At Ward Transport & Logistics, we have always placed great value in our 1,500 team members, with a cultural belief of, “I Matter — I understand my role and its impact on the company’s key results.” The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and 2021 has reinforced this belief 100 times over.
Due to sickness, COVID-19 exposure, competition in the industry, retirements and other factors, like many companies across the country, we have found ourselves without key people in impactful positions. What has become very clear is that every role is crucial when trying to serve customers.
In a global pandemic, absenteeism may be unavoidable at times, but its impact can be mitigated through daily engagement and investment in your people. Employee engagement through pre-shift meetings and constant communication are key and should be a daily expectation of leadership. If a team is engaged, informed and, most important, its members know they are appreciated, it has been proven that a company will likely retain those employees and, consequently, their work product will remain strong.
We have also worked to assemble cross-functional focus groups, a critical component for any business. These focus groups are effective in facilitating teammates to better understand one another’s jobs and the needs of their colleagues. Cross-functional groups can also help understand, from a corporate perspective, how leadership can improve the overall employee experience.
As at many companies, facility upkeep and cleanliness have also become a target for improvement over the past year. We have more than doubled our annual budgeted funds for facility remodels and upgrades, for two reasons. First, during a pandemic, it is important that teammates have a safe and clean work environment in which to perform their job duties, so they don’t feel endangered by coming to work. Second, making investments in new paint, flooring or restrooms shows employees that they are appreciated and that their comfort is being considered.
The events of the past two years also taught us that we suffer from “key man syndrome” in some locations. In some cases, shifts, teams or work groups are too reliant on one person to get the job done, and when that key person is unable to work due to sickness, childcare issues, or other concerns, the performance of the entire operation or team suffers.
The way for businesses to address this issue is through people development by growing the corporate training team to assist in that effort. Additionally, challenge leaders to train their replacement — because that is what good leaders do. Training and development also show employees that they are valued members of the team and integral to a company’s success.
The pandemic has been a strong reminder that people make the difference. As business leaders, we must work every day to ensure our teams are engaged, safe, trained and, most important, appreciated.
Bill Ward Jr. is president of Ward Transport & Logistics