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Has your business embraced the next generation of leaders?

Running a business is hard but rewarding. Letting go of control and handing responsibility to new leaders can be even harder. Succession planning should be a priority whether you’re running a small family company or an international enterprise. Preparing ‘safe pairs of hands’ at all levels is critical to the organisation’s continued success – well before you start to step back. 

Every generation is different, which means every generation of leaders is different. The key to success is understanding how they differ – what they value, what motivates them and how they measure success. 

Start with recruiting

The transport and logistics industry is struggling to attract people. As of late 2021, there were more than 20,000 truck driver jobs listed on SEEK. With the average driver age already past 50, recruiting should be a top priority. Many of the current drivers will retire from the industry over the next decade or two, taking their experience with them. 

Ideally, you want your inexperienced staff to learn from your veterans, to ensure your company’s safety and continuity. It will also allow your company to identify potential leaders and start preparing them to take on more responsible roles. But you also want to keep in mind how the industry is changing so you can recruit appropriately, as Athol Carter, Central Queensland Manager and Compliance Manager Fleet Operations at Frasers, explains: 

“Cultures are in transition, and the actual work itself is different from what it was even ten years ago. 

“There is more technical equipment involved and employees increasingly require a level of mathematics, technology and computer skills.”

Diversity will save your legacy

In 2021 it’s essential to look beyond the traditional candidates if you want to ensure a healthy supply of drivers, technicians, back-office staff and leaders. That may mean thinking differently and hiring candidates into roles they don’t traditionally fill. 

“There are old-school values and traditions we must never forget or lose,” says Athol. “But we want new leaders to pick them up and carry them forward, keep building their businesses.”

Embracing diversity can become a source of competitive advantage for your operation. It introduces new thinking, new skills and taps into new pools of staff. 

“How important is diversity within a leadership group?” asks Athol. “It’s critical. You can take bits and pieces from everyone. There’s new ways and old ways … it’s always better to have more to draw on.”

By taking on such hires and coming to understand their aspirations and motivations, you’ll also make your workplace more attractive to a broader range of employees in the future.

It’s also critical to recognise any unconscious biases. It’s not enough to say you embrace diversity and expand your job candidate search. You have to back it up with meaningful changes to operations, procedures and facilities. 

To avoid accidentally disadvantaging non-traditional hires, you try blind recruiting when you review CVs (looking at them without names). Or try conducting interviews with another person so you can check that your thinking isn’t skewed. You could also ask yourself (or the applicant) how to make the role suitable for the right person with the right attitude – e.g. considering job-sharing or part-time where practical.

Learn about what your staff want and need

Diversity means allowing your business to evolve by attracting and retaining good people motivated to create good work environments. 

As noted, part of this involves understanding and accommodating different priorities. For the workers starting their careers now (and those who’ll be starting in the next decade or so), work-life balance is valued highly, often more so than making a bit more money. Working for an environmentally and socially aware company is essential to many employees, as is having up-to-date equipment and systems. 

Create the workplace you want

Are your workplaces welcoming to your new hires? Eliminating bullying, hazing and inappropriate language are obvious steps but there are more subtle ways to create the right environment.

For example, if you hire workers with different social, religious or cultural backgrounds, do they feel socially excluded? Do you accommodate their beliefs and requirements? These might include breaks scheduled around prayer times or alternative public holidays. 

If you’re bringing in more women, do you have enough toilets and change rooms? Other changes that might seem small can make a big difference; if you have a canteen does it offer vegetarian food? What about policies for recycling office and industrial waste? Do you offer employees a choice of super funds?

How to measure your progress

Staff turnover is a key measure of how attractive your workplace is. Other more proactive ways to understand this could be:

  • Exit interviews. You can also learn a lot from exit interviews when staff leave. Take every departure as an opportunity to learn about your business from the employees’ point of view. You may discover some surprising – and practical – insights. 
  • Staff feedback. Seeking employee feedback on the company as part of annual reviews, toolbox talks, company ‘townhalls’, and other meetings can provide valuable information about your company's direction.

Towards leadership

The key to great succession management is having choice: choice of candidates, choice of positions and choice for employees. 

“Never stop learning, and seize every opportunity for professional development,” says Athol. Whether that means providing opportunities for your incoming generation or keeping current leaders up to date, exposure to new ideas and skills is critical as our industry changes.

“Just one thing, one idea or one technology can make a difference.”

If you can take steps now to provide your employees with choices and options to build good careers in a workplace that respects them, then you’ll have little trouble finding new leaders in the future.


  1. This article has been developed as part of NTI’s The Business of Safety series with the aim of helping transport and logistics businesses become safer and more sustainable. The Business of Safety is funded by the NHVR’s Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative, supported by the Australian Government. Information in this document is a guide only. It does not take into account your personal or business circumstances. Whilst all due care has been taken, you must not rely on the information as an alternative to legal, legislated regulatory and compliance requirements associated with your business activities. NTI.M002.29.26112021

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