Tackling driver turnover part 5: Recognition or esteem needs

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

By TCA Retention Coach Ray Haight

Recapping what we have learned so far from this series of articles would have us remember step one, which was creating a firm foundation for change starting with a commitment from the senior leadership. Step 2 was determining where you are in the marketplace for driver compensation and matching your position to your company’s growth strategy. Step 3 emphasized the critical role that safety plays in the retention and recruiting of any trucking company. Step 4 was the creation of a communication strategy that includes all of our stakeholders; drivers, owner-operators, their families, customers, suppliers’ people inside the walls and the communities in which we operate.  

Step five attempts to recognize people doing the right things and to reward that behavior by shining a light on the individual or individuals involved. Do you believe that people want to be with winners? Does being with winners inspire you to win also, to try harder for a better result? The life of a truck driver is stacked against such an atmosphere if you dig into it. Fighting traffic daily, attempting to stick to a predetermined schedule of pickups and deliveries, understanding the basics of the machine you are in charge of daily and, on top of all this, the basic human need coming from operations to find bad guys when things go wrong.

Think of all the aspects that go into moving a load of freight. First, a salesman finds the load and starts the process of making sure the potential customer's needs can be fulfilled. They will need to know the weight of the load, the value of the load, traffic lanes, pick-up and delivery schedules just to name but a few pieces of information they need to get accurate. Then, the quote is assembled and given to the customer. If successful that information is typically provided to a customer service representative whose job it is to liaison with the customer and gather all the detail needed to initiate the pick-up of the freight. There could be up to five people from various departments that would have some role to play in setting this initial movement. Then, this accumulative information is sent to the driver to execute with precision to ensure customer service is spot on so that the company can enjoy additional volumes from this shipper well into the future.

Now, as we all know with this many moving parts, it is not unreasonable that something may go wrong. When it does the first question that is usually asked in your typical trucking company is “who was the driver on that load?” In our misbegotten quest to see who screwed up, we typically start with the driver, and that’s just the world they live in. A favorite driver saying is “you’re as good as your last load.” One way to fight this tendency is to adopt a process of analyzing what happened by disassembling each part of the process to see where things broke down. We're not looking for bad guys here, we're looking for errors or omissions from our documented process or SOP (Standard Operating Process). Was it written wrong, is it stale dated, etc.? If none of these things are apparent then and only then might we have a performance issue.

Recognition can come in many forms. It can be company-wide with best fleets to drive for or a national fleet safety award. It can be recognition of the individual driver for safe miles, longevity with the company, or on road acts of bravery to name but a few possibilities. No matter what form you decide on I will guarantee you that even the biggest, toughest truck driver in your fleet will walk a little taller when you sincerely thank them for what they do. I have seen it time and time again, the scenario of “who was the driver on that load” is what they're used to so thanking them will catch them off guard, to begin with, in fact, most of them will be shocked and a little wary as to the company’s motivation.

Pick your way of doing it but make sure it is genuine. Thanking people for just showing up and being average is not what this is about, we're looking for above and beyond acts. These things happen in your business every day; all you have to do is keep on the lookout for them. The funny thing is that once you start the process, the “above and beyond” acts will happen more and more often.

In my company, we started each day with a huddle of our operations folks, six dispatch boards a planner and a dispatcher for each. There were three questions for each person: what is your biggest challenge for the day ahead, which driver went above and beyond yesterday and which driver needs to be brought in for a coaching opportunity? What we were doing was to raise the bar, not only by recognizing the star of the day but also by coaching a future star. Again, I must stress, we’re not looking for bad guys; we're looking for ways to improve our service by identifying behavior that contributes to our winning culture.

I often quote coach Jimmy Johnson, whom I heard at a general session during a TCA event some years back. During the Q&A portion of the meeting, he was asked how he managed the young new millionaires that came to the Miami Dolphins training camps each year. His answer was striking to me, which was, as leadership if you talk to people the way they are they will remain that way, talk to them the way you want them to be and they will become that. Robust systems supported by dedicated individuals who recognize and reward high performance creates a winning team and all that comes with that.  

If you would like to discuss your companies’ current situation concerning your turnover, please drop me a line, and we can discuss potential strategies for your company moving forward.