Prime Inc. has a special website dedicated to celebrating its drivers and company events, like Pride and Polish.  -  Photo: Prime Inc.

Prime Inc. has a special website dedicated to celebrating its drivers and company events, like Pride and Polish.

Photo: Prime Inc.

In October, about 40 of the nearly 100 fleets nominated for the Best Fleets to Drive For competition registered for a webinar that will provide key insights on how judging will work.

The optional webinar served as a how-to, and as importantly, a how-not-to, guide for participating in the next steps in the program. But first comes a staff meeting. The Best Fleets program, run by CarriersEdge in partnership with the Truckload Carriers Association, has grown so much, administrators have had to bring in more support staff to assist with the vetting process. New to the interviewing process this year are Courtney Muir and Christine Brooks-Wilson; both are CarriersEdge staffers.

They joined CarriersEdge founders Jane Jazrawy and Mark Murrell, who have until this year managed the interview process on their own.

The staff meeting

This year, for the first time, an industry journalist – me – has been embedded into the entire Best Fleets selection process. That includes a staff meeting before the webinar for nominees. The meeting occurs via WebEx, two hours prior to the official nominee webinar.

We are first walked through the online questionnaire and shown how nominated fleets can answer a lengthy series of questions about all aspects of their operation. There are 110 questions in total, covering a broad spectrum of their operational practices. Topics include: business information; compensation; benefits; human resources strategy; operational strategy; performance and recognition programs; development and career opportunities; and work-life balance.

CarriersEdge is a technology company, so it’s no surprise the back end of the system accessed by program administrators is slick and user-friendly. Program administrators can compare responses to past years, enabling them to identify industry- and company-wide trends.

By Oct. 17, 10 nominees had finished their questionnaires and were ready to advance to the next stage: the interview. At that point, program administrators follow up on the information supplied and do a phone interview with the nominee. They’ll look to follow up on any inconsistencies, ask for expansion on key topics, and try to get a deeper look into the nominated fleet’s true business practices.

The newbies are first advised to sidestep any rookie mistakes.

“Make sure you get the time zones right,” offered Jazrawy. “A lot of our participants are in Central.”

The new interviewers are advised to record everything in real-time, as details from various interviews can easily blend together. They’re encouraged to ask nominees to expand when they offer generic responses like “we offer a family environment,” or, “we have an open door policy.” Those types of responses make Murrell and Jazrawy cringe.

“We want them to stop saying things like that,” Murrell admitted.

Organizers use the Calendly app to book interviews; nominees can select a date and time that works for them. Interviews are booked for an hour-and-a-half, but may take less time. With Muir and Brooks-Wilson briefed on the process, it’s time to launch the webinar.

The webinar

Murrell points out the questionnaire must be completed by Nov. 29 – it’s a hard deadline. Fleet interviews will conclude by Dec. 13, and driver surveys – each fleet must submit a number of driver surveys in relation to its fleet size – must be finished by Dec. 31, at midnight.

Jazrawy assures fleets on the webinar that any sensitive information they don’t want shared, will not be publicly disclosed. But most fleets are happy to share their best practices.

The questions asked vary from year to year, based on industry – and even societal – trends. This year, organizers want to know what a typical weekend looks like for a professional driver, what action plans are in place to assist drivers in the event of a natural disaster, and about harassment policies.

Participants are strongly urged to avoid “marketing-speak.”

Jazrawy gives some examples: “We are committed to driver safety, or creating a family atmosphere, or we believe driver communication is really important. What we want to know is, how do you facilitate driver communication. Tell us why you are doing something, don’t tell us the theory behind it.”

“It doesn’t give us anything to work with,” added Murrell. “If you say you’re committed to driver safety, well, you and every other fleet. What are you doing? That’s where every fleet ends up being different.”

As a journalist, I find myself nodding in agreement. Organizers urge fleets to send in pictures, showing what they’re doing for their drivers. The more information the better, is what it comes down to. It’s the time for nominated fleets to shine, and the interview can make all the difference between advancing to the list of finalists or being lost among the also-rans.

Five tips for Best Fleet nominees

  • Avoid clichés, like “open door policy,” “family atmosphere,” and “safety-first,” unless you can back them up with specific examples.
  • Get your numbers right. Too often fleets submit driver, tractor, or trailer numbers that simply don’t add up, or that they contradict in the interview. It reeks of disorganization if you can’t get your number of assets or drivers correct.
  • Be specific. When asked about average driver income, don’t offer a broad range. Just total the number of company drivers and the total amount paid to them, and average it out. Same with owner-operators. Saying $50,000 to $75,000 isn’t helpful.
  • Promote diversity. “What are you doing to tell the rest of the world this is a good place to be?” asked Jazrawy. Outline what your fleet is doing to attract people from different backgrounds, whether it be women, Aboriginals, or various ethnic groups.
  • One of the biggest beefs among drivers is downtime. So, what are you doing to address it? How long are drivers sidelined for scheduled and unscheduled maintenance? This goes a long way toward creating driver satisfaction, or dissatisfaction.

James Menzies is the editor of Truck News magazine where this article originally appeared, and was used with permission from Newcom Media.