Driver Turnover: Is Plug and Play the Right Way?

The issue of driver turnover has plagued the industry for over four decades and it seems to me that trucking companies should have made better progress by now in bringing it under control. The fact is that many trucking companies see the published numbers coming from the American Trucking Association and the Canadian Trucking Alliance and as long as they’re on the low side of what the estimated average for the industry is at that time, they think they’re doing well. It’s mass delusion and it makes no sense to me, especially when the numbers usually hover around 100%. There is nothing normal about this situation.

I always find it enlightening to see what new ideas industry suppliers come up with. These are very inventive folks and they try to entice companies to buy an off the shelf solution to their problem. I’ve seen many come and go over the years. Most are presented by well-meaning folks who look at trucking with its turnover issues and see great opportunity. Where there is pain there is opportunity to provide a solution and to profit. It’s a created industry all on its own.

I call these purchase opportunities “plug and plays” because, although they may offer some short-term gain in one area of the contributing factor of driver turnover, they never really get to the core of the issue. I’m talking about the quick fixes that seem to be designed to attract and retain drivers through a new gimmick or the latest offering designed to have a driver believe that they will be happier at trucking company ABC because of the utility of the gimmick in play. I don’t want to identify the companies that provide these items and services because many of these plug and play are quite good – as far as they go. Which in my opinion, is not far enough. There are a great number of these ideas or gimmicks that would work great if they were introduced in addition to the right effort and coordinated with other remedial actions, Because a single plug and play does not attack retention at its core, they are not a solution to driver turnover.

They say there is no magic bullet to this thing called driver turnover but I think they are wrong and that there absolutely is a magic bullet! It’s not easy, nor is it a quick fix but there is a cure. But as deep as the problem is, that’s how deep you need to get into your company to start attacking driver turnover. You’ve got to strip it down and build it back up again, focusing on those many, related things that undermine driver retention. You’ve got to build it up on a firm foundation and unfortunately, many are just not interested in putting in the kind of effort necessary to solve the turnover problem.

I do not hold myself out as any kind of savant on this issue; I have been at the helm of a company that had 120% turnover. It was at a time when the company I was running was growing at an exponential rate and I just lost sight of what was going on with our turnover. Call it greed; call it getting lost in the frenzy of the growth and distracted by the whirlwind; whatever it was the buck stopped with me. I let it get out of hand. Might sound a little cliché, but culture is a delicate thing and once it gets out of hand or off side, you’re in trouble. You’re on a slippery slope and you don’t even know it until it’s out of control.

The actions I took to find a solution for driver turnover and make it a priority for our company is what gives me license to offer the advice that I do. We, and I mean we, myself as President, my partner and our senior management team, took our driver turnover numbers from 120% to 20% turnover in under 24 months. We went from needing to hire 300 plus drivers to maintain a fleet of 275 trucks over a one year timeframe to needing to hire less than 60 in twenty four months for a fleet size of 290 trucks.

We did this by starting at the start. No gimmicks, no plugins, no smoke and mirrors; we started by taking a good hard look in the mirror. We took responsibility for our situation. This is big for me. It doesn’t matter what situations you or your business are in, change starts with acknowledgement that your own actions put you in the situation you are in right now. We could be talking driver turnover, personal relationships or career status. Whatever it is, you need to own it. Playing the blame game is for suckers and losers. You have to own it to change it – there is no other way.

We also recognized that we needed some help. We secured the help of a very good consulting firm from outside the industry to ensure we got off to the right start with our efforts. In addition, leadership agreed that we were committed to each other to see this thing through because without that kind of rock solid commitment to the cause, it will falter. So that was our starting point. We were determined to get a handle on our situation and plot a path to rein in our out of control turnover. We had successes; we had failures; we had stumbles; we had heroes and we had stars and we had to cut bait on some folks.

In the end the gains so outpaced the sacrifice it was amazing, and in retrospect, we could have called it a safety initiative. Our accident rate plummeted and so did our insurance cost. We could have called it a profitability initiative because as we streamlined our processes to become driver centric, we also became much more efficient and also much more profitable. Bottom line: if and when you decided that high turnover is within your control and you can get a handle on it, you will see gains that you never expected and wonder why you didn’t do this before now….

Safe Trucking

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.