For some things, the old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is great advice. That saying doesn’t hold true in business, though. No matter how well things run today or how much success your company has achieved, it’s essential to constantly adapt and improve. In this column, Bruce Blaise describes how KAG 20/20 will reshape the company for continued success in the future.
Q: What is KAG 20/20?
A: This may sound a bit extreme,but it’s nothing less than our company-wide effort to transform KAG. It will refine and improve virtually every aspect of our company by the year 2020.
KAG is a genuine American success story, growing from a small, Ohio-based carrier to becoming North America’s flagship tank truck transportation and logistics provider. We obviously did a lot of things right to have built so much value for our customers. But no matter how good you are at what you do, you can always be better. With KAG 20/20, we are going to be better. We are going to take our company to the next level, further growing KAG and serving more customers with a wider range of higher-quality services.
Q: How exactly will you do that?
A: We did a lot on introspection, talking with employees and customers about how well we function today. It was rewarding to discover that we had all the fundamentals in place. We didn’t uncover any big problems we had to solve or shortcomings to correct.
But we didn’t pat ourselves on the back and continue doing things the way we had been. In my letter to employees announcing KAG 20/20, I quoted Max De Pree, who said “We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.” As part of our introspection, we also asked employees and customers to describe their vision of a KAG at its best. What would that look like?
We used this input to identify and prioritize areas for potential improvement. Then we went back to our employees and said, “Here’s where you and our customers said we should be; how do we get there?” The result was a list of 158 specific initiatives.
Q: What kind of initiatives?
A: There are 11 groups of initiatives that include just about every aspect of our operations, including technology, driver recruiting and retention, dispatch, maintenance, sales, and parts & services. We relied on some outside help to create a structure or framework for KAG 20/20. But once we had that framework in place, this became a 100 percent homegrown effort. Each initiative has one or more “owners,” KAG employees who have committed in writing to accomplish their initiatives. We created a Transformation Office, staffed by a small group of some of our best and brightest, whose job it is to keep KAG 20/20 on track and on time.
Q: With so many initiatives do you really think you can do the job by 2020?
A: Absolutely. There is a lot of work to be done, but our employees are driven by a tremendous desire for continuous improvement. They’re proud to be able to say, “We give our customers a level of service no one else can match.” They want to build on that accomplishment and be even better at serving our customers in the future.
We couldn’t pull off KAG 20/20 if it was being executed by a small number of executives. That’s why ownership for the initiatives was spread over a large group of our middle-level managers. These initiatives will touch every single KAG employee and independent operator in some form or fashion. We are making improvements in every corner of the company. This is a broad team effort.
We’ve been talking a lot about KAG 20/20 internally, and I can tell you that everyone is energized by the challenge, eager to play their part and committed to completing it by our deadline. They see this as an opportunity to do something significant for the company and the industry, something they can look back on with pride and say, “I helped with transforming my company.”
Q: None of the initiatives include a reference to customers. Isn’t that odd?
A: Not at all. Some company mission statements focus strongly on customers. We’re taking a page from Richard Branson’s management book. He said “Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers.”
The stated purpose of our company is “To deliver a better life for all who call KAG home.” We put employees first, support their efforts and fully engage them in the business. That gives us an energized team of nearly 10,000 people who are determined to deliver an unrivaled level of service to our customers. That’s the power of putting employees first. The word “customer” may not appear in the list of KAG 20/20 initiatives, but the beneficiary of every one of those initiatives will be our customers.
KAG’s first 27 years have been an exciting time of continued growth and expansion of our geographic reach and range of service capabilities. Looking down the road, the improvements we’ll create through KAG 20/20 will position us for even greater company success, and greatly enhanced levels of service for our customers. We will live up to the key element of our vision statement, of revolutionizing transportation and logistics within the liquid bulk industry, and both our employees and customers will benefit as a result.