Regular performance reviews enhance driver behaviours

by Albert Zimbalaltti

Every driver’s seat offers the promise of an open road, but it can still be an isolated workplace. Ask any long-haul trucker who leaves a fleet yard for weeks at a time, receiving little or no feedback other than e-mails, text messages and the words on a cab’s satellite display. No news from the home office may even be seen as good news, especially when feedback is limited to reports about customer complaints.

But ongoing performance reviews and constructive feedback help to enhance the behaviours of every employee. While most companies have established annual performance reviews to discuss changes to compensation packages, those fleets that commit to quarterly reviews and other forms of regular feedback are in a better position to identify emerging problems before they become bad habits. It all helps reinforce the best behaviours that will prepare employees for success.

And it can be the difference between a corrected problem and a lost safety bonus.

The tone of the regular feedback is just as important as the topic itself. I once worked with a major carrier that committed to offering four types of positive reinforcement for every single constructive criticism. This is the cornerstone of a process that supports behaviour-based safety principles, which applies the science of changing employee behaviours to solve real-world problems such as higher collision rates or poor fuel economy.

Positive feedback certainly makes a lasting impression. By encouraging a driver who is seen maintaining three points of contact while entering a cab, for example, a manager promotes the specific activity so it is repeated time and again. The same comments help to promote the organization’s broader commitment to a safety-focused culture.

Changing behaviours through more formal feedback can be based on information collected through several sources.

Electronic Control Modules and telematic systems deliver data that can identify everything from average speeds to the number of hard-braking events, which can help identify drivers who tend to speed or tailgate. But the comments from shippers and receivers can be equally valuable as long as fleets adopt processes to capture positive behaviours along with any complaints. After all, something seen as a broad problem may be confined to a relationship with a single customer, or involve challenges with a specific traffic lane rather than reflecting an overall approach to business.

Regardless of the topic, feedback that also reflects clearly defined behaviour benchmarks and expectations will be the most effective of all. Any expectation or goal has to be seen and understood before it can be achieved.

Of course, there are times when corrective action will be required. Mistakes are made. Collisions happen. But the information can still be delivered in a constructive context, complete with solutions, as part of the journey to lasting behavioural change.
Berating a driver for being late, for example, is not enough. A better approach explores why schedules are not being met in the first place.

Drivers who play a role in establishing related solutions such as enhanced trip planning or support from a mentor will be more likely to see the corrective actions as a positive experience rather than a penalty. Some system-wide solutions designed to minimize risks may even involve personnel from other company departments.

The choice of a setting in which to offer this feedback is as important as the message itself. The best areas offer a safe environment where a driver can speak openly, such as an office that has a closed door, rather than opting for an open cafeteria or cubicle farm. Documents relating to the review can then be signed and accepted by the driver, demonstrating that the information was received, and offer a chance for everyone to add related comments.

Once added to a driver’s file, the documents begin to offer a clear picture of how mindsets evolve from one review to the next.

And the formal process is only part of the equation. Ongoing discussions with drivers can help to reinforce a positive safety culture as long as they involve more than a simple pat on the back or the generic comment of “good job.” Specific examples which illustrate the positive or negative actions can be used to enhance performance and reach goals.

The ongoing reviews even play a role in driver recruiting and retention. Everyone wants to feel appreciated in the workplace, and happy drivers are always eager to spread positive messages about the corporate brand. It’s just another example of the way ongoing feedback will support corporate goals.

– This month’s expert is Albert Zimbalatti. Albert is an executive risk services consultant for Northbridge Insurance, and has more than 35 years providing loss control and risk management services to the trucking industry. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a long-standing history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit them at

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.