Safety, Retention, and the Bottom Line: Strong leadership is key to the success of any motor carrier

Safety, Retention, and the Bottom Line: Strong leadership is key to the success of any motor carrier
During Truckload Carriers Association’s Spring Business Meetings, TCA Profitability Program (TPP) Retention Coach Ray Haight, left, and Jetco Delivery CEO Brian Fielkow moderated an educational session, “Safety, Retention, and the Bottom Line.” (Courtesy: Kim Richardson)

While motor carriers across North America may differ in size and leadership style, two factors directly affect every company’s financial bottom line — fostering a culture of safety and implementing an effective process for recruiting and retaining quality team members.

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During the Truckload Carriers Association’s virtual Spring Business Meetings, held April 19-20, industry thought leaders TCA Profitability Program (TPP) Retention Coach Ray Haight, along with Jetco Delivery CEO Brian Fielkow, an accomplished author, trainer, speaker, and facilitator of Making Safety Happen, moderated a session to help senior leaders ensure their companies’ success.

“Strong leadership is key to achieving success in both (a company’s) safety program and the retention program,” noted Haight. “Laser focus on the issue at hand is critical to success.”

The session, presented as a free-flowing conversation with audience interaction, explored the following topics:

  • Why safety and retention efforts fall off track — and how to put them back on track;
  • More than money: What drives world-class retention and safe behavior;
  • The power of process;
  • How to build trust among your team; and
  • Your culture is your secret weapon: Tips for building a culture that generates safe outcomes and that is highly valued by employees.

During the session, Haight and Fielkow shared insights on how a carrier’s safety processes impact its employee retention, and how both factors can make or break the company’s profit margin.

“Companies that excel in retention also lead the way in safety,” shared Fielkow. “They are likely the most productive and profitable, too. This is because all of the competencies are tied to culture: Everything grows in a healthy culture, and everything wilts in an unhealthy culture.”

Driver turnover is a key concern for most truckload carriers, and Fielkow warns against becoming fleet managers and other management staff becoming complacent if a company’s turnover rate is lower than the national average.

“If annual driver turnover in the industry is 100%+ and yours is 60%, don’t kid yourself,” he shared. “You may beat the average, but the numbers are still bad.”

The same goes for a company’s safety ratings. Accepting fewer crashes than the average only makes a company “less bad,” he continued.

“Safe outcomes and the retention of ‘best of the best’ employees both require a commitment to be world class,” he advised. “’Less bad’ is not a worthy goal.”

Developing a mindset of safety among drivers and working to retain quality employees should extend far beyond the initial driver orientation.

“If your company is like mine, you might have higher turnover among employees in their first year,” said Fielkow. “It can take a year to fully integrate an employee into your culture. The typical one-week new-hire orientation program is insufficient. Develop a longer-term integration initiative.”

A carrier’s turnover rate — whether good or bad — can be related to the performance and mindset of every member of the team, from the highest-level executives to the support staff.

However, Fielkow noted, raw turnover data may not be the best measure of the success of a company’s middle management: Sometimes an employee is simply not a good fit, or does not meet the company standards, and needs to go.

“If you have an employee who demonstrates unsafe behaviors, try to coach them. If the coaching effort fails, the employee needs to go,” he said. “Measuring managers on raw turnover may unintentionally incentivize them to keep employees who will cost you dearly in the long run. If managers weed out uncoachable team members, they are guarding your gates and should be commended.”

Haight points to a carrier’s dispatch team as a crucial element to both safety and employee retention.

“I believe the relationship between dispatch and driver is critical to success, and tying driver turnover to a number on each board is critical,” he explained. “I am never looking for ‘bad guys’ in the exercise though, but heroes that others can learn from.”

On this point, Haight and Fielkow have a slight difference of opinion, with Fielkow placing the responsibility on the company’s culture as a whole.

“I agree that the individual dispatcher should be measured on safety and retention outcomes,” said Fielkow. “However, if the frontline manager operates within a dysfunctional organization, he or she is doomed from the start. Key dysfunctions include abdicated leadership, acceptance of subpar results, and failure to view safety and retention as core strategic initiatives.”

While Haight and Fielkow may differ slightly on some factors regarding safety and retention, when it comes down to “where the rubber meets the road,” so to speak, the two have a united message: Clear, effective communication between all levels of a company’s team is vital to fostering a culture of safety, as well as to attracting — and keeping — top-quality drivers.

Linda Garner-Bunch has been in publishing for more than 30 years. You name it, Linda has written about it. She has served as an editor for a group of national do-it-yourself publications and has coordinated the real estate section of Arkansas’ only statewide newspaper, in addition to working on a variety of niche publications ranging from bridal magazines to high-school sports previews and everything in between. She is also an experienced photographer and copy editor who enjoys telling the stories of the “Knights of the Highway,” as she calls our nation’s truck drivers.
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