Retention – Building a Base
I recently had the great opportunity to speak at the KSM (Katz Sapper & Miller) Trucking Business Owner’s Roundtable. This is a first-class accounting/consulting firm that continually impresses me with their integrity, innovation and dedication to the industry. Every six months or so they assemble many their trucking clients, primarily made up of senior leadership, along with several leaders from non-clients to a half day education session. I was asked if I would be interested in speaking to the group on my take on the current state of driver retention. Also on the bill was my partner Chris Henry from TPP (Truckload Carriers Profitability Program) to speak on benchmarking, industry trends and the nine traits of high-performing trucking companies.
When I was asked, I quickly jumped at the opportunity. I admit I was more than just a little eager because, as I explained to the crowd, usually when I speak to the topic of retention the crowd is made up of recruiters and safety personnel. Don’t get me wrong. I have great admiration for the job these folks do, especially considering what they must deal with if they are in a high turnover environment. So, I warmed myself up to the crowd by suggesting to them that at every retention session held, at any event, that THEY should be the ones in the room along with their other senior managers. When ATRI (American Truck Research Institute) surveys the industry, as they do once a year, and the results have the driver shortage at #1 issue to the industry and driver retention down at #5, what I see is a complete disconnect and it starts with them – the leadership teams.
Does it ring as true to you as it does to me that suggesting that the primary issue in the trucking industry is a shortage of drivers when that same industry historically bleeds turnover at close to 100% – is it not nuts? Talk about the emperor’s new clothes. This makes no sense! There is a large volume of carriers who have their heads in the sand on this thing – they don’t get it and it saddens me. There are many trucking pioneers that dedicated themselves to building this great industry’s legacy. They did it by starting associations, fighting ridiculous legislation brought forward by uninformed politicians, organizing and leading. We do them no honor when we allow an environment of distrust permeate the industry between management and it’s driving force that we have named churn. This has gone on for far too long.
The other thing that riles me to the bone is that the situation is entirely fixable – been there, done that, bought the tee shirt. You can beat it! Where a lot of it fails is that leadership needs to look itself in the mirror and recognize that it starts with them. They need to step up and tackle the issue and make the decision to take on the challenge and beat it. I’m a huge association fan as any of you who have been reading my articles for a while know. Having said that I am also aware that associations can be a harbinger for a common lack of performance. Reports from an association come out suggesting that the latest numbers say the industry is at 100% turnover and members with their peers at industry events will suggest that their doing pretty good at 80%. I have seen this many times. Talk about hysteria, news flash buddy – at 80% you suck, period.
The nice thing for me at this stage of my life is that I don’t need to hold back. My future does not depend on anyone’s opinion of me but my own. Telling a room full of senior executives that they need to get their heads out of the sand on this thing is kind of fun, I have to say. I don’t do it in a rude way but in a direct way, as is my nature. Did they listen, or did they tune me out? That’s the real test and I have to say, as usual, some did, and some didn’t. I got several business cards shoved in my hands. I talked to a smaller carrier whose turnover was at 30% and they thought it was way too high – outstanding. Then I was asked by a large truck fleet that I know has triple digit turnover if I would share a copy of my presentation with them, which I did. Then in their email to me they thanked me for sharing the content and said they would forward it on their recruiting department. Man, are you kidding? Didn’t you hear a thing I said?
At any rate, I’ll carry on. I have a couple items that I sell related to turnover that I believe have value, but I’m really neither here nor there if folks buy them. My real interest and passion is trying to get the message that high turnover is not necessary – it can be beat; your safety record will improve dramatically, your insurance cost will go down along with your recruiting cost and guess what, your bottom line will soar. It makes me wonder what business some carriers think they’re in.
I also gave them this to think about – if you have high turnover your people do not believe what you say – they distrust you. I think this is a hard message for many of the ego’s in the room to handle but it’s true. If you are going to take this issue on it starts by self-reflection and looking in the mirror. Somehow, someway the culture in your business has turned sour, and that’s on you. If you can’t get by that then you’re in for a hard row to hoe in the years to come. Turnover will not be able to be compensated for by just hiring more volume. The tide is turning on that strategy in my humble opinion.