It’s Time to Reveal the Ugly

Here’s a tip on retention, reveal the ugly. Before I get too far into the weeds in my reveal process, I observe that where driver turnover usually originates is an offshoot of some extenuating factors in the past. The company may have experienced rapid growth. The company might have been sold or amalgamated with another company. The company’s primary customer base or lanes may have switched, short-haul to long-haul. The company ownership might have passed on to the next generation; the primary funding source may have changed, bringing new outside influences. 

Here is a phrase I borrowed from Samuel Johnson for the Driver Retention Project Plan:

The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken

– Samuel Johnson 1709 – 1784

For us, in trucking, I relate this phrase to the unending variables we deal with, and the unproportionately low returns we receive. You simply cannot take your eyes off the ball in any department if you are running a trucking company; things are just too tight. Johnson said the trouble is you do not see them coming. Habits start so small they can go unnoticed until they are “too strong to be broken.” Turnover is creeping up, don’t worry about it. It will come back down as soon as this or that happens. Next thing you know, your numbers are out of line, and you can’t seem to bring them back down as they continue to deteriorate.

Most of my work done with carriers starts with a general conversation, which paints a picture for me. It is not unlike peeling the layers of an onion. To name a few they would be, what’s the fleet size? What type of trucking does the company do, flatbed, van, etc? What’s the safety record of the business? What are the current driver turnover numbers, and does that answer come with a lot of conjecture? How many unseated units do they have? What does the corporate structure look like and does it reveal a boss or a leader? Along with the all-important question of “What do you think the issue is”?

There is more, of course, but this can easily get a conversation started about the possible issues that cause the turnover. From here, I have a link to a survey that will reveal what people within the company perceive or certain aspects that are vital to retention. These would include safety, communication, culture, operational training and empathy, systems proficiency, consistency in driver contact, employee opportunity, etc. Once I have all the above, I can reasonably ascertain the gaps in company performance that are likely the significant factors contributing to its turnover.

Here is a tip for those companies that are worried about becoming victims of the above scenario. On your income statement, put a line item for turnover, monthly and year to date, if you lose ten drivers a month at 7k per driver, $70,000 a month, $840,000 in any given year. My thinking tells me that this number would be acted on much quicker than if it did not reveal this clearly, especially if it started to creep up with any momentum. Treat this as your ‘effective’ income. Drill this into your tea. Every time a driver leaves, they are taking a bag of cash with $7,000 with them. Now add gross margins from unseated units. All of this is, of course, is accounted for in other areas of your financials. Reveal them and see the eyes in the room roll. We know we can’t hire our way out of the current situation and if you believe as I do that standing still will make you a target. Time is a wasting folks. If you would like to have a general conversation on your company’s turnover, please reach out to me. Let’s see what we can see.

Regards and safe trucking,


More ruminations: Are you a leader or a boss?

Over the last couple of years, I have talked to many trucking industry colleagues and have been fortunate enough to play a business coach’s role to a number of leaders. For me, and not to oversimplify the process, these folks all fall into one of two categories: bosses or leaders. Determining which is necessary as it dictates my approach to our future discussions. One way of finding out is simply to ask for an organizational chart. The conclusions revealed are influenced by the size of the business and through experience gained over the years. A boss will have far more lines coming off their names than a leader. The one to watch out for is an organizational chart that appears to be a leader, but in reality, the boss’s instinct is to be a fixer, and they will circumvent their senior managers’ authority and go right around them to get at the issue. Bosses just can’t help themselves and will continually circumvent the managers’ authority and minimize their roles. This is usually not a productive environment for anyone working under this type of structure. 

Definition: A boss is an individual who believes that the success of every effort in their business needs their direction and stamp of approval for it to be successful. They may require input from others, but rarely and when they do, it is usually taken in a cursory manner, and often it is asked only to support a decision they have already made. They determine their self-worth by the direction they give others. They look at themselves as THE problem solvers in the business and beware to any individual below them that were to make a decision on their own, successful or not, to move ahead without approval can be disastrous for the individual. Usually, these folks are not malicious in any way. They may have just not been exposed to anything that might vary from their version of what they see as leadership. I believe that most people’s natural inclination would be to be a boss, to take charge and get ‘er done!

When facing these individuals, my approach begins with trying to open them [RH1] to the value that others will bring to the table if they’re allowed. A leader looks at the organization from a different paradigm; they see their people as the key to success, not the obstacles to success. The difference leads to a workforce who checks their brains at the door and follows as best they can the role they were hired to do. I say as best they can because many companies run by bosses do not even have detailed role descriptions for their employees. The leader’s workforce not only gets a detailed role description; they are encouraged to think outside the box, express ideas, and challenge the norm. 

Definition: A Leader is an individual who sees delegation as their best friend. Leaders think long term whereas bosses think short term, leaders put people first where bosses put results first. Leaders understand that they must dedicate a significant amount of time working on their business, where a boss spends almost all of their time working in the business. In other words, leaders think and act strategically instead of spending all of their time bouncing between putting out fires that happen regularly. A leader will surround themselves with competent senior managers and then allow them to take action and manage with a considerable measure of autonomy to get the most out of their staff, coaching and encouraging the best from them while supporting their development. I have seen some relatively large companies, run by bosses, work very hard at trying to attract bright young minds into their companies only to lose them in short order. These new folks become frustrated very quickly if they are in an environment that does not allow them the autonomy to try new things and to learn. Being restrained from coloring outside the lines will have them looking at new opportunities as soon as they perceive a roadblock to advancement by a boss. 

I was a boss for too many years, and it almost cost me everything I had. I believe I came by it honestly. Coming directly out of the driver’s seat into running a small trucking company left me no knowledge of the difference between the two leadership styles. Through executive coaching and a ferocious appetite to read business books and biographies about successful leaders, I began to distance myself from the boss role into a leadership role.

It might sound cliché,’ but it began to become fun again when it started to be about the people rather than about me. It also began to be much more profitable. Suddenly, there was a real thrill in challenging people to take on new projects, giving them the tools to be successful and watching them as they gained confidence and looked for the next project to tackle. We posted every new job that came up to everyone in the company before we went outside our business, including our driving force. Every department had a budget for its people’s education, and they were encouraged to spend it. 

My mantra to my senior managers was to work towards making themselves obsolete. Their objective was to mold their department and their people into becoming self-sustaining. They were told to become coaches to their people, with the underlying principle being to ask what obstacles can I remove for you to become more efficient at your job. I was not impressed with managers who might spend an excessive amount of time in the office. This behavior meant they had no balance in their lives or could not coach and support their staff to become a high-functioning team. 

I felt successful when I was able to walk through our office and see clusters of people standing in group kibitzing, laughing, and having a good time. I could do this because I knew they were dedicated, knowledgeable people who were in line with what our company was trying to achieve. A boss could never do this; they would have nightmares over the loss of control this would represent.

Happy New Year and Safe Trucking.



One thing every day

One of many thoughts rolling around in my skull these days is a lesson many of us hear in our younger years. “Two ears, one mouth,” or maybe this one — “You will never learn a thing with your mouth open.” Although I still cherish the sentiment, there are many times I have added value to an effort as I tried to explain the essence of the project, either to an industry colleague or more likely, to my better half, Connie, and ideas have been enhanced through conversation.   

There were many times I felt inadequate as I sat in board rooms and listened to professional talking heads as they explained what was going on in my trucking company and what I should do next. After all, they had the credentials, they must have something figured out, and on top of that, they don’t stop talking. It took me years, and an outstanding business coach, to finally listen to my inner voice.  My coach repeatedly drilled into me that I needed to trust my instinct, that inner voice that many of us ignore in favor of cursory advice from so-called uninvested professionals. 

My thought process has advanced to the point where I value the principle that the accumulation of a single lesson learned every day is the secret. It is that small accumulation of ideas and experiences that add up to a person’s principles or standards of behavior — one’s judgment of what is essential in life and business. The accumulation of the victories, failures, and scars in and of themselves do not bring value unless we learn something from them. This wisdom comes from experience, not a classroom. I don’t have anything against formal education, far from it, but it can be limiting without hands-on experience. 

I feel extraordinarily lucky to be doing the many things I am now involved in. Holding the title of Truckload Carriers Association Profitability Program’s Retention Coach has allowed me into the inner workings of many companies. We talk about bettering a company’s driver retention, which, as my title suggests, is the primary goal, but what we’re talking about is the client’s company culture, which is at the core of the issue with almost all of the companies I talk to. 

Changing a company’s culture from where it began has precipitated changing the high driver turnover of the business into a place where people want to work and stay. It is monumental, no? Of course, not; I tell folks that during our work together, they will do the same things they are doing today but just in a different, more driver-centric, way. I call on ten years of experience driving long-haul. I call on running a successful trucking company as well as almost running a company into bankruptcy. I call on holding leadership roles in national trucking associations. Recently I have been able to call on the experience of working with dozens of trucking companies and seeing what has and has not worked in their efforts to improve their culture. Have no doubt that the culture at your company either brings drivers in and makes them feel valued and supported or drives them away without a second thought.

I am often asked for endorsements on my work, and I am fortunate to have several success stories that have been very generous with their support. I have also had companies that have not seen the success they should have, and I will take ownership of those experiences. How can one take ownership of the wins without addressing the ones that didn’t get what they expected? Changing company culture can be like trying to turn the Titanic — they don’t turn on a dime. It is the commitment component where things can wane. Just like the accumulation of one good thought a day that can mold a person into a valued resource, these things take time and patience that is just not as prevalent in many companies in our industry as we wish it were. 

I have recently become a virtual colleague with Brian Fielkow, the author of Making Safety Happen. His teachings mirror many of my own, but he goes at it through a different lens, and I love it. Brian owned Jetco and was faced with changing the culture from where it was into an industry leader in their safety culture, and he did it. Like my own, his offering is nothing more than a strategic plan predicated on learned experience and trial and error that resulted in success. You can find Brian’s offering at  

The other common element that draws us together is legacy. Both Brian and I would like you to buy our products, after all we are and will always be entrepreneurs. But what drives our passion for what we do comes from our core values. I feel that if I can help a company drive its turnover down, I have helped numerous drivers from having to deal with the personal failure that comes with looking for new employment—that interruption in household income along with the family stress associated with turnover. In Brian’s case, if his program can help companies act in a manner that is dedicated to safety as a moral imperative, he has saved lives and the carnage that comes from heavy-vehicle accidents, workplace injuries, etc.

These days I am enjoying regular coaching calls with many good trucking company executives about turnover through the TCA.  If you’d like to learn more, they have a landing page for me that is located at

Take Good Care and Safe Trucking.