There are certain traditions in our business that have the capacity for effecting great change, but often fail to live up to expectations. Perhaps none of these has quite the potential for frustration or self-deception as the manager’s route ride.
Too often, the typical route ride can run into the ditch for a number of reasons, but one of the most obvious ones hinges on the familiarity that may exist between a manager and his or her employee or protégé. Strict objectivity is difficult to maintain in the very best of circumstances, and no person is immune to the feelings, both positive and negative, that can color human relationships over an extended period of time. This simple fact of humanity is why an opportunity for giving critical feedback may often devolve into a ride-along. In such circumstances, critically important issues like maximizing the value of customer communication or keeping an eye open for observance of proper safety procedures can fall by the wayside.
Sound familiar? Let’s be honest. The route ride is probably your best opportunity to provide meaningful training in a real-world environment with your business in the balance. But changing the outcome from a low-value buddy trip to a high-value exercise with the potential to positively affect profitability depends completely on a manager’s ability to observe, evaluate and coach their players while the game is being played.
Harnessing this opportunity takes knowing exactly what you want to accomplish during your time together and executing a plan that delivers results. Next time you ride with your route rep, here are the top eight things to have on your road map, bar none:
- Get on it early. A manager who arrives at the last minute is sending a message to the route rep. It’s not a good one, for either of you. The route ride should begin when the route rep begins preparing for the ride. This gives you, the manager, a window into your rep’s day. How well do they prepare before they leave the facility? Do they properly check the load before they leave? How long do they take getting their ride organized
- Document the trip. Ideally, you should have follow-up documentation from your last route ride. This gives you the opportunity to mentally check the things you’ll be looking for on this trip and, just as important, communicate these to the rep. Using a two-part form gives you both a copy for review at the end of the ride. The form should include both physical tasks and communication skills and allow objective scoring for each separate activity. It should be as specific as possible, since you’re both going to use it as a guide for both coaching and improving. Click here to download a sample Value Add Route Ride Training Form.
- Be positive. Sure, you’re scoring someone. But be positive while you’re doing it. Be effusive in your praise for things well done. Your ability to create an overall positive environment and tone will set your critiques and corrections apart, making them more memorable. And, more actionable.
- Safety first. You can’t afford to wait if you see something that’s a safety issue. Safety concerns are a direct threat to your business, so you have to address them immediately as they happen. Waiting to provide feedback will make the infraction less memorable and possibly forgetful. Safety is compliance. It has to take priority.
- Coach the whole game. A good manager will seize each opportunity throughout the day to provide high-value input for their people. Doing so creates the perception – and the reality – that you are genuinely interested in their development as business representatives. We recommend practicing the sandwich technique when giving feedback. No matter the point you’re making, begin with a positive opening. Then, make your feedback as specific as you possibly can, winding up with a positive conclusion.
- Demo behavior. Actions speak louder than words, so do not hesitate to act. If you see something your rep is doing that you think is subpar, model the behavior you want and expect on the very next call. Doing so will allow your rep to see precisely the change you want to effect. Then, let them try it out for themselves. They will be more comfortable knowing that both of you have equity in their self-improvement.
- Finish strong. It’s not about finishing early; it’s about finishing well. Review the checklist you’ve just developed, go through the scoring and make sure you both sign the route ride form. When you give the rep their copy, make sure they know it’s their action plan and set a date for follow-up. Stick around and observe the tasks they do at the end of the day, providing coaching if it’s applicable. The route ride isn’t finished until the rep heads home.
- Follow up. So far, so good. But if you skip the follow-through, it could all be a waste. Effective coaching is a dynamic process that relies on change through continuous improvement. Before you set your rep’s next route ride, review the form so you know what you’re looking for. This is your game plan that will show improvement from the last ride.
Of course, while the route ride is your best shot at improving your team, it’s also your best opportunity to become a better manager. So, you should always think about it in that light.
How often you do the rides is up to you, as is whether you do them randomly or routinely. There are two schools of thought when it comes to transparency. Some managers prefer their people not know when they plan to ride. Others prefer letting their people know on a regular basis, so they can keep the event in their schedule. There are good arguments for both.
More important is your ability to make the route ride a vehicle for the continuous improvement of each member of your team. Doing that means riding on a consistent basis and using the steps outlined above to change just another mindless routine into a high-value tool that delivers tangible and predictable results.