Information to inspiration

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We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” - Randy Pausch, Carnegie Mellon professor and virtual reality innovator.


You‘ve probably heard about Randy Pausch‘s famous “Last Lecture,” given in September 2007 to a packed house at Carnegie Mellon University. The original concept for this lecture series proposed a singular challenge to leading thinkers in their respective fields: if you had only one last lecture to give, what would you talk about?


A great idea, for sure, but Pausch took it to a whole new level for a tragic reason: it really would be his last lecture, for he was dying of liver cancer when he gave it. And though he lived longer than the three to six months his doctors projected, the cancer did finally claim his life last week at age 47.


His talk, however, morphed way beyond merely a “last lecture” and became a sensation, viewed by over six million people via the Internet (at last, a great example of what this technological invention can do for good in the world). I‘ve linked to it below so you can see it in its entirety: it‘s about an hour and 16 minutes long and well worth your time.




OK, so why should truckers care about a lecture given by a dying professor entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” a talk that doesn‘t even touch on trucking industry issues?


Actually, managers and executives should get the most out of it, for a couple of reasons. For starters, only the first half of Pausch‘s speech talks about how he achieved his childhood dreams - the other half is about how he helped OTHERS achieve theirs. He also took several things “off the table” in his words. “We‘re not going to talk about things that are even more important than achieving your childhood dreams. We‘re not going to talk about my wife; we‘re not talking about my kids. Because I‘m good, but I‘m not good enough to talk about that,” he said at the beginning of his lecture.


A second one comes up when Pausch recalls going to Dean Gene Block‘s office when he worked at the University of Virginia to see if he can take a sabbatical to work for Disney‘s Imagineering group - one of Pausch‘s childhood dreams. Pausch said that Block told him the following: “If you‘re asking me if it‘s a good idea, I don‘t have very much information. All I know is that one of my star faculty members is in my office and he‘s really excited ... so tell me more.”


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(The great Randy Pausch at the podium, delivering his "Last Lecture.")


Throughout Pausch‘s speech, the topic of “information” kept coming up - in terms of how the right information helped him achieve his dreams, allowed others to help him reach those dreams, and finally allowed him to in turn help his students achieve theirs.


Let‘s face it: being a truck driver is still a childhood dream for many. I‘ve talked to countless people, men and women from all walks of life, races, and creeds, that all dreamed about being a truck driver when they grew up.


But for many, it turns into a nightmare - low pay, long stretches of time spent away from family (note how Pausch said that family trumped childhood dreams every time), and disrespect from all corners. When a dream curdles like that, it‘s toxic on so many levels. Yet the right information can helps fleets short circuit that transition from dream to nightmare, if the information gained is acted on appropriately.


Which leads me to Tenstreet, LLC, of Tulsa, OK. They recently launched Tenstreet Xtend, a system that‘s designed to help establish effective communications channels between employees and management in order to quickly identify and correct issues/concerns that need immediate attention. In essence, it‘s a retention tool that forces fleets to contact drivers at regular intervals throughout their career - every 30 or 90 days, for example - to make sure that if they have issues, those issues get addressed.


“It enables employees and drivers to feel more connected to their employers,” said Craig Johnson, CEO of Tenstreet, founded in 2005. “That, in turn, helps reduce driver turnover, builds driver loyalty, while giving fleets the opportunity to run their operations more profitably and efficiently with the best possible group of drivers.”


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Johnson stresses this is particularly helpful during the first 90 days of a new driver‘s hiring - a period in which most accidents occur and turnover rates are especially high. “It creates opportunities for fleets to identify and react to recurring issues even if those issues are specific to a given terminal, driver type or any other variation,” he says.


Dale Reagan, head of sales for Tenstreet, walked me through the program, which uses a specific “script” of questions to collect data that can used to track trends. For example, if drivers are having pay issues, the questions help winkle out the exact nature of them - late or missed payments, all miles not accounted for, etc. - so it can form reports from the data. As he cost of recruiting drivers is so high - some $5,000 to $8,000 per driver - technology like this helps fleets nip problems in the bud before they escalate to the point where the driver walks.


“The whole point is to change the driver experience,” Reagan told me. “Instead of them calling their dispatcher, then their recruiter, then payroll or the safety department, they get one contact who send the problem to the right person. And these problems must be addressed in a certain amount of time, or the system automatically sends emails to executives higher and higher up the chain of command.”


Basically, there‘s no loafing with this technology - no more sticking a problem in a folder and forgetting about it. Melanie Ward, in charge of the new driver “help desk” at Tango Transport, has used Tenstreet Xtend over the last year and a half to help rebuild her company‘s driver culture. So far, turnover has plunged from 139% to 87% since Tango began using the program to help improve management of its 700 company drivers as well as the owner-operators working for the carrier as well.


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“It helps us validate the importance of the driver in our company,” she told me. “We‘re not dealing in gray anymore when it comes to their issues - the system helps us find solutions to their problems and find them faster. I run a report on driver issues every week and share them with our executives, allowing us to take the temperature of the fleet any number of ways - by division (flatbed, OTR), by driver seniority, etc. - to see how we are doing.”


Tenstreet is but an example of some of the simple but brilliant ways technology is being applied to trucking to help this industry get the information necessary for keeping the dreams of driving a truck for a living alive and healthy, to the benefit of all concerned - especially those with their hands on the wheel and gearshift.

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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