With Bill Marchbank, vice president of operations, Trimac Transportation
Company drivers: 950
Ride along with Trimac Transportation
By Carolyn Magner Mason
Bill Marchbank, vice president of operations for Trimac Transportation, said executives for the North American bulk trucking company don’t just talk tanking with their truckers – they climb into the cab to find out firsthand about their issues. Marchbank, who has been in the bulk industry for 20 years and with Trimac for five years, says ride-alongs are not a new concept, but they have taken them to the next level.
“We use this program to stay engaged with employees by actually talking to them and listening to their concerns,” he said. “For me, it’s a great opportunity to get away from the desk and experience life on the road for a short time. When I get out and ride, being around the professional drivers energizes me. I always wind up learning more from them – certainly more than they learn from me.”
How often do you ride with drivers?
I ride with drivers at least six times per year, and some of those include driver trainers. We document nearly 500 ride-alongs per year throughout the United States. It’s an integral part of the company culture. Everyone from the president and senior officers of the company to sales, accounting, billing, collection, safety and support personnel schedule time to ride with drivers.
What do the drivers think about the ride-alongs?
Most of them really enjoy the opportunity to visit with managers and air their concerns. I ride with drivers who are having problems and with trainers who offer solutions to problems. In my experience, the drivers really warm up as the hours go by. They have the opportunity to talk over anything on their mind, and I’m a captive audience. It’s a positive experience all the way around, and everyone comes away with a new perspective.
What have you learned through the driver interaction?
The main purpose of riding with drivers is to interact with them at a one-on-one level and actually listen to their concerns. Sometimes all they want is to be heard. Some of the concerns are unavoidable obstacles of life on the road. Others are fixable. One direct result of a ride-along was a change in the way we purchase drivers’ seats. We were supplying a cost-effective one-size-fits-all seat for our equipment. When drivers expressed their concern that the uniform seats didn’t always fit their body type or reflect the kind of hauling they were doing, we changed our policy. Now we purchase seats to fit the trucker instead of the other way around.
What do you do when drivers complain about pay or vacation policies?
We listen, and we have changed the way we pay – not necessarily increasing pay, but dealing with the way we pay. We’ve also adjusted vacation policy based on feedback from drivers.
Do you have advice for companies considering a ride-along program?
You have to manage the program. Make sure you set up the means to document the rides, and decide what you will do with the information. Plan on receiving lots of input. You don’t necessarily have to make every change requested, but you should have a format to document and then review the information. We require detailed paperwork for every ride, and then we meet to discuss the input and decide if or how we will act on the requests.
How does this program impact retention?
Turnover has definitely decreased since we started the ride-alongs. It’s a way for drivers to be heard. When policy is changed based on driver input, it empowers employees and creates a positive culture. It also focuses awareness among shippers that we expect our drivers will be treated well. It makes a strong statement when a senior officer shows up on a loading dock.