Article

Improving Driver Retention

TCA conference offers tips for reducing driver turnover.

April 2006, TruckingInfo.com - Feature

by Patricia Smith, Senior Editor

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There is no "silver bullet" or magic formula for reducing driver turnover. Companies are different; so are individual drivers. Thus, the secret to keeping good drivers is a combination of patience, perseverance and the willingness to listen. That was the message of "Controlling Driver Turnover," a recent audio conference sponsored by the Truckload Carriers Association's Truckload Academy. Following are some highlights.

DON OSTERBERG, VICE PRESIDENT, CAPACITY DEVELOPMENT, SCHNEIDER NATIONAL

Schneider's turnover rate is about 50 percent, "not bad in the general scheme of things, but still too high," Osterberg said. Some things they're doing:

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• The company has launched a three-year study to measure various personality attributes (patience and risk aversion, for instance) of approximately 1,000 drivers. The goal is to get some idea of the characteristics that contribute to safety and stability.

• New employees usually become committed to people in the organization before they become committed to the organization itself. To build those important people-to-people relationships, a new Schneider program will assign new drivers to regional retention managers who maintain regular contact through training and into their first solo driving position.

• Schneider is looking at ways to reduce anxiety for new drivers. Strategies include simulation-based training, automatic or automated transmissions and matching load complexity with driver experience.

• Time-at-home problems usually involve three issues: frequency of home time, duration and predictability. Schneider is working on ways to give drivers firm commitments regarding home-time schedules. "For too long, drivers have represented the elastic link in the supply chain," Osterberg said. "Whereas other links have tended to become increasingly rigid over time, drivers have been largely the link we could stretch. We're trying to put some rigidity in that link. When we make a commitment to a driver that we're going to get him home for an event, we make that a priority."

• Since drivers are typically paid by the mile, their compensation varies from paycheck to paycheck. And, for many, that's another stress factor. So Schneider has tackled the problem with a program offering minimum pay.

• Everyone in the organization is encouraged to look for positive behavior and recognize it verbally, with notes or e-mails, and at periodic driver appreciation events.

In summary, Osterberg said, "We need to redefine expectations within our industry about what is acceptable relative to retention. The work we ask our driver associates to perform must be reasonable by responsible standards, vetted against what we would be willing to do in a similar situation."

RIM YURKUS, CEO, STRATEGIC PROGRAMS INC., DENVER

Fleet managers need to know what's important to their drivers – and they must recognize that's not the same for everyone. Some drivers want more time at home. Others want more miles. The more you can customize driver programs, the more successful you'll be.

Think of the employee-employer relationship as an investor/investment relationship, Yurkus advised. "When a driver applies for your job, they're making a conscious investment. They're mentally ticking off a list of sacrifices they're prepared to make, like time away from home. In addition, they're ticking off a list of things they expect to get in return for their investment."

Money is important, but the value of that "return" can be affected by other things. "Forty-two cents a mile looks different when you're having a good day than when you're having a bad day," he noted.

One of the best ways to address turnover is to find out why drivers leave. Exit interviews are most effective when done by outside third parties. Drivers are more likely to confide in someone outside the company, and outside researchers have the time and expertise to get the information needed.

Research methods can include face-to-face interviews or written questionnaires, but they should be professional and well planned. Questions should always follow the same basic format. "Don't do different things with different people, because it's too difficult to accurately quantify the information," he cautioned.

Questions should be specific. For instance, those related to time at home can be broken down to cover specific issues such as frequency of time home, predictability and duration. There should be a lot of questions, asked in fairly rapid succession. "You don't want people to think too much about the answers," Yurkus explained. "You want candid opinions. You don't want to give them time to 'filter' before answering."

You can get some useful answers from a group as small as 40 drivers, especially if you look at the level of agreement among the group. But a small sampling doesn't yield enough data to accurately analyze results in a variety of ways, such as tenure, region, equipment type, age, gender, driver manager, etc.

"You'll find that people wash out of orientation for different reasons than people who quit after three months, and the issues are different again at six months," he explained. "To apply custom solutions, you need to look at the data by sub-populations." To do this, the optimum number for a thorough analysis is 200 drivers or more, he said.

TRES PARKER, VICE PRESIDENT OF OPERATIONS, AND FRANK STOKES, OPERATIONS MANAGER, BOYD BROS. TRANSPORTATION

Boyd's turnover rate is about 40 percent, but getting there has taken time, patience and involvement by the entire organization. Some things they're doing:

• Boyd established "best practices" for drivers' managers, based mainly on input from the company's two most effective managers. "Instead of 17 driver managers doing things 17 different ways, we have them all doing it one way," Stokes explained.

• During orientation, drivers and their managers sit down for an "expectations exchange," where they review the driver's and the company's expectations regarding safety, communications, service, equipment, home time, pay, advances and other issues.

• Boyd strives for low turnover throughout the company, not just among drivers. "When you create a good working environment for your people and you reduce turnover company-wide, you build a knowledge-based system that can handle all situations," Parker said.

• Technology such as PrePass, E-ZPass, TripPak Scanning, e-mail settlements and fuel optimization systems increase efficiency for company drivers and owner-operators. Boyd also offers bookkeeping assistance for owner-operators, and it belongs to Corporate Chaplains of America, which offers 24/7 counseling to drivers and their families.

• Boyd's management has adopted ChartHouse Learning's FISH! leadership philosophy, inspired by the fun-loving but hardworking fishmongers at Seattle's Pike Place market. FISH! has four main concepts:

1. Having fun, defined as a state of mind that brings new energy to old tasks and sparks creativity.

2. Making someone's day, or giving yourself an energy boost by finding someone who needs help or a word of support.

3. Choosing your attitude or recognizing that you control how you react to what life hands you.

4. "Being there" by being fully engaged in the moment, inviting opportunities and sharing experiences. (More on FISH! is available at www.charthouse.com.)

• At Boyd, operations is "linked at the hip" to safety, and also works closely with recruiting. Understanding operations helps recruiters sell the company and keeps them from misleading drivers. Recruiting ads "tell it like it is," Parker emphasized. "When a driver comes through the door, he understands what the pay will be, what home time will be. I think that's key."

To order an audio cassette of this conference or for information about other TCA Truckload Academy audio conferences, call (703) 838-1950.

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