Driver Retention = Discipline

The core of the Truckload Carrier Association TPP’s newly released driver retention project plan is a focus on managerial discipline. It lays out a step-by-step process that is designed to layer a continuous focus on creating a driver-centric culture at any given trucking company, starting with the commitment by the senior management team to the successful execution of the program.

Through the process of rolling out the Driver Retention Project Plan to a new company, we encourage an on-site visit and workshop that I facilitate. Having done these on numerous occasions, I can usually expect that one of the common concerns that will be revealed is that of consistency among the team members to the retention cause, which of course, is crucial to the successful execution of the Driver Retention Project Plan.

The manifestation of this concern among senior managers is in and of itself very telling of the culture of the business and it is a likely sign of a company (although it may be successful) that is likely not performing to their maximum potential. What I mean by this is that this is likely a business that operates in silos and not as a high performing, focused unit. Each department is trying to keep up to the pressures of the day, living in the whirlwind. They are not genuinely supporting each other and suffering when it comes to focusing on either a common purpose or accomplishing a WIG (wildly important goal).

One of the benefits of the Driver Retention Project Plan is that at its core, it strives to hold people accountable for staying to the project plan. If an individual is not onside, they will be called out on their lack of focus by other members of the team. Hopefully, this is done in a supportive way (as is encouraged). This support is a core commitment that each senior manager makes to the others as part of the program, and it is critical to its success. The program also addresses the blame game, finger pointing and dodging accountability, which of course is nothing but child’s play and a waste of spirit. The turnover in this industry and at each company I work with is a result of the company’s entire personnel’s efforts to get where it is – period.

Taking full responsibility and ownership of the situation each company is in is the starting point for the program. There is no future in finding bad guys or playing the blame game, none. Everyone at the company and everyone reading this article for that matter has done everything perfectly correct and in perfect order to be where you are today. In your career, in your relationships and in your communities, you have to own that paradigm. Not to say that challenges and in some cases significant problems didn’t present themselves to you, but you decided how to react to those issues. It was you that did so, so own your successes, own your failures, own your past and own your future.

Without this core understanding as a starting point, the Driver Retention Project Plan (and any other WIG for that matter) has a very narrow chance of ever resulting in the success that it was designed to achieve.

Where this gets extremely difficult is when a small company begins to grow and the owner starts to see gaps in the performance of the managers. With growth comes more rules and structure, it has to, or there would be mass chaos. Systems and processes are brought into the business to handle the volumes in an orderly fashion. Unfortunately, what gets revealed quite often is that long time senior managers that were a perfect fit when the company was small now struggle almost daily under the new rules and so do their results. In a nutshell, they are too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet.

If you let the situation continue then your company will underperform and the individuals will continue to suffer trying to keep afloat, even though they will argue until the cows come home that everything is hunky-dory. Hopefully, there is a lateral move you can make that will appease the situation. If not, ownership has some difficult decisions to make that have to be dealt with.

The paradigm shift happens when a company starts to differentiate between the friendship and results when the company was a small company where everyone wore all the hats and depended on everyone on the team doing whatever it took to get the job done. That friendship relationship was critically important. Now you’re a mid-sized company and the manager has a department full of people under them; their job now is not to be the doer but to be the coach and trainer. Completely different role; the new role objective is to create and support a highly competent workforce; they can do this by removing obstacles to performance, challenging norms, coaching to results and doing everything they can to make their own job obsolete.

I have been in this situation on more than one occasion. I have had managers who were in the office 80 hours a week, creating and then burying themselves in spreadsheets. In the meanwhile, their departmental results were abysmal. I had a manager who was with me when I was small and we were very close but he was suffering when we began to grow. I remember specifically, after a round of performance reviews, asking him to show me his reports. His department was underperforming to expectations and set goals and yet almost every performance review he did with his people stated that they were individually doing great. This is a doer and a friend, not a manager. Of course, everyone wants friends but as a manager, that must come after respect is earned. Even then, the manager must be the authority in the relationship and needs to understand the responsibility that comes with that position, and that takes discipline.

Best of Success in 2019 Folks and 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.