Tackling Driver Turnover – Part Five – Recognition and Esteem Needs

Recapping what we have learned so far would have us remember step one which was; creating a firm foundation for change starting with a commitment from the senior leadership. Part 2 was determining where you are in the marketplace for driver compensation and matching your position to your company’s growth strategy. Part 3 was emphasizing and focusing on the critical role that safety plays in the recruiting and retention of drivers in any trucking company. Part 4 was the creation of a communication strategy that includes all the stakeholders, Drivers and their families, Owner-Operators and their families, customers, suppliers, people inside the walls and the communities in which we operate.

Part 5 attempts to recognize people doing the right things and to reward that behavior by shining a light on the individual or individuals involved. Do you believe that people want to be with winners? Does being with winners inspire you to win and to try harder for a better result? The life of a truck driver is stacked against such an atmosphere if you dig into it. Fighting traffic daily, attempting to stick to a predetermined schedule of pickups and deliveries, understanding the basics of the machine that they are in charge of daily and on top of all this, navigating through the fact that operations often wants to find a bad guy when things go wrong.

Think of all the moving parts that go into moving a load of freight; first, a salesperson finds the load and starts the process of making sure the potential customer’s needs can be fulfilled. They will need to know the weight of the shipment, the value of the load, traffic lanes and the pick-up and delivery schedules to name but a few pieces of information the salesperson needs to get accurate. Then the quote is assembled and given to the customer. If successful, that information is typically provided to a customer service representative whose job is to liaison with the customer and gather all the details needed to initiate the pickup of the freight. There could be up to five people from various departments that would have some role to play in setting this first movement. Then this accumulated information is sent to the driver to execute with precision, and to ensure that customer service is spot on so that the company can enjoy additional volumes from this shipper well into the future.

Now as we all know, with this many moving parts, it is not unreasonable that something may go wrong. When and if it does, the first question that is usually asked in your typical trucking company is: “who was the driver on that load?” In our misbegotten quest to see who screwed up, we typically start with the driver and that’s just the world they live in. A favorite driver saying is: “you are as good as your last load”. One way to fight this tendency is to adopt a process of analyzing what happened by disassembling each part of the process to see where things broke down. We’re not looking for bad guys here; we are never looking for bad guys, we’re looking for errors or omissions from our documented process or SOP (Standard Operating Process). Was it written wrong? Is it stale dated? If none of these things are apparent, then and only then might we have a performance issue.

Recognition can come in many forms: it could be company-wide with Best Fleets to Drive For awards, it could be national fleet safety awards, it could be recognition of an individual driver, of safe miles, of longevity with the company, for on road acts of bravery to name but a few possibilities. No matter what form you decide on, I will guarantee you that even the biggest and most hardened truck driver in your fleet will walk a little taller when you sincerely thank them for what they do. I have seen it time and time again. The scenario of “who was the driver on that load” is what they are used to so thanking them will catch them off guard. In fact, most of them will be shocked and a little wary as to the company’s motivation.

Pick your way of doing it but make sure it is genuine. Thanking people for just showing up and being average is not what this is about. We are looking for above and beyond acts. These things happen in your business every day. All you must do is keep on the lookout for them. The funny thing is that once you start the process, the “above and beyond” will happen more and more often.

In my company, we started each day with a huddle of our operations folks; six dispatch boards with a planner and a dispatcher for each. There were three questions for each person: what is your biggest challenge for the day ahead, which driver went above and beyond yesterday (to make sure they are appropriately thanked), and which driver needs to be brought in for a coaching opportunity? What we were doing was to raise the bar. Not only by recognizing the star of the day but also by coaching a future star. Again, I must stress, we are not looking for bad guys; we are looking for ways to improve our service by identifying behaviors that contributes to our winning culture.

I often quote Coach Jimmy Johnson whom I heard at a general session during a TCA event some years back. During the Q&A portion of the meeting, he was asked how he managed the new, young millionaires that came to the Miami Dolphins each year. His answer was striking to me which was; as leadership, if you speak to people the way they are they will remain that way. If you speak to them the way you want them to be, they will become that. Robust systems supported by dedicated individuals, who recognize and reward high performance create a winning team and all that comes with it.

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.