by Tim Brady, Business editor

“No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. We must learn to see the world anew.” — Albert Einstein

may bizAlbert Einstein’s theory that we must change our mentality to solve our problems is a fitting lesson for trucking, one that can be incorporated into your operation through the simple process of brainstorming.

Periods of slow freight are a perfect time to seek out ideas from those within your organization on how to improve the efficiency and profitability of your operation. Involve your bankers and insurance agents as well.

Start by organizing several different brainstorming and problem-solving sessions, which should include both group meetings and one-on-one discussions with individual employees and contractors. Include mechanics, dispatchers, drivers and salespeople in the mix. One helpful tip, though, is to conduct the group brainstorming sessions at an off-site location. This will provide a more creative atmosphere that encourages people to think outside the box.

For the best results, an effective brainstorming session must have a structure and purpose. In other words, you don’t want to be all over the map.

The first step is to bring together department heads and ask each one to list the top five challenges in day-to-day operations. You also need to list your top five challenges for the entire company. Compare the lists. Are there any challenges that show up multiple times? If so, these then become the first challenges for which you’ll have the brainstorming session participants devise solutions. (Strive for a minimum of five and up to 10 challenges for the brainstorming session.)

Determine the date and location of the brainstorming session. Plan two and one-half hours for five challenges, three and one-half hours for 10 challenges.
Assemble your brainstorming team into groups of five to seven people. Pick one person to be the group leader. The leader is responsible for maintaining order and keeping the group focused on the specific challenge at hand. The group leader will also write down all the solutions and ideas recommended by each member of the group.

GRAND THINKING

Each group tackles one challenge at a time in no more than 10 minutes. It’s important the group not get bogged down in discussing the details of the suggestions. The point of this exercise is to list as many solutions as possible in those 10 minutes.

It’s also important that the group leader allow each member time to present his/her idea. This is accomplished by working in a clockwise fashion around the table, giving each person an opportunity to provide their solution. Provide each person with paper and a pen to jot down their ideas while waiting their turn. The group leader repeats the process of going in a clockwise fashion to each member for as many times as the 10 minutes permits. The more ideas and solutions, the better.

When the 10 minutes are up, give everyone a five-minute break while you collect the solution lists for that challenge. Then distribute the second challenge to the groups. Do the same for all the challenges, and don’t forget to collect the solutions after each 10-minute period.
Once all the challenges have been completed and solution lists given to you, dismiss everyone except your department heads. Take a flip chart and list each challenge at the top, one per page.

Gather the solution lists from all your groups for each specific challenge. List a solution below the challenge; each time that solution comes up on another group’s list for the same challenge, put a check mark next to it on the flip chart. Upon completion of this tally, you’ll see a picture emerge of the most popular to the least popular solutions for each challenge.

Now follow these steps:
  • Input the tallied lists from the flip charts into a word document and provide copies to each department head. He/she can review each solution and pick the most viable one for each challenge.
  • Give each department head only the challenge(s) for their specific department and have them list the top three solutions for the challenge(s).
  • Bring each department head into a one-on-one with you and look over all the lists for his/her department—the original, the department heads’ overall solutions and the solution he/she came up with—and figure out which three are doable. Develop a priority list of which solution needs to be completed first, second and third. Check the ROI, both in time and dollars. What is affordable?

FOLLOWING THROUGH
You then need to implement and prioritize each department’s solutions. Which one will have the greatest overall benefit to your company in terms of increasing efficiency, revenue and profit?

Here’s the brainstorming session in a nutshell:
  • Each group is dealt one major problem constraining your company—and given 10 minutes to solve it.
  • Working under the gun, they rise to the challenge and hammer out bold new solutions.
  • This is repeated until every problem has multiple solutions on the table.
  • A leader from each group writes down the groups’ solutions, which are then presented to you (the owner/manager) and to your department heads to complete the process.
Challenging your staff with a dynamic, fast-paced matrix forces the best solutions to the top. To build a strong company, you need to rely on the team you’ve assembled to take your business plan and make it work.

Who better to go to for solutions to the challenges your company faces than the people in the trenches helping you grow?

Contact Tim Brady at tbrady@write­uptheroad.com or call 731-749-8567. Join Brady in the Trucking Business Community at www.truckersu.com.