It Ain’t Nuclear Surgery

How many times have you been stuck trying to make a specific task or project perfect and then got completely frustrated to the point of quitting when, in fact, you had probably nailed the task some time ago? My partner Jimmy Papineau and I have been working for just under a year on a retention project for Vertical Alliance Group and their Infinit-i platform. The project consists of the development of a year-long instruction series on how a carrier, who might have poor retention numbers, say 50% or higher, gets that percentage number down to an acceptable retention level of 20%.

We all occasionally fall into what I call a rabbit hole wherein we are so determined to get something perfect that we don’t see how good it already is. During those times we have to remind ourselves to not let perfection become the enemy of good! I am pleased to say we are almost finished and should be to market soon with a product we are very proud of and that we call ‘Driver Retention Masterclass’.

This product is a retrospective look at the carrier I was President of. It examines how the senior management team and I had finally had enough of the treadmill of high turnover and we drew a line in the sand and said, ‘enough is enough’. In this program we get in depth and detailed as we dive deeply into each and every aspect of the effort. It was a fun project to write and it brought back a lot of great memories.

Here is a quick overview of it. Like all great challenges you start with a good hard look in the mirror. How did we get here? How did this happen and how do we get started? The answer to the first question is one of the hardest to grasp and is fundamental to the success of the project. It goes like this; in order to make sustainable long-term change, you must own the circumstances that put you where you are today. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about your personal relationships, your career or your business. You did everything in perfect sequence to get yourself where you are right now. Playing the blame game does you no good and adds no value to correcting whatever the issues are. Regret for the past is a waste of spirit and a huge waste of time.

In my observations, drilling down on the root cause of turnover is rarely done nor is the responsibility taken by those who should accept it. Trucking companies buy the latest toys and services that suggest that driver loyalty can somehow be bought. It’s never successful and any gains realized don’t last. Why? Because the root problem is still there and all the company has done is to layer a Band-Aid over it and expect that the problem is fixed. All this does is make the turnover slow down for a short while and then the new Band-Aid becomes the expected, or the company again starts doing the same things so now it isn’t special anymore and the slight improvement that was gained is lost.

So how do you get to the root cause of turnover at your company? In all truth you likely won’t. But you can get to work on building a new culture at your company. What is required is stripping the whole thing down and building it back up again by building a sense of community that folks will want to work at; a company that they’ll be drawn to.

Two questions for you. First, what is the one thing that 99.9% of all human beings share with each other, the one common thread that holds modern society together? The answer is core values as we all share commonality in the basis of our core values. It doesn’t matter if its man, woman, race or religion. So now we are stripping it down to the metal – the next question is for your Drivers, Owner Operators and all the folks inside and outside the walls. Here it is: what core values would a company have to have that would make you want to work there?

A simple question but the responses to this simple question are the building blocks for a sustainable, driver retention effort. If there is a company out there that has high turnover and they don’t start with this simple formula then they will never get their numbers under control. The beauty of the exercise is that over 80% of what they will get in return will be words like honesty, integrity, loyalty, respectful, consistency and on and on.

So if you accept that the vast majority of your people have these items as part of their core value system, what does the company you work for do to foster or support these values? What happens when these core values are broken? Is there a reaction?

Without a stated set of common core values that are used to guide the company and its people in the right direction, the cultural identity evaporates. A driver or any person for that matter that works for this type of company has very little reason to stay when something more appealing comes along.

The kicker for me is the driver who is looking for a job. If I were this guy I would be looking for a company that not only displays their value statement on their sleeve but on the walls of the office and terminal, on the side of trucks, everywhere; a company that also has the reputation of backing up their values with swift action.

So, can turnover be reduced by simply building a sense of community based on common values within your company? I am pleased to tell you that it is just that simple. Of course, a hundred moving parts go into doing it right but at the end of the day, as our good friend Don Cherry would say: “it ain’t nuclear surgery”

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.