Grawe Gazette – Driver Retention

The Grawe Gazette – Executive Leadership

Driver Retention
By The Grawe Group, LLC, August 2021

No challenge in trucking gets more attention today than driver recruiting and retention. To varying degrees, everyone in the industry is impacted by it. As an industry we can meet the challenge, but we must approach it differently. What we are doing today is not working well enough.

It is time to consider different ideas, or dust off some old ideas and add some fresh energy to them. Specifically, we need new ways to recruit drivers, onboard drivers, pay drivers, and work with drivers.

Driver Recruiting

A friend and mentor taught us the importance of good expectation exchanges. Too many recruiting pitches today are still focused on rate per mile or percentage rate, and the “family” culture the company has. We do not recruit employees by just talking about salary and family culture. We talk about job responsibilities, career opportunities, work-life balance, salary and benefits – total compensation, what to expect from the manager, etc.

Why do we talk to driver recruits differently? If the driver asks about rate per mile, answer the question yes, but pivot that conversation to the total package you offer. Have a real expectations exchange with that recruit by painting the real picture of compensation, work, and home time, and by pushing the driver for a real understanding of what you can expect from them.

Driver Onboarding

From safety and qualifications compliance to operations to licensing to administration to HR paperwork and contracts there is a ton of ground to cover with onboarding drivers. We cram most of it into 1-3 days in forms, handbooks, power point presentations, videos, and lectures. And we get mad when drivers do not remember something from onboarding – “that was covered in class, you should have known better!”

Driver onboarding should be less about vomiting information on the driver, and more about building a strong, lasting relationship with a new team member. Turnover is heaviest in the first 6 months. Approach onboarding with a timeline to support them through. Start from the day the recruit says they want to schedule orientation. Spread information out (e.g., pre-onboarding info, in-class time, 1-week check in, 30-day check in, etc.), use multiple communication channels (e.g., e-learning, videos, in-person, reading material, third-party support, etc.), define a purpose for each interaction (1-week check in is about operations and loads, 2-week check in is about pay and admin stuff, 30-day check in is about safety, etc.), and have guideposts for each check in so you know if the driver is a good addition, if the driver needs more support in certain areas, etc. A longer, more thoughtful onboarding approach builds a better, lasting driver relationship.

Driver Pay

There are excellent driver compensation experts out there (NTI is the best in our book), and we do not pretend to be experts in how much to pay, but pay structure needs to be reexamined.

Keep it simple. Make pay easy to calculate and understand. Some incentive pay is okay but make the rules and methods easy to understand and track.

Piece rate or percentage pay is still okay but add a time component. We have done it for years with detention pay, layover pay, and so on. We need more of it. No employee wants to feel like they are being paid to do one thing but are being forced to do more. When we pay drivers by the mile, but ask them to do good pre-trip inspections, ask them to stay with the trailer when it breaks down, or ask them to choose safety over service we are asking them to do more than drive, we are asking them to do more than the function we are paying them to do. You may not need to pay more total dollars, but you should consider how you are allocating those dollars.

Consider more hourly pay or task pay for the extra you expect of the driver. Then sell the driver on how you pay for all the driver’s time while other carriers only pay you to drive.

And a nice legal bonus: direct payment for other tasks heads off many of the wage and hour lawsuits happening all over the country, especially the California suits.

Utilization is still key; you can and should still hold drivers accountable for good utilization, but you can do that while still moving some pay dollars to compensation for other tasks.

Driver Management

Think about the people org chart in your business. Who has the most direct reports? How many does that person have? 3? 7? 15? Chances are your manager (probably you) with the most direct reports has 5-10 direct reports.

How many drivers are on your fleet manager’s board? Some carriers push 35, 40, even 50 drivers onto a fleet manager’s board. The adage is people do not leave companies; they leave managers. They leave because they do not feel valued, heard, respected, etc. by their manager. They leave because they do not have a good working relationship with their manager. We combat that in our office setting with managers that build relationships, know their team members, understand strengths and weaknesses, etc. We train managers on how to be good managers. We push them to spend time with their team and develop them. We limit their team size because we want it to be manageable. Why do we do things differently with drivers?

  1. Limit fleet manager boards. No, it can’t be as low as 5 drivers to a fleet manager, but what could you do to retention and utilization if your fleet managers only had to work with 25 drivers instead of 35? How much could you raise your fleet manager and driver expectations and performance?
  1. Fleet manager as a destination job, not an entry job. There was a time in the industry when carriers utilized driver support personnel to help fleet managers and take care of quick questions and issues for drivers so fleet managers could focus on the drivers as team members, utilization, and safety. The fleet manager was a good career choice with a lot of influence over the success of the company. Some still do this today, but not as many. Why can’t a similar approach be used today?

Driver Home Time

Pay must be there; drivers will not stay if they are not making competitive money but pay is not everything. In addition to pay and being valued, drivers want to know home time expectations will be met. Prove you are different when it comes to home time. That does not mean change your whole business, so your drivers get home every night. It does mean showing the driver you will deliver on reasonable home time expectations for your business.

  1. Set expectations. Make it clear to the driver what you can deliver. Consider your freight network, your utilization needs, and the driver’s domicile. Make the driver be clear with you what they expect. If you are not in agreement, end the relationship early because it will not end well otherwise.
  1. Know your geography. Operations, Sales, and Recruiting must work together. Don’t sell freight that won’t help serve drivers. Don’t recruit drivers that won’t serve your freight. A network built with strong input from Ops, Sales, and Recruiting is one that can meet home time expectations you like.
  1. Measure yourself and show your report card. Your shippers grade you on on-time service performance. Your drivers are just as important as your shippers. Prove to your drivers their home time matters to you by measuring how well you deliver home time and report it (remember, delivering home time early is bad too, so measure it accurately). Tell your recruits how awesome you are at delivering on home time promises.

Finding, attracting, and retaining drivers is critical (obvious statement of the year award goes to…). Be willing to consider new approaches. Test ideas with portions of the fleet and track progress, jump in with two feet, either way, be willing to vet and try different approaches.

This week we published our latest podcast, our final episode in our 3-part series on the office staff pipeline. In the office and out on the road it is vital we invest in our people to meet our business goals. Maggie Debner of HR MD joined us for a discussion on developing your existing team in your own pipeline. Maggie highlighted that businesses do not need to invest huge sums of money in outside training to do good people development work and other good practices for developing employees. There are a lot of ways to develop team members effectively without breaking the bank.

If you have questions about driver retention, onboarding, or any legal, business, and risk management issues facing your business, we are happy to help. You can check out more information about our services at


The Grawe Group, LLC is a professional services firm focused on the transportation and logistics industry. With a team of experienced executives, we provide general counsel services, business consulting, and interim management services for the industry. From legal and risk management matters, to operational, financial, and executive challenges, the Grawe Group has the consulting, management, and legal expertise in trucking and logistics to help you build sustainable success.

Check out the Grawe Pod, transportation’s general counsel podcast, for discussions on challenges industry leaders face in their business and how to address them. Now available on iTunes, Spotify, and other major podcast outlets!