• Matt Harlos

The Characteristics of Successful Teams and Operators

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Strong leadership is at the core of success.

At the end of the day, operators are really just trying to solve problems for their customers.

“The leadership teams sets the tone, vision, and objective.”

Cecil Ledesma, VP Strategic Partnerships

But to solve those problems, you need strong leadership, and a good team. Your leaders need to actually lead, constantly, by example. They need to inspire their team, and not just be present for a quarterly review. They need to learn from their team, because that input matters tremendously.

If you’re truly out to solve your customer’s problems, then you need employee feedback to get better. Because the best way to serve your customers is to build a great team that can get the job done well. How do you build that team?

First, define the areas that you’re struggling. Do you have problems with retention or efficiency? Do you feel like you and your team aren’t engaged with your customers? Defining these internal problems is the first step towards creating positive change in your organization.

“Employees are starved for recognizable leadership.”

Cecil Ledesma, VP Strategic Partnerships

External factors should be taken into account as well. In our industry, it’s easy to get locked into the day-to-day. Dealing with customers, ensuring product is ordered and stocked, and just managing the minutia can cloud what’s important. Having a solid vision for your organization or team’s future is imperative for ongoing success.

In this industry, foresight is one of the greatest skills a leader can have. The ability to look ahead and identify new trends in technology or best practices allows you to prepare your organization for the future before it’s knocking at the door. Seeing the benefit in a long-term plan that won’t have any effect on what’s happening today will help ensure that you aren’t swept away in a wave of ‘new’ when it finally arrives.

A leader today can’t just tell people what to do. They need to lead by showing and doing. Become the example your employees need to see to be successful, show your team that you’re in it with them and that their success is your success.

“Be the example for others to follow.”

Cecil Ledesma, VP Strategic Partnerships

Get out of the building. Literally, leave your office and go engage with your customers. The single greatest way you can learn what your customers want is to ask them. Your drivers, the people who spend the most time with your customers, can share this with you as well. But nothing beats just getting up, visiting your clients, and learning why they keep choosing you as their service provider.

You need to understand your customers. Their wants and needs, and how they think your service could be better. It may be more comfortable to work from your office, and have your team handle some of the more laborious tasks, but nothing beats the in-field experience of actually being there.

Gimme co-founders Cory Hewett & Evan Jarecki with one of Gimme's first customers.

Build a better team by being a part of it.

“Two words: be there.”

Cecil Ledesma, VP Strategic Partnerships

Be there for your customers. Be there for your team. Share your vision, be it simply for your team or for the business as a whole. Show your people that you desire for them to grow and evolve in what they can do at your organization. Cultivate that growth so your team can always do better. The process of helping promote that evolution starts simply by you being there.

Every person has someone they look up to that has set a path that they’d like to follow. When you lead by example, you can be the one blaze that path for your team to follow. Show people what success looks like at their job, by exemplifying those values yourself. Show that you’re willing to learn from your team, so you can more effectively bring them to success.

“Take a day every once and a while to just learn.”

Evan Jarecki, Chief Customer Officer

How do you find the right people for a role that you can help guide towards that level of success you want to see?

More specifically, with a challenge for many in this industry, how do operators like you find the right talent for route drivers?

The best method is to start organically. You can easily put up a job posting, but then it’s down to the luck of the draw. Every now and then you’ll find the perfect fit, but more often than not it’s imperfect. The organic method is to grow from within.

Drivers know drivers. They are your strongest resource when it comes to finding people that would do well in that type of position. They know the ins and outs, the good and bad, and they’ll know if someone is a good fit or not. Let your existing team do the recruiting for you, and they’ll gladly do so when you make them feel valued and useful in their roles.

Empower your team to think like mini-CEOs. Especially with drivers, who operate very independently throughout their day, encourage them to act as their own boss. Leaving room for them to be able to think for themselves and evolve within their role will let them do a far better job.

Evan Jarecki & Rickman Ryals out in the field with a driver.

Focus on efficiency less, and more on quality.

Micro markets have helped a lot with the focus on quality. Markets drivers specifically need to be more independent: they’re merchandisers just as much as they are drivers. Gone are the days of the driver being nothing more than a vehicle to bring product from the warehouse to the point of sale. Now, they need to be able to think on their feet, pay attention to detail, and find new ways to make your business (and themselves, if they’re on commission) more money.

A route driver role is a customer service and sales job rolled into one. This one individual is in charge of ensuring their accounts have what they need, are happy with their service, and enjoy having your company as a provider. Your driver is the one who ‘Gets out of the building’ every single day.

Learn from your drivers, something that can often be achieved by doing their job alongside them. Take a day to shadow a driver, working with them to really see what their day is like and how you can help them succeed.

“Treating route drivers like just drivers is a mistake. They need to be seen as frontline brand ambassadors.”

Cecil Ledesma, VP Strategic Partnerships

When filling a route driver position, you aren’t just looking for a transportation method. This is someone who will, at least to your customers, represent your brand. This person needs to think for themselves, have a personality, and do their jobs well at the same time. A customer will interact with your driver far more than anyone else at your organization, including the owner.

You can always find a hundred people to just stock product, but there’s a good chance they’ll only see it as something temporary, or ‘just a job’. You need people that see it as a career, that enjoy carrying your flag right into an account’s home base. They need to represent your values, while still performing a job with a goal of making your organization profit.

Let’s look back at everything we’ve talked about. If you take anything away from this, it should be these three things:

1. Be on site, listen to your customers, and learn from them. Get out of the building.

2. Lead by example for your team. Put yourself in their shoes, and show that you’ll be there for them every step of the way.

3. Find ways to empower your employees, like route drivers, to think like ‘mini-CEOs’ who are growth-focused in their role.

How are you finding ways to empower your employees to be a better version of themselves?

How often do you ‘get out of the building’ and learn directly from the customers you’re serving?