Technology can’t give a pat on the back

by Al Goodhall

Technology is a wonderful thing. We can’t get by without it in today’s world. But those of us who find ourselves “managed” by that technology would like to try.

The problem with truck driving and using technology to measure the performance of drivers is the almost complete lack of human contact in the driver’s workplace. Software is used to report the failure of a driver to meet a specific standard.

So, the only feedback a driver receives is negative.

It is rare that a driver will be caught doing something right by the measures employed in today’s trucking industry.

Many of us who earn our living as professional drivers follow the “no news is good news” formula when it comes to judging our own performance.

In most professions, you can count on a manager in the workplace to recognize an above average performance by an employee. But in the trucking industry there is not anyone to reinforce all the positive things that a driver does over the course of his or her day.

A driver is doing a good job when they are not caught doing anything wrong.

Layers of measurement tools are being added all the time to measure performance in the cab, but performance appraisal by another human being is becoming increasingly rare.

I recently ran into a situation that provided me with the opportunity to do something about this inequity. I heard about one of my fellow drivers doing something right, so I reported it to our safety manager. Think about that for a minute.

As drivers, we have the ability to let our managers and owners know when our fellow drivers are doing something really well. We are certain to let them know when something is not right, so why do we not report above average performance?

We had a new hire at one of our terminals recently, a brand new city driver with little driving experience. I had heard some positive feedback from the experienced driver that was mentoring the new driver and then one of our long-time customers told me about the great job this new driver was doing, when I made a delivery there a few weeks later.

So with all the talk about retaining drivers and creating an inviting work environment, I realized that I had an opportunity to walk the walk, so to speak.

I picked up the phone and made a positive report to the driver’s local supervisor and on my return to my home terminal, which is also the head office, I had a short sitdown with our safety manager to let him know what a great job this driver was doing and why.

This is actually a lot bigger deal than many drivers realize, myself included. I had forgotten how difficult it has become for managers to encourage, coach, and strengthen a driver’s performance by catching them doing something right, when most of the tools they have available are designed to activate reports based on sub-standard performance.
So as drivers, the best measure our manager/owner has of our performance is when they don’t hear anything at all.

If we are not seen and not heard from, then everything is just fine. Only the squeaky wheel that is about to fall off receives the attention it deserves.

It should be no surprise that under these conditions, morale is difficult to maintain and communication – that is, building strong workplace relationships – is a long-term endeavor that does not receive the attention it deserves.

This is where we can make a difference as seasoned drivers. Many of us who have been in this business for a decade or more have found a comfortable place to work.
If we have been with one employer for five years or more, we have hopefully built a relationship of trust. If we have the respect of our employer, then we can leverage that relationship to help those drivers who are new to the industry and still trying to find their feet. This is something that we don’t do enough.

In our business, everything comes down to training and performance management.

If you are an experienced driver, you have the unique ability to influence the culture of the company you work for. You can make it more people-oriented by becoming more people-oriented yourself.

Use your experience to help the people around you, especially new drivers breaking into our industry. It does not take much to mentor others. All you have to do is let them know when they are doing a good job and share your experience, especially your failures.

Adding a human touch to our industry is something we can all do. These are simple, old-school values and practices.

Let’s not forget to put them to frequent use. This is a positive difference we can all make.
Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his ‘Over the Road’ blog at You can also follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.

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