All That's Trucking

The fallacy of the open door

May 20, 2013

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An old driver got to the pearly gates of heaven and was welcomed by St. Peter, who told him how much the big guy appreciated all his hard work over the years getting the freight there on time and watching out for all the motorists on the road. St. Peter showed the trucker over to the prettiest fleet of trucks he had ever seen.

The driver climbed in and out of all the trucks, admired the chrome, upholstery and the chicken lights, then came back to St. Peter and asked, “When do I get to drive one?”

“That's the problem, son,” St. Peter said. “We have plenty of drivers up here, but we haven't gotten any dispatchers.”

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When it comes to slowing down the revolving door of drivers, no one is as important as the person who deals with those drivers day in and day out. Yet far too many companies throw former drivers or other people into that role with little or no thought as to their communications and relationship skills.

Ask any trucking exec if he or she has an open-door policy, where drivers could come to them with problems, and chances are the answer will be yes. In reality, however, the open door needs to be between the driver and the dispatcher.

As it has worked to determine the Truckload Carriers Association's “Best Fleets to Drive For,” CarriersEdge has discovered through numerous driver surveys that drivers don't value an open-door policy all that much, says President Mark Murrell.

“Drivers value the front-line staff a whole lot more than being able to go to upper management and talk to them,” he explains. “If they can get issues addressed through their direct superior, they're satisfied.”

Which is why the driver's relationship with that frontline supervisor is so important. Probably even more important than how much he's paid.

One trucking exec told me of a visit to a large fleet a number of years ago. In a building next to the main headquarters, he found a bunch of drivers and a bank of phones. When he asked a driver what he was doing, he learned the driver was talking to his dispatcher in the next building - someone he had never met.

I bet a lot of those drivers felt the company didn't view them as good enough to walk into that main headquarters building and talk to someone face-to-face - not the best feeling for someone to have if you want them to stick around. And while cell phones and in-cab communications systems are a reality of life when it comes to drivers and dispatchers communicating, it works a lot better when you've gotten to know the guy or gal on the other end of the line in person.

When I talk to the leaders of companies that enjoy low turnover, I hear again and again about the importance of the relationship between drivers and the people they interact with at the company - none of them more important than their dispatcher. These fleets do things like having the driver and his dispatcher eat lunch together during orientation for the sole purpose of getting to know the driver on a personal level. They give their dispatchers training in topics such as communication and conflict resolution.

All this requires a corporate culture attitude that drivers are important. That comes from the top office all the way down to the people talking to the driver every day. The message coming out of the top office that sets the tone of driver respect, and communication is more important than having an “open door.”

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Author Bio

Deborah Lockridge

Editor in Chief

All That's Trucking blog is just that – the editor's take on anything and everything related to trucking, with the help of guest posts from other HDT editors. Author Deborah Lockridge's career as an award-winning trucking journalist started in 1990.

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