Lessons in Letting Go: How a Trucking Group Streamlined Staff
No organizational shakeup that involves reducing staff is easy, and no two are the same. American Trucking Associations CEO Bill Graves shares some lessons from his organization’s recent trip down that road.
Streamlining, reorganizing, downsizing: These are all ways for an organization to say it is cutting back on staff, which is what American Trucking Associations announced it was doing last week.
The move comes as the trucking industry continues to struggle to recover from the Great Recession.
“This is the same thing all of these companies have either gone through, are going through, or will be going through,” said ATA CEO Bill Graves. “Every business is striving to do more with less, and so our members come to our meetings, and they look at the association that they pay their dues to and say, ‘Are they doing the same thing?’ They expect us to embrace this lean process, which is very reasonable.”
Under the new structure, all of ATA’s core functions will fall under three areas: national advocacy, communications and public affairs, and finance and operations. Each area will be led by a vice president who will report to Graves.
“I think we fell somewhat into the trap of continually elevating [staff], retitling positions to try to accommodate some very fine people. But at the end of the day what we ended up with was an organization that was way too top-heavy,” said Graves. “Prior to this reorganization I had nine direct reports. It made it difficult for us to quickly and strategically make decision about the direction for the organization, because we had so many cooks in the kitchen.”
Making the decision to reduce staff is never an easy one, but constant communication throughout the organization can ease the stress and fear that such a change can cause for staff members who remain, Graves said.
“You have to immediately let everyone in on the restructure—not just what the plan looks like, but how it impacts them,” he said. “Jobs 1, 2, and 3 were all to communicate to everyone affected by the restructuring as to how it was going to roll out and how it was going to impact their jobs and the totality of the organization.”
Externally, Graves’ priority was getting the message out about who would be in charge of the new areas of focus.
“A big part of what we do, and what any association does, is relationships,” he said. “The sooner people understand who to reach out to and to communicate with on any issues they might be working on, that just makes for a smoother transition. Letting as broad a base of interested individuals know how you’re moving forward is an important part of the process.”
The one thing that Graves would change about how the reorganization occurred: He wouldn’t have waited so long to do it.
“It’s a natural inclination to not want to rock the boat or to upset things as they are if they are working reasonably well,” he said. “But most associations don’t have the luxury of standing still. We have to take what resources and staff we have and always strive to operate at a higher level, achieving even greater results.
“It was a difficult series of steps getting us there, and if I had any advice for anyone who was at least pondering this, it would be to just do it. Don’t hesitate, because time is not your ally.”