Fleet Management

An All-Too-Common Conflict

February 2012, TruckingInfo.com - Feature

by Commentary Rolf Lockwood, Contributing Editor

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Successful trucking depends on successful relationships - in every corner of our game. Nowhere is this more true than in the hyper-difficult connection between drivers and dispatchers.
It's a toss-up as to which job is tougher, but I think they both rank at the top of the list.

There are countless scenarios where conflict is possible, but the one most fraught with potential for long-lasting friction arises when the driver is caught between the priorities of the safety department and dispatch, or the shop and dispatch.

Here's an example - a true story:

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In a major snowstorm, driver Bob has just finished unloading. It's mid-afternoon Friday and he's sitting in the truck dealing with a bit of paperwork, wondering if he should just park it in the customer's yard for a spell. The weather's that bad.

The snow's falling hard but it's cozy in the cab. Bob hauls out his Thermos and pours himself a mug of coffee, then digs around for the last of the cookies his wife made for him. He'd like to be home early tonight after a few days on the road, and the terminal's only 50 miles away. But he's got hours and he could use the miles, so he plans on calling dispatch to see if there's a local load.

Then he gets a sat message: "ET, come home." The safety manager says the storm's bad and anybody in the region should park it or head home if it's close.

Seconds later dispatch sends him a pickup, 80 miles in the wrong direction. Oh, crap.

"These guys aren't talking to one another," Bob mutters to himself. "What the heck do I do now?"

His well-honed instincts say it's time to forget trucking today, but he fears the dispatcher will call him a wuss. Worse, he might hold a grudge.

The thing is, Bob and John have never tried to build any sort of relationship. Neither guy has invested anything, so there's no foundation of good will to get them through this thing. Same goes for John and the safety dude. Nobody knows or understands anybody else.

In the end Bob says the weather's too bad to go trucking, pointing out the safety message, so he trundles back to the terminal and then on home. There's a bad taste in his mouth and John sits at his keyboard fuming. Nobody's happy.

Bob left the company two weeks later in the wake of a permanently soured relationship. A valuable, experienced driver was lost - all because it wasn't clear who really had control that snowy Friday afternoon, safety or dispatch.

Is there a solution to this most common of problems? Probably not in any hard and fast way, people being people, but one thing's for sure: As an owner or manager, you can't sit back and simply hope your staff know what to do when such situations arise.

Chances are, internal systems and policies are the place to start. Maybe they don't exist, maybe they're ignored, maybe they're not supported by the people in the cushy offices.

At the very least I think you need to make a weather policy and stand by it. You might also change things a little -- or maybe a lot -- to establish clear lines of communication between the various players working at the sharp end. The secret is to take the doubt away as much as you can, make the decisions automatic, impersonal, and there for all to see.
You'll sail much more smoothly if you do.

From the February 2012 issue of HDT.

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