Your drivers are your key to efficiency and great customer service. A great driver can help you exceed your revenue goals, while a poor driver will cost you more than you care to find out. In the craziness of running a business, closely managing your drivers might seem like a luxury. In reality, it’s a core business necessity and if done correctly, could be your competitive advantage over other fleets.
Managing drivers who are constantly on the road involves challenges requiring a little refinement to an otherwise typical management style. Between juggling dozens of drivers, securing backhauls and managing urgent situations, giving your drivers will require an intentional strategy. The reality is that your duty as a manager will be different for every driver. Some will need short bursts of attention regularly, while others will simply want a nice long check-in every now and again. Either way, we challenge you to buckle in and make it part of your 2017 business strategy.
We’ve pulled together a few tips we’ve gathered to help you give your management style a quick refresh. Even if you’re already using all of these tactics, it will be worth the reminder. Here we go – 6 tips for managing your drivers from afar.
1) Treat your drivers with compassion, especially when things aren’t going as planned.
Compassion is easy when things are going well, it’s a whole lot more difficult when your driver is running late or a safety protocol was breached. Whenever you interact with your drivers, remember that you’re talking to a human who has been on the road for many hours. They have lives, personal conflicts and goals – just like anyone else. In most cases, they want to do their job well, earn a decent living, and get home safely to their family and friends. Start every conversion (especially potentially tense conversations) with compassion and patience. If this isn’t your strong suit, we recommend reading Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson (it’s also available as an audio book).
If you always assume the best and give your drivers the benefit of the doubt whenever possible, communication will start off on the right track. Create a safe environment for honest explanations and be thoughtful in your response. During all interactions with drivers, put yourself in their driver’s seat and understand what’s going on from their end. We know this isn’t your first rodeo. Even if you’ve been a driver yourself, it’s easy to forget what they’re going through. Let your driver speak while you focus on genuinely listening.
Creating a mindset for yourself of “Driver First” will go far in developing a rapport with your team.
2) Establish trust through excellent communication
Drivers who are always on the road may miss out on the company culture you’ve developed with your onsite employees. To combat this challenge, intentionally create open lines of communication with your team of drivers. Carve out a time slot to touch base with your drivers out on the road. Don’t just talk about work; engage with them on a personal level. Ask about interests, family, and how they are doing. Create an atmosphere where your drivers know they can reach out with problems and that you have their back. When possible, centralize information and make it readily available to everyone who touches it. Having a team website or Facebook group will help keep communication going in all directions. If a driver has easy access to schedules, routes, and load information (FR8Star can help here), he or she will feel connected to the company and won’t have to stress about the unknown. All your drivers should worry about is driving safely and efficiently.
3) Build Trust Through Transparency in Good Times and Bad
Drivers often feel isolated on the road and it’s easy to lose faith in the management company when they feel left out of the loop. Talk to your drivers about what’s going on at HQ. If you’re having problems finding loads, let them know and let them see what you’re doing to fix it. If you’re going to need driver coverage for a holiday, let your team know what they can expect. many times, presenting a problem to your staff will prompt suggestions, inputs, and even volunteering to work extra to help with the issue. A policy of upfront honesty about any topic is always better than withholding information.
4) Set your drivers up for success by setting clear goals.
According to a poll performed by Gallup of companies worldwide, only around half of the employees strongly agreed they knew what was expected of them at work. A nebulous picture of success is incredibly frustrating in general, but especially to remote employees like truck drivers. To foster climate of high performance, develop and communicate clear goals and expectations that align with your fleet’s objectives. Make sure that all individuals in your company know how their contributions impact the overall organization and involve them in the decision-making process to develop ownership of their goals. It doesn’t matter if you have one driver or 1,000. This trust is really important. Each driver should have a complete understanding of what is expected and when it is to be executed.
On check-in calls, develop a structure that allows you and your driver to communicate goal status, future needs, and tackle any issues before they develop.
- “What went right?”
- “What went wrong?”
- “Is there room for improvement?”
- “What can we do on this end to back you up?”
You don’t want the call to sound scripted. However, you do want consistency to both increase efficiency and set the expectations for what you’re covering on the call. As your driver shreds miles, he’ll consider possible responses and, hopefully, think about improving his work proactively.
5) Develop and build your drivers by providing coaching
As the fleet manager, you are in a unique position. You’re able to take thousands of data points, feedback learnings, and experience to develop a high level of mastery of the logistics industry. When you touch base with your drivers, look for ways you can help them work through issues they are experiencing based on your industry observations. You’re the interface between all of your fleet’s drivers and you can offer coaching and guidance which will help drivers power through their learning curves and avoid issues or mistakes that other drivers in your fleet have experienced. Just like in your check in calls, it’s often a good idea to have a structure to your coaching feedback. This simplifies the information exchange and makes it memorable for the driver who’s on the road (plus, it helps keep the conversation moving and not get hung up on rabbit trails).
- “Here’s a problem that a lot of our drivers are struggling with (and why it’s a problem).”
- “Here’s a solution that seems to be working.”
- “Here’s how you can implement that solution.”
- “Here’s how to tell if it’s working.”
- “Do you have any suggestions for this that we’re not seeing?”
You might also follow up with them with a text or email to give them a reference document if the want to review the information.
A culture of coaching and shared information develops your drivers and foster a feeling of connection. Knowing that other drivers are going through the same types of experiences can reduce stress and build community.
6) Build up your drivers by creating continuous positive feedback loops.
This is another aspect of communication, but it is important enough to get its own section.
Employees want to know when they are achieving success and drivers are at the top of this list. When your drivers are doing well, let them know! In the trucking industry, there are often few face-to-face meetings with your drivers and when the status quo is “No news is good news,” it’s very hard to maintain engagement with your fleet. Your drivers will go looking for a new job if they are unsure how things are going.
In a logistics company, issues often arise and execution doesn’t always go according to plan (for both controllable and uncontrollable reasons). If the only time you provide feedback is when there are issues, it begins to grate on drivers, and they start to dread check-ins and unscheduled phone calls from the office.
Providing ongoing feedback loops creates highly engaged employees who take can take negative calls in stride because they’re set in context and balanced by the positive feedback you’ve been working to give.
Managing drivers creates unique challenges for fleet managers. It’s often up to you to control expectations, keep morale up, and make sure that overall, your drivers are happy. It’s a tough job but can be extremely rewarding.
We’re lucky to have folks who are willing to put in so many hours out there on our nation’s highways.
FR8 is a fleet management system that reduces your operating costs, increases your backloads, and makes fleet administration simple. We’d love to help you improve the efficiency of your operation. You can learn more here.