Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the customer gets out of it.

Peter Drucker


Posted by Greg Mechler


Last month, a CEO of a 700 truck fleet told me of his strong belief that his driver managers were merely clerks.  He viewed them as “information passers” to the driver who occasionally answered a few basic questions from the driver.  He definitely did not want them making any decisions.  And they were only held accountable for the accuracy of the information they communicated to the driver, not for any business results.  The CEO saw this as a low cost, efficient way to run operations, as he could hire clerks for less than $15.00 per hour.  I was curious because this view ran contrary to what I had learned and experienced in my career in truckload management and consulting.  I was intrigued because this company had contacted me about helping solve driver recruiting and turnover issues.
As a follow up to the above conversation I asked if he would share with me some of the operating results from the last two years.  This company employed 16 driver managers (dispatchers), and provided me with data by dispatcher and background info on each dispatcher.  The data revealed that three of the 16 dispatchers had much better performance results than the others.  This was especially true in the area of driver turnover.  The three top performers each lost only one or two drivers per month (of the workforce of 45).  The annualized driver turnover rate for the three ranged from 27% to 54%.  The other 13 dispatchers averaged a low of 3 turnovers per month (80%) to a high of 5 per month (134%).  The difference is quite significant prompting further investigation.
The next step was to interview each dispatcher, asking a structured set of questions designed by our team and approved by management.  After that, each dispatcher was observed on the job and their behaviors recorded.  The dispatchers all took the PDP® ProScan survey of behavioral traits.  Our hypothesis was that “the top three dispatchers went beyond the expectations of the CEO and performed as leaders not clerks”.  Our structured process and the company supplied data clearly validated that the top three dispatchers used leadership disciplines that went well beyond what the CEO expected.  A brief summary of the findings revealed:
The three top performers were veterans with significant seniority
They provided support for their drivers when it came to load selection, trip planning, safety, and maintenance
They interacted with drivers positively – not as an order giver, and not in coddling way
They knew their business – how the freight system worked, how maintenance worked
They expected top performance from their drivers and set weekly goals with them
They came to work prepared – they set up plan the day before
They had high goals for themselves
They utilized the following leadership disciplines even though they were not formal leaders
1. Perspective – the way of viewing the business, relationships, and results.  The top three knew how the business worked and how it affected drivers and the customer.  They viewed people, including drivers, as significant team members for problem solving and achieving business requirements.
2. Preparation – doing the work necessary to make good decisions and get results.  The top three prepared each day for what was expected to happen and what could possibly go wrong.  When there was a break in the daily work flow they reviewed the plan and made adjustments.
3. Way with People – being the kind of person who others can respect and relate with.  They recognized that drivers could solve problems when given the opportunity.  They engaged with drivers on an adult to adult basis.
4. Courage to be decisive – use sound judgment to make effective decisions.  They made tough decisions and managed the consequences.  They were not afraid to confront performance problems using a firm but fair approach.
5. Teamwork and team play – working with others to accomplish extraordinary results.  They made sure drivers understood they were part of a much larger team and that working as a team instead of as adversaries was good for everyone.  The top dispatchers also worked together with the other functions as equal partner especially load planning, customer service, safety, and maintenance.  They stood behind their drivers when necessary.
6. Results with excellence – achieving lasting results not just short term solutions.  These top dispatchers got great results in every category – miles driven, loads delivered, safety, compliance, fuel economy and turnover.   
The anecdote described above did not end positively.  Even though the data strongly supported the position that driver managers/dispatchers are leaders not clerks, the CEO chose to continue with  the clerk approach.  As a consequence the company still struggles with numerous driver problems that lead to turnover rates exceeding 100% annually.   
Don’t be this CEO!  You can develop leadership and high performance in your organization.  We offer a Driver Manager Leadership Program that teaches the “Six Disciplines of Uncommon Leaders” in the context of actual fleet management challenges your company is working right now.  Contact us to schedule a short conference call on how it works and how you can enjoy much improved performance results.

E-mail: greg@thehumanadvantage.com