THE TRUCK equipment industry is immersed in a rapidly changing environment. Processes are changing so quickly that it's difficult for companies to keep up.
“I remember reading a quote, ‘The future is here; it's just unevenly distributed,’” NTEA executive director Jim Carney said. “That's a good way to look at things, because the future is here, but we react to it differently. Some of us have resources that we can apply to adapt to changes quickly. Others don't. But it's important that we recognize that change is with us and we have to build our staffs to adjust. Changes require knowledge and training of our employees. It's important for us to understand we can't survive in this change environment without training and without educating our employees.
“Ten years ago at (what is now The Work Truck Show), new-product introductions were very rare. Now, everybody recognizes they have to change products and the way they operate in order to survive, grow, and flourish in this industry. The way they're going to do it is by training, education, and hiring of bright, young people.”
The Sales, Productivity, Earnings, and Quality (SPEQ) Plan is the base for that kind of training. The NTEA developed the SPEQ Plan Manual as a training tool specifically for distributor and manufacturer firms in the work truck and trailer industry for two primary purposes: to provide companies desiring to improve their performance with a management guideline and training plan, complete with valuable business improvement processes, ideas, and plans; and to provide companies interested in becoming NTEA Verified Members with a foundation and a reference tool. The manual includes the necessary training programs a company can use to determine that it meets the requirements of the NTEA Member Verification Program.
There are three key themes:
Know what your customers are thinking and establish communications.
Encourage and accept employee involvement and participation.
“This is getting employees to identify with the urgency of the customer and the urgency of the organization, and letting him be one of your greatest assets. They know they can support your business and make things better for your customers.”
Build value in your business.
“It's a very solid message. It's something business owners want all their employees thinking about. It's their future, too.”
Breaking it down
The SPEQ Plan is an information and training program that provides basic information on core business requirements for companies in the truck equipment industry, including sections on sales, productivity, earnings, and quality, with a bonus section on business fundamentals.
Carney and Doyle Sumrall, the NTEA's director of strategic operations, gave a breakdown of the chapters:
Chapter 1: planning (strategic and annual), human resource requirements, succession planning, regulatory requirements, insurance considerations, ASE technician testing and certification.
“ASE certification is a good assurance to companies,” Carney said. “When they see you have ASE-certified employees, that means you have gone a step farther than most companies.”
Chapter 2: evaluate your company's market position relative to customer perception, create your company's sales plan, communicate your sales plan and measure performance; and build your company database, target your sales efforts, train your salespeople. Ryan Matthews' book, The Myth of Excellence, is discussed to help companies get a sense of where they are in customer relations and feedback.
Chapter 3: productivity and how it's measured, focus on customer service and how that ties back to productivity, focus on wastes, strategies to improve productivity, job design and work organization, managing change, safety, employee communications, and benchmarking. John Puckett, president of Fontaine Truck Equipment, contributed greatly to this section.
Chapter 4: the perils of small business, financial discipline, budgeting, key performance indicators, strategic and operating factors that drive profitability, key financial ratios, sales volume vs gross margin, and return on investment. Al Bates contributed greatly to this section, and the NTEA used the distributor-manufacturer profitability survey as a benchmark for some information.
Chapter 5: overview and definitions of quality, four quality documentation levels, a step-by-step approach, a guide to developing a truck body installation process.
The SPEQ Plan is a comprehensive program helping members to maximize results in key areas of their businesses. Each SPEQ Plan Manual includes a 160-page binder and a training tutorial CD-ROM to guide company owners and their employees through the SPEQ Plan. A “Users Guide” is also included to provide a brief overview of all that can be achieved by incorporating the Plan's concepts into a business.
The SPEQ Plan Manual is available for $99 members; $169 nonmembers through the NTEA's Web site, www.ntea.com, or by calling 1-800-441-NTEA (6832).
It provides a road map for training and business improvement for five key areas of business: planning, benchmarking insights, insights to key improvement opportunities, best practices outline, and MVP qualification guidance.
“It's a very professionally developed program,” Carney said. “It's not something we did in the office.”
It uses one-person training (new-hire training, basic training and a refresher for owner or manager), team training (make copies of relevant parts of the manual, review CD as a group), and it ties into other NTEA training opportunities.
“Training has become very important,” Carney said. “I can remember years ago when people talked about how it's been the same industry for 30 years. But what has changed is the sophistication of the business. You have to have a better employee base — employees who address customer issues. You have to be more innovative in the ways you sell something. So many of the products are becoming more innovative. But products don't sell themselves. What sells products are the people and ideas and proven solutions for your customers. You need intelligent people, resourceful people, to make that happen.
“As this industry changes — as we see buyout and equity firms coming in — it's going to become more important that you have them. So you have to develop some training programs within your company. We suggest you use the SPEQ Plan Manual for a number of different training initiatives. When you have a new hire, sit him down with the SPEQ Plan. It's a good basic training program. The productivity section is particularly useful for owners. We suggest you sit down with your shop manager and go through it.”
Appoint a leader
As a training approach, Carney suggested appointing a leader to drive initiatives — someone who must have some responsibility and authority, a champion for the initiatives. He said the company should be made into a learning organization through a management mandate for ongoing learning/training, posting certifications and achievements, planning training as part of the annual plan and reviews, and circulating key publications and books.
“I don't know if too many of our companies are learning companies,” he said. “I think it takes a change in culture and the way we look at things.”
Sumrall said a learning culture “has to be there. You've got to do it as a requirement. Whenever we're attending things, we have a business objective in mind — see the customer, find that new product, or do that business meeting.”
He said he encourages people to ensure that all activity attendees participate in one educational element, a verbal or written report is given to the manager or team, and there is one planned or executed action from each training activity.
“It's a powerful way to start sending the message that learning is important, that we are interested in changing and growing our business, and that you are a part of that,” he said.
Carney said he encourages people to use the SPEQ Plan as a benchmarking and continuous improvement tool by using the elements of the manual to determine strengths and weaknesses, identifying one or two initiatives to implement or improve and tackle them, and by not starting on another one until a measure of success has been achieved.
“I think it's really important to think of this as a journey,” Sumrall said. “You don't start to change culture until you've been doing these things for a while. You're kind of pushing on them, and all of a sudden one day it starts to move away and you realize you're where you want to be. You have to know where you're going. You have to talk about that future state and where you're going. Are we closer to where we want to be?”
Carney said the NTEA is planning a Web site, speqplan.com, that will be available by early May and will include e-mail supports on various issues and blogs.
“We want this to become an interactive thing where you supply ideas, suggestions on how to improve your operations and processes,” he said.