Change comes in two forms: planned and unplanned. Planned change is when deliberate decisions are made, and unplanned change is triggered by unforeseen occurrences. As our industry continues to rapidly evolve, practicing “change management”—the concept of having a plan for the changes that are under your control, as well as those that are not—is more important than ever.
Planning for the unexpected may sound like a pipe dream exercise, especially when the day-to-day pressures never seem to end, but taking the time to do so can provide a critical lifeline. As an example, let’s examine diving.
As an avid traveler, I enjoy venturing to remote locations with incredible scenery and underwater life. I’ve been a Divemaster for over five years, which thanks to the experience and education, has prepared me to “respond” versus “react” in threatening situations. One of the first things that we learn in the diving community is what to do when someone runs out of air; it is the most repeated skill set that we are tested on and expected to learn.
When presented with an air depletion scenario, many divers say, "You don’t run out of air because you follow a pre-dive safety check." However, despite confidence in preemptive checks, when reality strikes and defies our expectations, it exercises our ability to respond.
On a personal trip years ago, we had been diving all day casually cruising the Fijian reefs beneath Cloudbreak. All seemed normal… and then it happened. I was signaled from my dive buddy that she was out of air; we were 20 meters deep and an emergency ascent to the surface could cause fatal decompression sickness. Within five seconds I had already given my dive buddy an emergency air source, we caught our breath, lowered our heart rates for a moment, and then safely performed a casual ascent to the surface.
Looking back on that event, I never once imagined that we would run out of air. But, because we practiced our training and knew how to handle the sudden, unexpected change, we mitigated the issue, responding instead of reacting.
Now, we all know that our industry may not be quite as breathtaking as diving in the waters off of Fiji, but the importance of planning for the unexpected is still equally as important.
Incorporating Change Management into Operations
To help plan for what’s unseen around the corner, our team at CXT Software incorporates change management into our business in a variety of ways. Our technology team is continually evaluating the larger technology highway to ensure that our software remains relevant within the tech landscape. We study trends and behavioral shifts, both within our industry, as well as parallel industries, considering how change will impact our customers and our business. We listen to what our customers are experiencing and spend time understanding the challenges and opportunities that they are navigating and use that insight to roadmap our long-term software development strategy. This last item is an important differentiator for us because we invest heavily into development, averaging thousands of hours per software release, which means that when unique requests come our way, such as an uber-esque interface where customers can track their driver in real time, we have the native environment to execute a solution without sacrificing integrity.
Plan for the Unexpected with Cross-Training
Cross-training for key positions is critical, especially as last-mile and route companies struggle to retain talent or begin ramping up for a busy holiday season. Look at key positions, including dispatch, customer services technical support, and make a plan that will address how to keep operations moving smoothly when an unplanned staffing change occurs. Make sure that you have a minimum of one to two people cross-trained as a short-term solution, and consider succession planning to address long-term staffing needs. When hiring, look for candidates who are flexible, adaptable and who are willing to learn, then invest in their development.
Training will pay off tenfold when it becomes part of a company’s regular practices. To help our customers scale, train, and cross-train their workforce, CXT Software developed CXTU, an easy-to-use, comprehensive online learning center. Customers have 24-hour access to training, replacing the “train-the-trainer” model. Quick-reference troubleshooting and scenario-based “how-to” modules are designed to meet the specific needs of job functions and are organized into basic, intermediate, and advanced tracks. Trainings can be accessed using a smartphone or mobile device, providing employees with the flexibility to access training modules when it works for them.
Workflow Optimization is an Investment
A key question to ask when practicing change management is, “How can we do this better?” Now, this is a question that folks in our industry are constantly asking, but it is framed a little differently when going through a change management planning exercise. By optimizing workloads and delivery routes and automating whenever possible, companies can ease pressures on their workforce, while keeping up with demand. And, when the unexpected occurs, such as peak delivery window extending into a longer event, pressures will still be high, but operations will not completely melt down.
Fully embracing optimization requires companies to identify technology as an investment not an expense. This means not only investing in software to manage workflow and processes, but also investing in appropriate hardware and staying up-to-date with software upgrades. Staying current with upgrades ensures that you have access to the newest time-saving features and advancements that take place a few times per year.
There is a wealth of change management articles and how-to blogs available online that provide great tools for small and mid-size businesses. While the planning process may be daunting, just remember that one of the benefits of this planning exercise is that operational improvements and new business opportunities are often uncovered during the process.
About the Author
Shaun Richardson is the Vice President of Technical Operations at CXT Software. CXT Software is a leading provider of last-mile and route logistics solutions.