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Retaining Drivers: First Who…Then What!

Vice President

Last week, I was back on the west coast attending the QUALCOMM Vision 2012 Management Conference. One of the highlights of the conference was listening to Richard Stockings, President and Chief Operating Officer at Swift Transportation, and his insightful comments on transformational leadership.

During his presentation, Richard kept referring to something that has always been near and dear to my heart --  following the business principles laid out by Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great,” in particular, Chapter 3, “First Who…Then What.”

Do you have the right people in the right seats on the bus?

Good to Great leaders first begin transforming their companies by getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then they figure out where to drive it.

When it comes to retaining drivers can you honestly look at your organization and say that you have the right people in the right seats and that they are driving the bus in the right direction? If the answer is yes, and your retention rate is over 80% (Turnover 20% or less) then congratulations -- your company is on the path to greatness. If not, let’s examine areas where it is critical to have the right people in the right seats.

Critical positions to fill with the right people

First and foremost is the driver manager. This key position is responsible for managing and developing a relationship with your company’s most valuable asset – your drivers! Is the driver manager one of your most talented / best people in your organization?  

Good to Great Companies put their best people on their biggest opportunities and not their biggest problems.  Do your driver managers have the character attributes to perform the job?

When hiring for this most important position, Good to Great companies place a greater weight on character attributes such as work ethic, basic intelligence, and dedication to fulfilling commitments (service) before looking at their education, specialized knowledge and work experience.

Incenting the right people to stay

Another area to look at is compensation for these critical positions. Good to Great Companies believe that compensation and incentives are important, but for very different reasons.

The purpose of a compensation system should not be to get the right behaviors from the wrong people.  It’s to get the right people on the bus in the first place, and to keep them there!

These companies understand the simple truth: The right people will do the right things and deliver the best results they’re capable of, regardless of their incentive system. Have you created an environment where hardworking people will thrive and lazy workers would either jump or get thrown right off the bus?

What success looks like

By adopting the mindset of Good to Great companies, Swift has managed to radically reduce its turnover in the past 5 years.  The company considers reducing driver turnover one of their four steps to profitability, and by having the right people in the right seats, they’ve met and exceeded their goals in this area.

No matter where your turnover numbers are right now, there is always room to make them better.  Let me leave you with one last thought.  I believe the age-old adage “People are your most important asset” is wrong. People are not your most important asset. The RIGHT people are!”


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Driver Recruiting & Retention: How is your Honesty Policy?

CSA and WhiteSnake? "Here I go Again"

Which Way to the Endzone?

Using a Driver Scorecard to Manage Performance

Topics: Transportation