How to Build an Effective Driver Recruiter Strategy

Found in Wikipedia; a strong culture is said to exist where staff respond to stimulus because of their alignment to organizational values. In such environments, strong cultures help firms operate like well-oiled machines, engaging in outstanding execution with only minor adjustments to existing procedures as needed.

Conversely, there is a weak culture where there is little alignment with organizational values and control must be exercised through extensive procedures and bureaucracy.

Research shows that organizations that foster strong cultures have clear values that give employees a reason to embrace the culture. A ‘strong’ culture may be especially beneficial to firms operating in the service sector.

In my mind the key word in all of this is values. Every company has a visible set of values whether they know it or not; whether they have formalized those values in a company statement or not. They exist, and they are visible in many ways – both positive and negative.

This is the essence of culture; you cannot impose values onto people as values develop over time and depend on one’s environment and life experience. Whether we are conscience of it or not, we typically align ourselves with people, friends, spouses and work environments that align with those values. When we don’t align ourselves into like values we struggle and typically we end up in divorce, leaving our jobs, leaving a misaligned community etc.

Whether you realize it or not your most successful relationships likely mirror your own values. We like it when our values align. It fits our comfort zone, we typically know what to expect and over time these relationships strengthen. We build a team we can depend on and get comfortable with and these relationships endure the test of time.

If you are still reading this and I haven’t bored you to the point that you have turned the page then here is my point. I have tried to help many companies get their heads around why their efforts to have their current driving force assist them in the recruiting of new drivers has not worked. And I have tried to show them why their efforts haven’t worked to the extent that they expected and that they would like. Here is what most of them don’t realize. It is their culture that is restricting their results. There are other factors but primarily, it comes back to culture.

If your culture is weak I guarantee that you have poor communication channels and likely no communications strategy within your business. A good communication strategy would encompass all your drivers, all contractors, employees, customers, suppliers, enforcement and the communities you service. Sounds like a monumental job but it really isn’t. Really it is quite easy but it takes focus and structure.

If any of you have worked within a culture where communication is poor you know that it is the worst situation you can be in. It is ‘check your brain at the door and do no more or no less than what you were hired for’. It’s boring and unrewarding and it sucks.

Drivers who are asked to assist in recruiting new drivers to this type of company will resist for a number of reasons. Here are a few: first and I think foremost, they don’t have any confidence that you know how to run your business. They think you are going to over hire and threaten their livelihood. I drove for ten years and I heard it over and over again. Believe me this is true and if you have poor communication, why wouldn’t they think that way? They are in the dark about what you might need because you haven’t told them anything that is going to motivate them to help you. So why would they? Certainly not because you offered some never-never plan as a monetary incentive like the one that pays a cent a mile for a year or quarterly installments designed to appear as though there is a windfall coming sometime in the future. I think some of these are designed to motivate drivers to recruit for the company and to incentivize the driver to stay a little longer at a carrier to realize the future gain. How’s that going? My guess is that it does neither very effectively.

If your culture is strong, an effort to get drivers to assist in the recruiting effort looks entirely different. First, you have developed an inclusive value statement. You’ve done this by asking everyone in your business to contribute to its content and you have asked them to bless the outcome. You’ve asked them; does it cover their and your core values? Can they work within the confines of it?
Secondly, your people know what is going on within the company because it has a strong communication strategy. It informs them, keeps them abreast of what is happening, it ask their opinion, it tries to involve community, customers, suppliers and even reaches into individual employee’s families. You have told them and they believe you when you say that your customers are busy and are demanding more trucks to service their needs. You need the additional drivers to keep the accounts you have. There is no threat to livelihood of the current drivers and in fact, it is preservation of the account and their miles that you are trying to achieve.

Finally, there is not a never-never plan as an incentive to help your company hire new drivers. You pay cash, in full, the next pay period after the new recruit turns the first mile. Period. Your drivers have been schooled as to what type of individual you’re looking for, they have shown the potential candidate the value statement that the company works under and they have stressed whatever information you feel necessary that the potential new hire must understand and agree to, to be successful at your company. You then screened them, you tested them and you accepted them and you put them in the truck. If the individual doesn’t work out, how is that the problem of the driver that recruited them? You owe them so pay them. You do it for your in-house recruiters so why not you’re on road recruiters? If you want to make an impact with your on the road recruiters, this is how to do it.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the great opportunity to speak at an event at the KSM Transportation Advisors Client Seminar. This is a first-class, accounting/consulting firm that continually impresses me with their integrity, innovation and dedication to the industry. Every six months or so they assemble a large number of their trucking clients, primarily made up of senior leadership, along with a number of leaders from non-clients to a half day education session at their facility in Indianapolis. I was asked if I would speak to the group on my take on the current state of driver retention. Also on the bill was my partner Chris Henry from StakUp to speak of TPP (Truckload Carriers Profitability Program) on benchmarking, industry trends and the nine traits of successful trucking companies. You can find that valuable information at

When I was originally asked I quickly jumped at the opportunity and I admit I was more than a little eager because as I explained to the crowd, usually when I speak to the topic of retention, the crowd is made up of recruiters and safety personnel. Don’t get me wrong, I have great admiration for the job these folks do, especially in light of what they have to deal with if they are in a high turnover environment. So, I warmed myself up to the crowd by suggesting to them that at every retention session held, at any event, that THEY should be the ones in the room along with their other senior managers. When ATRI (American Truck Research Institute) surveys the industry (as they do once a year) and the results show the driver shortage as the #1 issue to the industry and driver retention down at #5, I see a complete disconnect and it starts with them; leadership.

Does it ring untrue to you as it does to me that suggesting that the primary issue in the trucking industry is a shortage of drivers when that same industry historically bleeds turnover at close to 100%? Talk about the emperor’s new clothes, this makes no sense. There is a large volume of carriers who have their heads in the sand on this thing. They don’t get it and it saddens me. There are a number of trucking pioneers that dedicated themselves to building this great industry’s legacy. They did it by starting associations, fighting ridiculous legislation brought forward by uniformed politicians, organizing and leading. We do them no honor when we allow an environment of distrust permeate the industry between management and it’s driving force that we have named churn. This has gone on for far too long.

The other thing that riles me to the bone is that the situation is entirely fixable. Bin there, done that, bought the tee shirt. Where a lot of it fails is that leadership has to look itself in the mirror and recognize that it starts with them. They have to step up and tackle the issue and make the decision to take on the challenge and beat it.

I’m a huge association fan, as any of you who have been reading my articles for a while know. Having said that, I am also well aware that associations can be a harbinger for common lack of performance. So, reports from associations come out suggesting that the latest number say the industry is at 100% turnover – and members with their peers at industry events will actually suggest that their doing pretty good at 80%. I have actually seen it many times. Talk about hysteria. News flash buddy; at 80% you suck, period.

The nice thing for me at this stage of my life is that I don’t need to hold back; my future does not depend on anyone’s opinion of me but my own. Telling a room full of senior executives that they need to get their heads out of the sand on this thing is kind of fun I gotta say. I don’t do it in a rude way but in a direct way, as is my nature. Did they listen or did they tune me out? Because that’s the real test and I have to say, as usual, some did and some didn’t. I got a number of business cards shoved in my hands, I talked to a smaller carrier whose turnover was at 30% and they thought it was way too high. Outstanding. Then to my initial pleasure I was asked by a 5000-truck fleet that I know has triple digit turnover if I would share a copy of my presentation with them, which I did. Then in their email to me they thanked me for sharing the content and said they would forward it on their recruiting department. Man are you kidding? You didn’t hear a thing I said!

At any rate, I’ll carry on. I have a couple items that I sell related to turnover that I believe have value but I’m really neither here nor there if folks buy them. My real interest and passion is trying to get the message out that high turnover is not necessary. It can be beat; your safety record will improve dramatically; your insurance cost will go down along with your recruiting cost and guess what? Your bottom line will soar. It makes me wonder what business some carriers think they’re in.

I also gave them this to think about. If you have high turnover, your people do not believe what you say; they distrust you. I think this is a hard message for many of the egos in the room to handle but it’s true. If you are going to take this issue on it starts by self-reflection, looking in the mirror, somehow someway the culture in your business has turned sour and that’s on you. If you can’t get by that then you are in for a hard road to hoe in the years to come. Turnover will not be able to be compensated by just hiring more volume. The tide is turning on that strategy in my humble opinion.

Ray J. Haight

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.