Driver retention key: Don’t treat drivers as a separate class

By Todd Dills on
Load One CEO John Elliott
Load One CEO John Elliott

Workshops the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 30, at the ACS/TCA annual Recruiting and Retention Conference in Nashville, Tenn., turned to the subject of retention, prime in an industry where the national average annualized turnover rate tops 100 percent.

While plenty of new methods of data collection and analysis from various vendors — including those of Stay Metrics and Fleet Risk Advisors — were discussed as ways to anticipate driver needs, John Elliott, CEO of expediter Load One, and others stressed the best way to keep drivers happy was to treat them as equal participants in the company. Avoid a “two-class system,” Elliott said, that separates drivers from office staff in company culture.

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“It’s great to analyze and do numbers and all of that,” he added, but “if you’re not starting it out right” with an honest message the moment you recruit a driver, “you’re just putting water in a boat with holes in it.”

Elliott’s presentation flashed to an image of a NO DRIVERS BEYOND THIS POINT sign, one he said was far too common at carriers around the nation. “We have a very open office,” he said of Load One, “like a big open mall. You’d be amazed the perception that that changes. [Drivers] go tour our dispatch [during orientation and they say], ‘Wow. We never got to see dispatch at our old company.'” At Load One, he’s quick to rejoin, “you can go there anytime.”

Presentations by representatives from Hirschbach Motor Lines as well as Artur Express, the latter 100 percent owner-operator and the former with a large majority of drivers in truck-lease-purchase arrangements, revealed the importance of both building empathy and managing expectations with truth — particularly relative to carrier-owner-operator relationships.

“Retention starts with recruiting,” said Hirschbach Recruiting Director Greg Finzen. “I’ve tried to make some changes there. We look at what I call a ‘conversational’ recruiting technique, based on listening rather than a recitation of programs.” Chiefly, however, Finzen added recruiters try to manage expectations by “providing the applicants with expectations that align with what they find when they start.”

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Several others stressed the honesty factor in truly successful retention programs. John Simms of the HNI Truck Group gave the example of a carrier he was helping revamp an orientation program who’d seen a turnaround in their turnover rate. “I asked the head of recruiting how they’d done it,” he said. The answer: “We stopped lying to them.”

Social media can play a large part in retention programs aimed at destroying any semblance of a “two-tier system” in the company culture, said Elliott, which may be creating an “us against them” dynamic among drivers and office staff.

Load One has close to 400 power units in the fleet, the majority of them owner-operators. “We … have just one recruiter” in the company, Elliott said. “We decided a long time ago … to cut our recruiting budget and we switched it all into retention — it was money well spent.”

Load One’s Facebook page has 10,000 followers and is “our largest recruiting and retention tool today by far,” Elliott added.

Todd Walthall, recruiting manager at Artur Express, told a story about his trucker father that stressed his central approach to creating a company culture conducive to keeping drivers around — and happy. Essentially, office staff needed, he said, to consistently take an empathic attitude toward their front-line representatives. “You can have all the options, incentives and rewards to get them in the door but to keep them we have to remember they are in business to make their lives and their families’ lives better,” Walthall said. “When I got my first dispatch job, my dad grabbed me by the shirt and said, ‘Don’t you ever forget that you go home every night.”

Walthall continued. “Don’t ever forget that, and push that to your people. That tends to change people’s perspective.”

Todd Dills

Todd Dills is Senior Editor of Overdrive magazine and writes from Nashville, Tenn. He frequently covers business, regulatory and lifestyle topics for the magazine and at OverdriveOnline.com. His work on the “CSA’s Data Trail” series in Overdrive about the federal CSA program was awarded the highest honor in trade journalism – the “Grand Neal” – by American Business Media at the 2014 Jesse H. Neal Awards. Dills’ Channel 19 blog covers a grab bag of on-highway hearsay, owner-operator news and driver views from the roadways the nation over. His work in trucking journalism builds on a background of news feature, fiction and other creative writing and editing. Find him here at the Channel 19 blog and via his Twitter feed, or send tips to tdills@randallreilly.com or via phone at 205-907-2481.

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