Do’s and Do Nots

Question: How does a trucking company differentiate itself from other companies vying for the same drivers and then afterward, achieve best in class driver retention? I know I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few, and I have a few to share with you. Let’s call them the Do’s and the Do Nots; these are some of the popular traps many companies fall into when they think they have a focus on their retention recruiting issues.

Do Not under-communicate; this is the road to ruination. Every company has a rumor mill, both inside and outside of it’s walls. If you don’t believe this you are doomed to become a victim of some of the nastiest thoughts you can conceive of running through the thought train of your Drivers, Owner Operators and inside workers.

Do establish a formal line of communication with all your stakeholders including inside workers, customers, communities you operate in, suppliers and of course, your Drivers and Owner Operators. Fill that rumor mill with all the good stuff that happens every day at your company; get ahead of the naysayers. An effective communication strategy is a baseline for positive company culture.

Do Not not know your numbers. I always find it amazing when I ask ‘C’ level folks what their turnover numbers are at their company and they can’t give me a firm answer. You can see them squirm. This driver issue has been the most critical problem in the industry for years, yet some companies don’t even measure their turnover. Ask these same folks their insurance numbers, what they are paying for iron, fuel and so on and they have a quick hard number. What’s that about?

Do know your numbers. In fact, get very granular with them. Overall turnover numbers are not hard to calculate. In fact, here is the formula: Drivers no longer with the company (YTD) divided by elapsed days X 365 divided by TTL # of Drivers. Here is the short term or under the one-year formula: Drivers no longer with the company that were hired in the last 12 months divided by Drivers employed in the previous 12 months. Now, do this same calculation on each of your dispatch boards. It’s guaranteed that you will find wide variations in these numbers. Now, drill down to find out why the low turnover boards are the way they are and why the high turnover boards are the way they are.

Do not think you know where you are in the marketplace for driver wages without being able to defend your position with facts. Many high turnover companies don’t know where they stand against the competition that is operating in their very own backyard. Knowing driver market wages and where your company stands against the competition are critical to how competitive your company is to attracting new drivers to your business, period.

Do incorporate your marketplace position with what you are paying Drivers and Owner Operators into your strategic planning sessions and in your budgeting process. If you, for instance, have a plan to grow your trucking company, does it not make sense to ensure that you are in the upper quartile of driver wages in your sector and geographically? It’s just common sense but I see this all the time. Do you wonder why you have trucks parked against the fence? This could be easily a big part of the issue.

Do not impose your values on your workers. It doesn’t work, even though you were well-intentioned when you formed your company value statement. When you think about it, we each share many of the same core values but don’t let that fool you. How each of your people had these values imprinted on them will be vastly different and context is everything here.

Do invite all your people to participate and contribute to your company value statement. Only then will you have the buy-in of new and existing Drivers and Owner Operators. Let’s roll play this out; “So, driver, before you start here, this is our Value Statement. It was derived by the owner of the business or maybe the senior management team. You must abide by its intent or we will have an issue”. As opposed to this paradigm; “So new driver, here is our Values Statement. It was assembled with input from our Drivers, Owner-Operators, inside workers, shop mechanics and leadership. Please understand, this is how we collectively decided how we will run our business. So, running against its intent will have consequences”.

Do not play the blame game; it is a waste of spirit. Finding bad guys in your current situation will do nothing to help where you are at with your numbers. In fact, it will likely make things worse. The key is finding a way to drive the company’s efforts and concerns to everyone in the business, especially your frontline folks. This is hard for many companies, especially those with autocratic leadership styles. You know them, they don’t want to let go of any decisions but will find fault when it all goes south.

Do let your people in on your objectives and ask them to participate in the effort. If you challenge them and ask for their help, you will be amazed at what they will come up with. Asking someone for help is empowering to them and checking one’s brains at the door to fulfill the job description is a horrible way for one to spend the day. There is excellent potential with all your people so unleash new retention objectives, let them loose and see what they come up with. These are the folks who see it and get it and you may be surprised that they want to help. So ask.

Every company I deal with is wildly concerned with where tomorrow’s drivers are going to come from. While looking into the future is usually a smart strategy, what about keeping what you have? How are you tackling that issue? Looking to the future when the current driver pool continues to churn at a ridiculous rate makes no sense. If addressing driver retention is not part of your trucking company’s daily culture, you’re missing the solution you will need to succeed as a carrier in today’s reality.

Take good care.

Ray J. Haight

About Ray J. Haight

Areas of Focus: Operations, Recruiting & Retention, Human Resources With a career spanning four decades, Ray has been involved in all facets of the North American Trucking Industry.