Sounds crazy, right? Let's look at how they fit together.

To start with, every company interviewed during the Best Fleets evaluation tells us that drivers are important, that they have some kind of open door policy (maybe a "real" open door policy, a "true" open door policy, or in at least one case, a "no doors" policy) and they'll also tell us that they value driver input on the issues that affect them.

These companies, when asked about operational process and how they work to improve management quality, will also talk about their various internal checks and balances, ongoing efforts to build the effectiveness of the leadership team, and probably the management training courses they're putting people through.

All of those things are fine, and if they're executed consistently, then the company is probably on its way to success. That's where the purchasing question comes in.

If the company really does have a forward-thinking management team, with functional checks and balances, it will come through in the answer to this question. If they really do value input from drivers, that will come through as well.

When it comes to buying trucks, fleets generally do pretty well. Trucks are expensive, so the evaluation process is rigorous and often involves significant input from maintenance, operations, safety, and drivers. In general, fleets have figured out how to buy trucks that work for them.

However, the question isn't about their process for buying trucks, it's about their process for buying other business-related technology. In fact, we specifically avoided discussion of any hardware attached to the truck or trailer, and instead focused on the systems for managing other business functions – things like driver scorecards, HR systems, mobile apps, and other tech that drivers interact with while doing their job. If the fleet is well-managed, and the company culture is collaborative and methodical in its decision-making, then there will be an equally rigorous process for evaluating these systems, with just as much research, discussion, testing, and evaluation before making decisions. If not, then it will come through in the answer to this question.

Friends Over Process

As an example, I'll share a story about a fleet I spoke to several years ago that was using a particular system for managing a particular HR function (I'm being intentionally vague since I don't want to give away who it was). I wasn't familiar with the product they mentioned so I asked about it, and what prompted them to select it. This particular HR function is handled through several well known products, so I was curious why they went with this other option instead of one of the more common alternatives. The answer was that the decision maker was friends with the sales rep, so they didn't really look at anything else.

Hmm, interesting answer. Now, if the fleet was a startup, or very small, that might make sense. When you're small you often do a hundred jobs at once, so if you have simple needs in a particular area you buy from someone you trust. That's perfectly reasonable.

Except, this wasn't a small company just getting started. It was a fairly large fleet (several hundred trucks), who had been around for decades. They had established, fully staffed departments and well-defined processes in most areas. For a company at that stage, there's absolutely no way that they picked the product that was the best fit for the company – they didn't even bother figuring out exactly what they needed. One guy just listened to a sales pitch from a friend and said yes.

Okay, so what if they have a crappy buying process? What does that have to do with their culture?

It reflects on their culture in a couple of ways. First, the decision maker in this case was a departmental leader, but not an executive at the company. That means that the execs either didn't know about this capricous decisionmaking, or they knew about it and supported it (or at least condoned it). Neither suggests a well run organization.

Second, there's no reason to think that that poor judgement and lack of diligence was limited to this one manager. The fact that this lack of process didn't stand out suggests that others were making equally uninformed decisions in their own departments.

So, we've got a company where the execs either didn't know what was going on or didn't bother fixing it, managers making poor decisions routinely (there's no reason to believe this was the only time this manager made decisions in this way), and a workforce stuck with the results. If they're using systems or equipment that weren't really a good fit for the company's needs, that's going to make people's jobs more frustrating and inefficient. If they don't have a professional approach to decisionmaking, then forget about continuous improvement and sober evaluation of company inefficiencies. All of those things combine to create a work environment where problems don't get solved adequately, and workers end up unhappy.

If you're a driver working in that environment, how likely is it that you're going to feel supported? Even if the company says it wants input, are you likely to provide it? And if you do, how confident are you going to be that the input will receive any thoughtful consideration?

Process and Culture Together

That's why the question about buying process is so insightful. It's not because there's a specific set of steps a company needs to be following. It's because the level of care they put into evaluating and selecting technology is indicative of the level of care they put into other things: how methodical they are about deciding how to solve their problems; how inclusive they are in that process; and how well the executive team manages all that. Do they embody the values they're espousing, or is it just lip service?

So, now that the Best Fleets evaluation process is over and I can post this column without providing any unfair advantage to anyone, spend some time thinking about the various systems in use in the company, and the decision process that led you to them. Was it based on a limited review of requirements? Or was it an inclusive, rigorous process that identified the company's needs, shortlisted potential solutions, then evaluated those options with the people directly affected by them?

View from the Edge is a bi-monthly review of best practices in risk management, driver development, and technology for the trucking industry, produced by CarriersEdge.

CarriersEdge provides interactive online driver training for the North American trucking industry. A comprehensive library of safety and compliance courses is supplemented with extensive content creation and customization options, full featured survey tools, detailed management reports, and the industry's first dedicated mobile app for driver training.

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