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Why Driver Feedback Alone Isn’t Enough to Lower Turnover

Posted by: Jay Green

Hear this lately? “We guarantee we will lower your turnover by 10%!” “On average our clients lowered their turnover by 15%!” Given current driver conditions, that sounds great, you should buy it!….Until you think it through a little better.

With the rise of driver turnover and the driver shortage, the industry will continue to hear short-sighted and unrealistic promises as new ideas emerge to help trucking companies with driver turnover. Getting driver feedback through continuous listening and surveys are great ideas, just not the panaceas they are often marketed to be.

In late 2007- 2009 (long before many of today’s trucking specific retention solutions were even founded) People Element’s clients lowered their turnover by 50% when we were called Strategic Programs. Do we get credit for that, or does the economy? Lately I have talked to companies who have used some newer to the market providers or used their own internal survey and feedback platforms only to see turnover rise. Should you blame the actions taken from the surveys and feedback as being ineffective?

Let’s dig into this by starting with an easy statement; many factors combine to contribute to driver turnover. When freight is up, when pay rises, when perks to drivers keep coming, and when sign on bonuses are rampant, turnover rises. These are beyond a carrier’s control. What carriers need to focus on are the following two things:

  1. What turnover are they causing – aka, what’s the stuff that’s actually within their control? (Treatment from staff, favoritism perceptions, perceptions other companies pay more, etc.)
  2. Are they providing a culture and a workplace someone wants to stay with? (Is everyone in the entire company onboard with engaging and retaining drivers? Is there an environment people feel attached to? Do they want to go the extra mile for you?)

With these two in mind, let’s tackle each one at a time. Survey feedback may give insight to drivers complaining about pay, home time, miles- all the usual suspects. The bigger issue is many surveys are not specific enough nor do they focus on what is behind the home time or pay issue. Sure someone left due to X or Y or Z reasons but what caused the issues specifically? How do you prevent them from causing more turnover? Why did the issues push someone to look for a new job in the first place? Even more important, do you know exactly what to work on and why or are you simply responding to a low score on a survey or a soapbox complaint issue in the comment data? Drivers will complain about wait time at a customer of course, but is that really why they are leaving? Isolating the root causes of issues, determining what factors contribute to them, and developing action plans to address these are the first step in tackling controllable turnover issues. Don’t waste your money just collecting data if your provider does not have a process in place to help you move forward post-feedback.

Many companies have shown me pages and pages of data with answers to survey questions or a bunch of comments drivers gave them. It’s a great starting point, but when it comes time to act, they don’t have a plan. How do you know you are acting on something that is really impacting turnover and not just something that is easy to complain about? People might complain about the coffee in the company’s break room, but it’s highly unlikely that people are quitting because of it. Before getting feedback and survey data, be sure it will be actionable. Be sure you know how you will use it. Be sure your team is aligned to take action – which brings us to number 2.

Having a culture that everyone wants to be a part of sounds great but is tough to execute in trucking. When the workforce is spread out, when there are different types of work, different divisions, etc., there will always be differences in the company. We keep hearing 2018 is the year of the driver at every company we talk to. This may be true but if the Sales is making decisions based on the customer first, how does that help the driver? If Safety is making decisions putting safety first, how does that help the driver? If the Finance and Operations teams are making decisions putting profits first, how does that help the driver? We hear a lot of talk about how drivers are important but if the entire company is not aligned, your turnover may improve from time to time by responding to survey data but over time your overall execution for retention will fall short. The toughest job in America right now is the person titled VP of Driver Retention. This job will fail without alignment from all departments.

While surveys will yield some great feedback, you should first know if you are really prepared to act on that feedback. Will your departments come together as one unified goal for retention? If you have a non-People Element survey provider, are you really being guided with best practices? Are you being guided with action plans that work? Is your data getting down into the hands of your frontline managers? Do they know what to do? If the answer is no, then surveys will not necessarily lower your turnover. If your answers are yes, you may see some impact. If your answers are yes for the long haul – keep focusing on preventable turnover and keep engaging all departments with one unified goal for employee retention. Be wary of false promises of lowered turnover from feedback from purveyors of information. That is all you will be left with. Look for a partner that can help you take action, share best practices, and really drive organizational change to continue to improve your controllable turnover reasons and to help build a strong culture. The companies working on these now will have a tremendous lead on those who are just thinking about it.

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