Tackling driver turnover part 4: Communication and social needs

(PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK)

(PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK)

By Ray Haight, TCA Retention Coach

An old saying goes “Silence speaks louder than words” and this can be especially true if your company doesn’t have an effective, robust communication strategy in place. If you aren’t using your words to effective communicate, I would guess that your retention numbers are suffering much by the neglect.

Humans are by nature social animals; the need to interact transcends beyond family and friends. Beyond their private lives for a driver, it exists when they are on the road with fellow drivers and of course with the company that they work for. Maintenance safety, admin, sales and of course operations all play a role in this.

I have said for years that if you have two people in an office, you have a rumor mill, which is okay if you acknowledge it and fill it full of all the good things that happen in your company regularly. Rumor mills have a negative connotation because they are usually the starting point for gossip and unsubstantiated claims. So how do you stop this? By formalizing a communication strategy and then like any other strategy you work the plan by filling the information channels with all the good stuff, and if you look there is plenty of it to be had.

A couple of principles come in to play for me on this subject. First being that when I share information with you, it’s because I trust you and I want your input. A company that does not communicate effectively is telling their people that they were hired to do a job; follow the role description and nothing more, and you will fit in nicely here. This scenario is a problem if you are taking on your company’s retention issues, you’re going to need all hands-on deck. Additionally, you will need volunteers for certain action teams and will require everyone to understand they play a role in driver retention. We need all our folks inside the walls to bring their ideas and input; we are no longer checking our brains at the door.

The second principle being that your silence speaks louder than words, but who is our audience?  A good retention strategy has to identify who they are communicating to. The obvious group is your drivers as after all, we are talking about driver retention. Here is the caveat, if you remember back to the first article in this series, we talked values and how we were going to interact with all of our relationships. When we talk communications, it’s the same thing. I have had folks at some companies get stuck here; this is not an effort to retain drivers at all cost or to kowtow to them. You are working to become a value-driven company whose culture has a cornerstone that is driver-centric that’s a much different scenario.  

When I was in my position as President of a mid-size carrier, our audience was as follows: Drivers; owner-operators and their families; customers; suppliers; the local and national press; the communities we had terminals in; and governing bodies we interacted with. If you look at each of these sectors, they all influence driver turnover. Each of these sectors perceives your company in their reality. What are you doing to reflect your company in the best possible way to these folks? This might seem like a complete drag on resources and here’s the nice thing, in the long run, it isn’t. Sure it will take some time to assemble a team to get going, and they will need to work together and meet weekly for an hour or so. However, a fantastic thing happens when folks start talking to each other - they begin to see the big picture and how they interact with each other and what they do affects someone else down the line. In the end, the minimal time spent in meetings is far outweighed by time saved in the efficiency that an effective communication strategy will bring.

In this series, we have so far set a firm foundation for the retention effort, and we know where we are in the marketplace with driver wages. We have rededicated ourselves to the safety initiative that is paramount to our future success.

Now we have begun to make ourselves sticky from a driver’s perspective. We're not where we want to be, but we're making progress. If you believe as I do that humans are by nature social animals, you have to think that is paradigm supported with the relationships we have our marriages our home communities, and our friends. We cling to these relationships and communities because they are where we are comfortable, they fit us, we have a sense of belonging, and we defend them with everything we have.

What your doing by initiating a formal communication strategy is you’re beginning to build that positive sense of community at your trucking company. Drivers will always be aware of what other companies are doing with wages and sign-on bonuses, and you can’t stop that. However, what you can do is begin to focus your efforts on revealing all the positive things that your people do daily. I’m talking about employee promotions, driver and owner-operator of the month, new grandchildren, new babies, clean inspections, highway heroics, new equipment coming into the fleet, driver profiles, and so on. There are all kinds of things happening every day at your company that you can talk about, share them all.

In Tackling Driver Turnover Part Five were going to talk about esteem needs and driver recognition.