Their numbers are enviable. Less than 30% in driver turnover – almost unheard of for over-the-road fleets who cover the U.S. and Canada.
The fleets? Challenger Motor Freight, Transpro Freight Systems, and Erb Transport – each on the top 20 list of the 2018 Best Fleets to Drive For. Representatives from each company recently shared some of their strategies to achieve these low numbers with CarriersEdge, which partners with the Truckload Carriers Association in the Best Fleets to Drive For program, focusing on building a driver-centric culture through the process of gathering feedback from employees, and engaging office staff and drivers in common goals.
“These three fleets are some of the best in North America when it comes to how they deal with, and engage drivers,” said Jane Jazrawy, co-founder of CarriersEdge. “They’re ahead of the curve and have come up with innovative programs that create an inviting atmosphere where drivers feel they truly belong. Evidence of that is in their low driver turnover rates.”
CarriersEdge shared the following write-up with HDT with highlights of the panel discussion exploring some of the keys to these fleets success:
Getting on the Same Page
According to Jazrawy, involvement and buy-in from drivers is a key in developing a top driver pool that will be as committed to you as you are to them. “What Challenger did with its drivers and office personnel is a prime example,” she said. “Their ‘Good to Great’ program really stands out. It was a major undertaking – Challenger has 1,200 drivers -- and it took them five months to gather information from them, as well as the rest of the company’s staff, in order to put together a comprehensive program.”
According to Geoff Topping, Challenger’s VP of HR, its program with all employees (including drivers) consisted of one-on-one interviews, coupled with 26 focus groups across the country, and online surveys. “It was a long journey but well worth the effort,” he said. “We asked the hard questions and wanted our drivers to be candid. We told them your thoughts will be recorded, your names will not.”
Topping said the main goal of the program was to be in-tune with Challenger’s employee ideas and recommendations – “to take our company from Good to Great,” he explained. “Many of our initiatives from their feedback were put in place to improve the work environment. It included a review of compensation, benefit plans as well as policies and procedures to support our ‘people-first’ initiatives.
The first set of interviews were followed by more trips around the country where everyone was trained on ‘the big picture, which was a presentation that contained all of the themed information shared during the discovery process.”
Key changes included weekly driver round table meetings; a revamped 3-day orientation process that included more hands-on training in trip planning and satellite usage; and the use of “Stay Interviews” where dedicated HR teams, follow up with new drivers to ensure they’re doing well and know who to contact should they have any questions.
Ultimately, drivers need to be listened to, said Topping. “You have to get back to people and follow up on their concerns,” he said. “Being honest and explain why you can, or can’t do something about their request – or why you can’t do it at this time – is important. You need to let the driver know, ‘here are the steps we’re working on.’ Everyone wants to know they’re being heard and there is nothing worse than getting an email or other communication from a driver and have nothing happen. That’s a recipe for disaster.”
Like Challenger, Erb Transport is a large company – with 900 drivers – making communication a high priority. “It’s a challenge to listen and hear everyone,” said Dave Dietrich, Erb’s VP of HR. “We have a town hall meeting each year at each of our eight terminals. We look at financial aspects of our company, discuss operations and customers, and review HR and safety initiatives. It’s an open forum so our employees are able to talk with all of our executives. What’s more, we list all our executives’ names with contact information at each of our terminals. Our goal is to have open communication with all our drivers. We also have what we call ‘management by walking around.’ And, that’s from the very top down. Our president, Wendell Erb, might not know everyone’s name, but he knows a lot of them – he’s constantly walking the yard and the shop talking with people.”
According to Dietrich, that resonates with drivers. “Our culture is the personality of the company,” he said. “It’s still a family business and the family leads by example. If there is ever an overload, everyone pitches in...and most of our people in management have their CDLs. They’re out on the road at least once a year.”
For Eric Carusi, general manager of Transpro Freight, communication is called “Green Light Thinking.”
“If you have empathy and unity, mutual benefits will result,” he said. “We have 110 drivers and we not only survey our drivers, but all employees. It started by interviewing each of our drivers to learn how we could be better. We wanted to take it a step further, so in the spirit of collaboration and always striving to improve, we did 360-degree interviews with our management team and the entire office. Everyone did a direct survey on their manager...and indirect survey with others. This gave us some themes on areas where we could improve – green light thinking. Everyone was heard and it was a collaborative effort. It’s something we continue to do – we see where we’re at, and where we can improve.”
When dealing with drivers, Carusi said one word keeps the company grounded. “It’s transparency,” he said “There should be no gray areas when responding to a driver’s question. Nothing should be hidden – that way the driver can walk away with justification.”
Keeping Drivers Engaged
Once you have a consistent line of communication going with drivers, Jazrawy said the next step is to keep them engaged, connected, and wanting to stay. “A simple example of being connected is through food,” she said. “There is a scientific study that if you feed people and eat together, you help bind people. It sounds simple enough but what you’re doing is inviting people to sit down, break bread, and interact with one another. You’re developing friendships and camaraderie. That’s why barbeques for drivers, and other social events where spouses are invited, work so well. People get connected.”
Transpro’s Carusi said connecting doesn’t have to be that hard. “In September it was back to school time, so we asked our employees to bring in a childhood photo of themselves,” he said. “Then we had everyone try to guess who the employee was. Everyone had a lot of fun with that – it created a lot of buzz and we had a potluck around it. We had some prizes....there were a lot of smiles and laughter. It lightened everything up.
“And during our safety driver awards banquet, we invited law enforcement officers,” continued Carusi. “It broke down barriers and created an unpressured platform between our drivers and enforcement. Our drivers felt they could ask any question -- they felt it was a once in a lifetime experience. This shared communication opportunity provided a lot of ‘ah-ha’ moments for both groups.”
Jazrawy said another example of engaging drivers is what Challenger is doing to recognize driver “good deeds.”
“They’re recognizing drivers who go beyond the call of duty in their ‘Challenger Angel Program,’” she said.
“We do our million-mile awards and honors, but we also have a Wall of Fame near our cafeteria,” explained Topping. “Drivers can be nominated by anyone in our organization, and we post our Challenger Angel on the wall for everyone to see. We’ll then go ahead and send that information to the TCA, who can consider our driver for their Highway Angel program.”
All told, Jazrawy said trucking companies need to continue to evolve and keep a driver-first mentality. “It’s a challenge to recruit and retain drivers,” she said. “The ultimate winners and losers will be determined by a lot of factors, but none more important than communication and engagement.”
This article was authored and edited under the guidance, style, and standards of HDT’s editors to provide useful information to our readers.