How to wreck retention

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About four years ago I started working with a trucking company with a severe driver shortage problem. Of its 120 tractors, 40 had been parked against the fence for a year. First, I helped to hire a safety/driver manager, and together we developed an innovative program for hiring and retaining drivers. Within six months the tractors were full. A year after that, the carrier had a waiting list of drivers wanting to hire on.

But then, about a year ago the safety/driver manager left the company, and new managers took over the recruiting process. They immediately began throwing out much of the recruiting and retention program. A year later, the carrier was back to having 40 open tractors. Here’s why:
Top management buy-in is critical. Four years ago when the new safety/driver manager was brought in, he implemented many innovative ideas that were at odds with how most carriers managed recruiting and retention.

Management was delighted, but it never clearly understood the link between what the manager was doing and the results. As success bred complacency, senior management began to question whether all the steps and extra expense the safety/driver manager undertook were necessary. Once the manager left, the company let the new manager go back to the “industry way” of doing things. Management never took the time to fully understand the advantages they had built through the years.

Dare to be different. The “industry way” of operating carriers is broken, at least when it comes to driver recruiting and retention. The new manager at this carrier couldn’t understand that doing things differently was a virtue.

The biggest headache an operations manager has, for example, is a company driver refusing loads. In the traditional trucking model, the driver should take the load assigned by the carrier no questions asked.

Crete Carriers offers its company drivers a choice of loads whenever possible. Instead of fighting to get drivers to accept the load they were assigned, they recognize that drivers want to have a choice. Crete, by the way, boasts one of the industry’s best profit margins and, not coincidentally, driver retention records.

Beware of people trying to save money. One of the new manager’s reasons for changing recruiting and retention was to save money. For example, the old manager made sure that the company grossed up a new driver’s pay for the first two weeks so the driver achieved at least $500 of gross pay each week. That’s not much money to make for two weeks work, but the old manager wanted to make sure the new driver had something to show for his efforts.

This didn’t occur all the time, but occasionally it cost the company a couple of hundred dollars. Often this was due to the company not having a tractor ready or a lack of freight.
The new manager immediately cut out this practice. In his mind, it was an unnecessary expense.

The problem with cutting expense is that you can measure the amount of money you think you are going to save, but have no measurement of the potential negative impact that “savings” may produce.

Avoid upsetting the equilibrium. Equilibrium occurs whenever something is in balance. For trucking companies to be successful, there must be a balance between the shipments they haul and driver needs. The sales department needs to focus on soliciting freight that fits the company’s driver needs. Recruiting needs to find drivers whose needs fit the existing book of business. Dispatch is stuck somewhere in the middle trying to balance it all out.

Whenever one of the pieces gets out of balance, poor results usually follow. Switch from long- to short-haul customers and see what happens to your driver base. Experience major turnover in operations and see if it isn’t followed by a jump in driver turnover a few weeks later.

When the company lost, from the driver prospective, a popular manager who recruited many of them, the equilibrium with the drivers got upset. When the new manager implemented unpopular policies, it confirmed the worst fears of the drivers’ worst fears.

If a popular manager leaves your company, anticipate that it may cause concern. Now is the time to convince everyone that while an individual leaves, the company continues on as before.