I have attended many trucking association events for many years now; the one I attend on a regular basis without fail is the Truckload Carriers Association’s annual convention, I haven’t missed one for 26 years now. In this industry one could be at a different event in a different city almost weekly if you wished to. The trick is to determine which one has the greatest likelihood of yielding something of value that you can implement to the betterment of your company. I also tell folks that there is a 24 to 48 hour rule, meaning that you need to act on the idea or material you might have discovered during the industry event that you just attended a.s.a.p. If nothing happens past this timeframe you will likely find the material on the corner of your desk or in a drawer six months later and have a vague recollection of something that used to be a good idea. If I go to an event and after all the travel expenditure and time spent I bring home nothing then I have to ask myself if this is something I plan on attending next time it comes up and the answer will likely be no.
One such event that was of particular value to the motor carrier I was running was a roundtable session that I attended that was being moderated by my soon to be good friend Kevin Burch, president of Jet Express and currently the current ATA chairman. TCA roundtables are just that, the room is set up physically with the moderator standing in the middle; the moderator will stimulate conversation and debate by offering an idea or a program that they have implemented in their company.
In this instance Kevin was discussing a mentoring program that Jet Express had adopted and he was articulating how it worked and what the results were at Jet. The timing of this for me was impeccable, as we were about halfway through an effort that we had taken on to drastically cut our turnover rate. We measured everything possible related to our turnover problems and through our analysis we found a number of interesting things, most significant, was that the numbers showed that if we could keep our drivers at the company for at least a year, that on average, they stayed with us for at least five years.
What this revelation did was to tell us that we needed to bring a lazar focus on all things related to that time frame, without of course losing sight of our overall turnover numbers. We stripped down our orientation; we did the same with our hiring criteria, our training truck program, our equipment introduction process, and on and on right down the line. We did all these things and sure we saw some improvement, but what Kevin revealed during that round table was an “awe haw” moment for our short term turnover effort.
I still vividly remember what happened after that round table, during which Kevin invited those that were interested to contact him at his office, after convention, and he would share in detail of what they were doing at Jet with mentoring. I don’t recall exactly but I probably called Kevin the Monday after he returned from TCA annual convention to start that conversation. Remember the 24 to 48 hour rule, as I recall Kevin sent me the forms that Jet had developed for the program and the detail that he had promised. What it also started was to seed the great friendship that highly value to this day, Kevin Burch is an honest decent compassionate family man, he has great conviction to this industry, and will guide competently and successfully, the ATA during his term as chairman, just as he did during a successful term as TCA chairman.
So off I go to talk to our then, retention action team, I articulate what I learned during my time at convention and subsequent discussion with Kevin and suggest that they design a program similar to what was being used at Jet. Primary reason being was that through all our efforts to curb short-term turnover we were stuck on about 50%, while our long-term numbers were half of that.
Off the team goes and designs a program, we reach out to our entire inside workforce and ask for volunteers, and get we them; we train them on the basics. Including the paperwork we require them to fill out, we adjust orientation to accommodate introductions of our volunteer mentors to our new hires, we give them content for the weekly conversations they are going to have with the newbies. Items such as asking if the company was represented properly during the hiring and orientation processes, did they understand their first pay statement, how are they getting along with dispatch, etc.
This new program also garners an ongoing stream of information coming back to the retention team from all our new hires through the paperwork filled out by the mentors. Just to clarify, this information is coming from a new hire and being given to a peer, these volunteers were billing clerks, mechanics, and warehouse people, and there was no hierarchy in the relationship between the mentor and the new driver, which I believe help the whole program succeed.
Succeed it did by the way; to everyone’s amazement we took our short-term turnover rate from 50% to 25% within four months. This is a staggering improvement over a relatively short time frame, and may be hard to believe but it happened, and it would not have happened if not for Kevin sharing during that TCA roundtable at that convention. What’s missing from the story is the mountains of work we did to get us in the position to be successful with a program such as this. I’ll get to that during later articles, please drop me a line if your interested in learning more on this subject.
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