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Increase driver retention with quality hiring and clear expectations

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As recently covered on FreightWaves, when it comes to driver compensation, you need a competitive package in order to draw the attention of drivers, and their total compensation needs to be achievable and competitive in order to retain them. Total compensation is, in fact, the number one cause of driver churn, according to Driver iQ’s Recruitment and Retention Survey, Q1 2018.

However, there are numerous reasons for the high turnover. Among them are “lack of communications,” “unpredictability of paycheck each week,” “issues resolving problems,” and “lack of respect as truck drivers.” Some of these very issues could be nipped in the bud with a smarter hiring process.

Damon Langley, director of solution delivery, analytics and decision support at TMW, says, “Recruiting and retaining drivers is not only about compensation. One aspect of increasing driver retention is to recognize the strong correlation between turnover and quality hiring.”

“You hire your own terminations,” says Langley. Simple, but true.

Increasing your demographic while being more demanding on quality applicants, and focusing your hires in the right markets will help. Cast a wider net in search of younger drivers, veterans, women, immigrants, temp-to-hire, owner-operators, etc.

Langley likens driver retention to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. You must provide some clarity and expectations first on the basics, such as driving, detention, and layover. These are the nuts-and-bolts of the driving job, and can largely address Levels 1 and 2 of Maslow’s Hierarchy. It meets the basic needs upon which the foundation rests.

 Meeting the basic needs leads to higher level functioning and satisfaction.
Meeting the basic needs leads to higher level functioning and satisfaction.

Safety is further addressed with proper training, accountability, and proactively rewarding success. It is also addressed through discussing proper equipment specs.

“Levels 3 and 4 cover quite a bit. I believe it starts with respecting and caring for your drivers enough to be transparent and direct,” says Langley.

“Think about a coach who was tough on you, but you respected him for it. Engendering that type of relationship with your driver starts with your first few conversations, where you say, ‘I expect this of you, and this is what you can expect of me. And I’m going to hold you accountable, and I want you to hold me accountable.’”

The job description helps to establish interest in the job, as well as setting expectations for both employee and employer regarding how they will interact, and their corresponding duties and responsibilities to one another.

“This is conspicuously absent for most Driving Jobs, at least in a comprehensive way,” says Langley. “We generally assume that Drivers know their job, and that is true to a large extent, but being specific with clear expectations creates trust.”

If you tell someone you expect something in return for something else, you establish an understood agreement, a verbal contract.

“This is a major fail point in recruiting and retention, in my opinion, because there are notable differences in needs and requirements for various carriers and their customers,” says Langley.

Also, create a driver scorecard and cover the metrics with the drivers in the hiring process, not after orientation. The scorecard should also roll up to driver managers, so they are working together toward the same goals. Ensure your driver manager uses this scorecard to coach drivers on behaviors, rather than simply point out that they are failing in a given area. A balanced scorecard approach helps develop authentic talking points on sensitive issues.

If expectations are not spelled out and agreed to, disappointment and frustration can lead to lower morale and negativity, resulting in lower performance, lower safety, and ultimately, loss of the driver.

Langley itemizes what these expectations should include: things as basic as work schedule, home time, if you slip-seat or not, timeliness of paperwork, timeliness of updating arrive/depart times, timeliness of reporting potential and actual detention based on your policies or a customer’s policies (generally or per dispatch), cleanliness of the truck, hygiene, dress code (uniform requirements? Pay?), safety policies (a much larger conversation, but includes doing a walk-around before backing up, following distance, lane changes, hard cornering, hard braking, hard acceleration, etc.), geography serviced (required to go to the Northeast? Canada?), where to fuel (generally or per dispatch), using tire chains in snow/ice, forced dispatch (yes or no), where to get maintenance (generally or per incident), pre-trips/DMVRs, MPG and related driver behaviors (idling, smooth acceleration, using cruise control, over-idle, over-speed, etc.) and many other things.

The point is that you need to set their expectations that you have policies by which you expect them to abide. Even if they are an owner-operator, you have certain expectations, and they should be clearly understood and agreed.

“Do not sugarcoat it, and do not exaggerate potential earnings. You know what your average W2 is for the fleet, the locals, the OTR group, the dedicated group, the owner-operators, etc. Tell it like it is,” says Langley.

The primary reason for this is that you hire fewer of the drivers who would quit in the first 90 days, anyway, because they did not know you were “so rigid.” The largest percentage of driver turnover happens in the first 90 days. I tend to believe that this has two main causes. The first is that the driver did not know what to expect. The second is that drivers with little experience tend to churn more, and you see this number between 100% and 200% for drivers fresh out of driving school, and sort of stepping down as they get into their two years of experience. Add to this that they are in a period where pay is disrupted, and there is already a sense of anxiety. 

Abraham Maslow once wrote, “The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.” It’s time we consider the wisdom of building trust through respect and clear and open communication from the start.

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