The People Factor

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Roy Craigen, founder and self-styled “coach and general manager” of Transcom, wants private carrier management to recognize drivers are at least as valuable, if not more valuable, than the high-priced equipment they operate.

The transportation operations and management trainer (not a consultant, he insists), may have been preaching to the choir at the recent Private Motor Truck Council of Canada convention in Niagara-on-the-Lake, if the nodding heads of delegates in attendance at his seminar was any indication, but he got their attention nevertheless.

Craigen delivered a straightforward argument for treating drivers as valuable assets by comparing them to the equipment they operate – whereas a power unit’s average life span in a fleet comes to about five years, Craigen said, a driver can work 30 years if not more.

Not to mention the fact that the driver controls or influences almost all the important costs of a private carrier’s operations: fuel, compliance and fitness, maintenance and repair, capital costs (replacement units), insurance, customer relations and public image.

Drivers manage the big-ticket items in trucking, said Craigen, which gives all the more reason to treat them well. Despite this, drivers often get forgotten, he said. While power units and trailers are carefully spec’d, drivers are practically hired over the phone and rarely receive much in the way of ongoing training. Expensive garages and yards are equipped to meet every need of vehicles, but drivers get a dirty room, vending machines and bulletin boards covered with notices that are sometimes outdated. Meanwhile, trucks also get regular scheduled maintenance and often have the benefit of 24-hour roadside assistance.

Craigen proceeded to outline exactly how companies could build and maintain a professional driving team without breaking the bank.

Following are some of the suggestions Craigen made to those in attendance:

KEEP TRUCKS CLEAN AND MAINTAINED: Drivers get excited and feel good about their work when their equipment is in good shape.

BUILD RELATIONS BETWEEN DRIVERS, MANAGEMENT AND ADMINISTRATIVE STAFF: Craigen suggested a mentoring/partnering program where drivers accompany managers and sales people to customer meetings. He suggested management, sales and marketing and administrative personnel occasionally go on ride-alongs. And clerks typing bills of lading could take a few extra minutes to type in helpful and encouraging messages to drivers as well.

CONTRACTS:Companies should create their own contracts based on their experience and the experience of their drivers. “If it’s someone else’s paper it’s not to your advantage,” Craigen said.

CUSTOMER CARE: Drivers should participate in customer care initiatives. For example, drivers could be asked to organize a breakfast where they go to the customer’s warehouse and cook breakfast for everyone arriving and leaving work. “You’d be amazed how much drivers get into it, and how much of a difference it makes in their dealings with the same warehouse personnel when something goes wrong,” said Craigen.

Making these minor changes in corporate culture isn’t such a chore when you consider the ever-worsening driver shortage, Craigen said, pointing to the aging driver population and decreasing popularity of the driving occupation as regulations (hours of service) and border waits increase.

Who you employ to recruit drivers and how they go about doing so also makes a difference, said Craigen.

“Does the person who does the hiring really want to do the job and does he or she do a good job? ” he asked those in attendance.

If you consider the cost of hiring and paying a driver for 30 years, it’s strange that it’s often just one person left making the driver hiring decision, Craigen said.

“How many companies let one person make a million-dollar decision all by themself?” he asked.

Not to mention that a single careless driver can put a company out of business, thanks to the kind of damages now being awarded on accidents occurring in the US, he pointed out.

As for keeping drivers once you’ve hired them, you have to provide a career path and education opportunities, Craigen said.

The “new driver” wants to at least finish high school and wants to know there are opportunities in the future, he said. If the driver can get an education in his or her truck during downtime, which is possible given current on-board technology, the job of driving gets that much more attractive. And you’re also educating someone who might possibly become a member of your administrative or management team, Craigen pointed out.

When it comes to building a professional team, you need to:

DEFINE YOUR COMPANY’S SHORT AND LONG TERM NEEDS: If you need seasonal drivers, see if you can pair up with a company who needs drivers when you don’t, Craigen said. That way you can offer them employment all year round.

DEVELOP A TRAINED HIRING TEAM, AND DON’T HIRE DRIVERS QUICKLY: Set and advertise your standards. Be the company that drivers aspire to work for, not the one with the constant turnover, said Craigen.

IDENTIFY THE NEEDS OF THE “NEW” DRIVER: For example, he or she may want an in-cab education and a future in management.

ADOPT ROLLING ACKNOWLEDGEMENT STRATEGIES: A little thank you sticker placed strategically can go a long way, said Craigen.

CELEBRATE SMALL VICTORIES: Let drivers be part of celebrating company successes, birthdays, etc.

SHOWCASE YOUR PROFESSIONAL DRIVERS: It’s the best way to let other drivers know your company is one to be proud of working for.

DEVELOP ANNUAL GOALS FOR THE COMPANY WITH THE HELP OF DRIVERS: Make them part of defining cost and service targets. And make them part of developing procedures and policies (e.g. safety initiatives). Let them know what the results are.

INSTITUTE EMPLOYEE POINTS PROGRAMS: Recognize and reward top performers.

ALLOW YOUR DRIVERS TO EVALUATE YOU: Consider a corporate evaluation form to be filled out anonymously by your drivers.

All of the above can help create and maintain your most valuable assets.

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