Retention – Building A Base

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.