Tackling Driver Turnover – Part Four – Communication or Social Needs

An old saying goes, “Sometimes silence speaks louder than words”. If your company doesn’t have an effective, robust, communication strategy, then I would guess that your retention numbers are suffering much from the neglect. Humans are by nature social animals that need to interact, and that transcends beyond family and friends. For a driver, beyond their private lives it exists when they are on the road with fellow drivers and of course, with the company that they work for. Thus, maintenance, safety, administration, sales and of course operations all play a role.

I have said for years that if you have two people in an office, you have a rumor mill, which is okay if you acknowledge it and fill it full of all the good things that happen in your company regularly. Rumor mills have a negative connotation because they are usually the starting point for gossip and unsubstantiated claims. So how do you stop this? Well, it’s easy. What you do is formalize a communication strategy and then, like any other strategy, you work the plan by filling the information channels with all the good stuff and if you look, there is plenty of it to be had.

A couple of principles come to play on this subject. First, when a company shares information with you, it’s because they trust you and they want your input. A company that does not communicate effectively is telling their people that they were hired to do a job, to follow the role description of their job and nothing more – if you do that, you will fit in nicely here. This scenario is a problem if you are taking on your company’s retention issues because you are going to need all hands on deck and you will need volunteers for specific action teams. You will require everyone to understand their role in driver retention and that transits their normal position. You will need all the folks inside the walls to bring their ideas and input; people are no longer checking their brains at the door.

The second principle is that a good retention strategy has to early on identify whom they are communicating to and, your silence here speaks louder than words. Who is our audience? The obvious group is your drivers. Here is the caveat. If you remember back in the first article we talked about values and how we were going to interact with all of our relationships. When we talk communications, it’s the same thing. I have had folks at some companies get stuck here; this is not an effort to retain drivers at all cost or to kowtow to them. You are in an exercise in becoming a value-driven company whose culture will have a cornerstone that is driver-centric and that’s a much different scenario.

When I was in my position as President of a mid-size carrier our audience was as follows: Drivers and Owner-Operators and their families, customers, suppliers, the local and national press, the communities we had terminals in and governing bodies we interacted with. If you look at each of these sectors, they all influence driver turnover. Each of these sectors perceives your company in their reality. What are you doing to reflect your company in the best possible way to these folks? This might look like a complete drag on resources and here’s the beautiful thing; in the long run, it isn’t. Sure it will take some time to assemble a team to get going and they will need to work together and meet weekly for an hour or so. However, a fantastic thing happens when folks start talking to each other. They begin to see the big picture and how they interact with each other and how what they do affects someone else down the line. In the end, the minimal time spent in meetings over time is far outweighed by time saved in the efficiency that an effective communication strategy will bring.

So far we have set a firm foundation for the retention effort and we know where we are in the marketplace with driver wages. We have rededicated ourselves to the safety initiative that is paramount to our future success.

Now we have begun to make ourselves sticky from a driver’s perspective. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re making progress. If you believe as I do that humans are by nature social animals, you have to think that this paradigm is supported with the relationships we have: our marriages, our home communities, our friends. We cling to these relationships and communities because they are where we are comfortable; they fit us. We have a sense of belonging and we defend those communities with everything we have.

What you are doing by initiating a formal communication strategy is you are beginning to build that positive sense of community at your trucking company. Drivers will always be aware of what other companies are doing with wages and sign-on bonuses and you can’t stop that. However, what you can do is begin to focus your efforts on disseminating all the positive things that your people do daily. I’m talking about employee promotions, Driver and Owner-Operators of the month, new grandchildren, new babies, clean inspections, highway heroics, new equipment coming into the fleet, driver profiles and so on. There are all kinds of things happening every day at your company that you can talk about, so share them all.

In Talking Turnover – Part five, we are going to talk about esteem needs or driver recognition. Drop me a line if any of this resonates with you and if you’d like to discuss this further.

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.