The simple truth is that the low retention rates prevalent in the trucking industry are nothing more than a business challenge gone unchecked. Being in the trucking industry exaggerates this challenge by being capital intensive and having very few restrictions to enter the industry, other than courage and money. Now, add to this margins that are razor-thin by most business standards, and you begin to understand how so many new companies seem to pop up and flash in the pan.
In the beginning, the trucking company owner must wear many hats to get the business off the ground. They are usually the first dispatcher, the first salesperson, the first safety manager, the first billing clerk, and the bookkeeper, just to name a few essential functions. This type of pressure can be overwhelming to all but the determined few. So as the company begins to gain traction, the concept of adding to this responsibility by doing the things necessary to retain drivers starts to get a little overwhelming.
As these companies expand, few ever make it down the road of strategic planning. If they do, they might discuss plans to build the company through additional sales and trucks. Also, a discussion might ensue concerning the business’s infrastructure, which would also need to be expanded to accommodate the extra work budgeted to be brought in by the company. To some entrepreneurs, this entails the additional expense of hiring people before the additional revenue has been secured. Most business owners find this scary, but if not done, things can quickly go off the rails. Spending the day putting out fires because the company is understaffed can wear down the business owner and the staff. Driver retention can also suffer at this point.
Scenario one allows the company time to filter through available candidates and train them to precisely what is needed. Scenario two puts much more strain on the hiring process. It rushes things and likely shortens the training period for the new person leading to performance issues and possibly more fires to put out. At this point, driver retention is not a priority as it is just such a hectic atmosphere that the priorities get blurred when you’re always playing catch-up.
The TCA Profitability Program’s (TPP) Retention Project Plan shares core fundamentals that need to be in place when talking about driver retention — Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: https://www.truckload.org/about-tpp/tpp-retention-project/.
When speaking in public about driver retention, I can usually hold a group’s attention with this discussion. Most folks can absorb the concept; they get it. What they have a much harder time understanding is that this is a foundational concept of retention. In practice, it needs to be brought along slowly and thoughtfully. It is not something that can be muscled into place or that happens naturally. I have talked to many owners, and many of them want to act first and plan later. It’s the old joke of shoot first and ask second, and then they are confused when things don’t change to the extent they wanted.
Abraham Maslow put forth a theory that each of us is motivated by a series of priorities that drive our aspirational decisions daily.
- First level: We need sustenance (food), which in trucking means wages, how much are you going to pay me? Pay relates to respect also.
- Second level: We need to be safe; we need shelter. In trucking, this means how old the truck is, the reputation of the fleet I am working at, or looking at for future employment.
- Third Level: We need to feel a sense of belonging, communication with our peers. We are social mammals; how does the company interact with their drivers, is it effective, is it consistent, and does it give me valuable, helpful information?
- Fourth level: Self-esteem or recognition; we need feedback and acknowledgment of what we do for the business. No one wants to feel taken advantage of or taken for granted.
- Fifth level: Self-actualization. I plan on being the best I can be in this profession. Does this company provide me the tools and educational opportunities for me to advance in my chosen field?
The five levels shared above hold the key to the kingdom for retention. It is the holy grail. As I have said many times before, this is a complex issue for most trucking companies that took years to manifest. Do not fool yourself into thinking that there are any quick fixes to getting things under control. There are, of course, many vendors who have jumped on the pain that many companies suffer. The return on investment for these services is usually handsome when you compare the average cost to hire a driver. The question becomes to what reduced retention level will we get to, and can we sustain it? In many cases, the benefits are marginal.
Take one of these products and nest it inside a company that has decided that driver retention will be the business’s primary focus. Now you have an excellent opportunity to make lasting change. If you would like to hear some of my ramblings in more detail take a look at https://rayhaight.com/engage/ or watch the video below.
It’s always been confusing to me that when something threatens the trucking industry or an individual company, they will pivot on a dime to manage their way through whatever obstacle. But, when it comes to driver retention, many look for ways to find new drivers rather than stop and try to find a way to stem the leakage of drivers from their companies. Driver retention can be solved and needs to be looked at as a threat to the company’s very existence because that is what it has become at this point in the industry’s history.