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Are Your Driver Managers Dictating or Managing

It’s no mystery that quality driver managers pay off in the form of productive, safe drivers who will stay with your company. But how will you know if someone will be a quality manager before they take the role? Should they be a former driver, or someone without driving experience? A recent graduate that can be trained, or someone that already has management experience? The answer is that any of these can be effective managers just as long as personality and proper training are taken into account.

In addition to the hard skills required by managers such as how to dispatch, using internal systems, and making sure drivers are staying safe and productive, they must also have the soft skills necessary to manage the driver-manager relationship since this can have such a big impact on the driver retention. While some fleets realize this and actively invest in their managers with regular soft skills training, a large number of fleets still do not. Studies conducted by us at People Element support the connection between strong driver manager relationships and driver retention, so why don’t more fleets invest in soft skill training?

The answer has to do with management style. We often see that many driver managers who dictate are highly productive, and earn appreciation by their superiors for their efficiencies. Many of these managers’ drivers are fine with how they treat them as they help them make money and get them home when needed. While this works for some drivers, it does not work for everyone. When hearing the recommendation of needing to spend more time building relationships with their drivers, these managers often respond by saying “We don’t have time to do that.” Yet, we find that the high performing companies we have worked with have one thing in common in that they instead make the time to build these critical relationships.

While going over personality test results with a group of driver mangers in one of our training sessions, one of the managers, who happened to have high turnover, once asked, “Why is this important? This doesn’t work for me and isn’t how I run my drivers.” While his high dominant and direct personality had results-oriented attitude and he had productive drivers, he was not aware of how his dictatorial style made drivers feel, and that he did not adjust to those drivers who were not comfortable with how he made them feel. This is where the power of the AND comes into play…he can be a productive driver manager AND build good relationships, many just do not know how.

In looking at data from another client, we could see that the longer a driver stayed with the same driver manger, the more productive the drivers. However, this company had operations manager turnover above 30%. When looking at drivers who quit this company, there was frequent dissatisfaction with getting enough feedback on performance and with feeling confident that their driver manager understood the problems they faced while on the road.

So what are the takeaways?

  • The best driver managers are empathetic and can relate to what a driver goes through out on the road. Former drivers are great at this and managers who were not drivers could benefit from a ride-along or some sort of training to see what it is really like out on the road.
  • Driver managers who have management experience are often great at building relationships and making new drivers feel welcome. Sometimes the pressure of the job can force their style to be more dictatorial.
  • Training driver managers on how to build trust, resolve conflict, and relate to what their drivers face daily is an invaluable investment. The top drivers managers we have seen are trustworthy, follow up on time, never let conflict hang, and help their drivers be productive. Try collecting best practices from your top performing managers and sharing them with new and current managers who might be lower performers. When is the last time you did that?
  • Helping a former driver with some of the managerial skills they may have not developed and helping someone with previous management experience develop the taste for trucking they may not have developed are equally as valuable.

Many of our clients in other industries have leaders over areas like Organizational Development, Talent Development, Leadership Development, and Organizational Learning. While we wouldn’t expect to see these in too many trucking companies, we hope to see more trucking companies investing by developing their managers, which will lead to drivers being happier, safer, and willing to stay with the company longer.

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