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Steer driver meetings in the right direction

Driver meetings have become a staple of the trucking industry's safety initiatives, and they certainly offer fleets an ideal venue for delivering vital information. This is where drivers can be coache...

Driver meetings have become a staple of the trucking industry’s safety initiatives, and they certainly offer fleets an ideal venue for delivering vital information. This is where drivers can be coached to take their skills to the next level, and learn the techniques that can be applied in every area of the business.

But the meetings only achieve positive results when they are planned with an agenda and specific goals in mind.

A driver meeting that loses its focus will quickly turn into a complaint session while not accomplishing any of your goals. Companies have been known to reduce the frequency of these sessions because they go badly, but this simply leads to sessions that go badly because of their reduced frequency.

It’s a vicious cycle.

The actual schedules for the regular meetings can still vary to meet the realities of an individual fleet. In some cases, the meetings are offered in the form of 15-minute “tailgate sessions” that occur once per week, a two-hour breakfast that takes place once a month, or even a half-day session that occurs every quarter.

But regardless of the specific schedules, successful meetings all share one thing in common – everyone understands the reason they are there.

Each driver meeting should begin with a discussion that explains why the related topic will apply to the people in the room. When I delivered a 20-minute presentation on managing fuel mileage, for example, I explained to a group of owner/operators that these methods would help them secure a raise without logging one extra mile. They immediately understood the impact that this information would have on their daily lives. I had their attention.

Instructors who lead these meetings also need to take the content seriously. If the leader of a session dismisses the information as nothing more than something “we’re told to discuss,” there is little chance that drivers will pay attention or apply anything that is said.

It is also important to ensure that drivers truly comprehend the information that is delivered, and that is where practical exercises can make a difference.

A meeting that focuses on Hours-of-Service offers a prime example of how this can work. After hearing about the latest regulations, drivers can be presented with a three-day supply of log sheets, a timeline and a sample destination for their fictional freight.

But rather than simply looking for the “right” answer in the form of a log sheet that meets the regulations, the leader of the meeting should try to reward innovative thinking. One driver might explain that he wants to cross the border at a certain time of day, when inspectors are on duty to address a specific type of freight. His counterpart may choose a route that allows him to stop in a truck stop that is known to offer better parking options. Both answers may be correct, and the drivers are demonstrating a deeper understanding of how the information will apply in a real-world environment.

Everyone, including the instructor, can learn something from the shared expertise.

Each exercise serves other purposes as well. In addition to identifying employees who may require additional training, it can lead fleet managers to reconsider specific training methods or even the trainers who run the meetings.

Everyone learns in a different way, after all. When my father taught me the art of double clutching, he explained that it was like a dance where both partners need to be in sync. I understood that explanation right away. But other drivers may require a technical explanation of how the transmission works, or maybe they will learn the art by watching and listening to shifts while heading down the highway.

At the very least, any of the content delivered through a driver meeting should reflect the specific needs of the audience. That will require instructors to customize their teaching tools, or at least remove irrelevant information from supplied information that does not apply to their fleet.

Those who are in charge of these meetings should also reach out to the people who were not in the room, including dispatchers and managers. If drivers are being told that they can only drive 11 hours per day, for example, they should be hearing the same message from dispatchers as well.

If the content is important enough for the driver’s meeting, it should be important to every member of your team.

– Dylan Short brings more than 15 years of trucking experience in various positions including owner/operator, driver trainer, senior advisor and regional manager. Dylan currently holds the role of senior manager, safety & training services. Send your questions, feedback and comments about this column Safety and Training Services, a division of Markel Insurance, offers specialized courses, seminars and consulting to fleet owners, safety managers, trainers and drivers.

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