In this issue, CarriersEdge co-founder Mark Murrell looks at how it is that fleets can have so many people speaking negatively about them, but still get recognized as a Best Fleet to Drive For.
As we ramp up the data collection process for this year's Best Fleets to Drive For program, we're once evaluating a wide range of fleets, large and small, from across the entire industry. And once again, we've got fleets participating in the program that have significant numbers of detractors. This happens every year, and I fully expect that when we announce the Top 20 next January, we'll once again have some fleets on the list that people are surprised by, leading to some very vocal complaints about those fleets.
This raises an interesting question.
If the Best Fleets program recognizes companies that are investing significant effort to make life better for their drivers, have a plurality of drivers that are happy with those efforts, and are showing positive results in safety and retention, how can there be so many people every year who have such negative opinions about them?
The simple answer is that being a great company is not a binary thing. There aren't "good" companies and "bad" companies. There are, instead, a broad spectrum of companies all doing a variety of innovative things. Things that are great for some people and terrible for others.
Even when fleets have success in all the areas mentioned above, it still doesn't mean that they're a great place for everyone. For some people, these companies will be amazing places to work. For others, they won't be a good fit at all.
Picking on the big guys
The most common targets for these complaints are the large fleets on the list. Every year we have some fleets with a thousand or more drivers. That's a big company, no matter what industry you're in, and big companies aren't a good fit for everyone.
I've had the opportunity to work in a small company, where every business function happened on one floor of one office building. I've also had the opportunity to work at multinational conglomerates that had thousands of people spread around the world. There are pros and cons to both.
Small companies tend to have less formal structures, fewer (or simpler) policies and procedures, and can also have easier workplace camaraderie. They also have less variety in the work and less opportunity for advancement.
Big companies have plenty of work variety and lots of opportunity for advancement and growth. They also have corporate hierarchies, more rules, and can be intimidating and impersonal.
Two very different workplace experiences, and each will be a great fit for some people and horrible for others.
Many of the people that express surprise when a particular fleet makes our Top 20 are either people who weren't a fit for that company, or people who have heard stories from those who weren't a fit. In those situations, of course the fleet is going to sound like an awful place – if you're better suited to an informal organization with a loose structure, you're not going to enjoy working at a large company that has defined processes and rules for everything.
I understand where those feelings come from. While I've worked at companies both big and small, I've also quit all those jobs and moved into my current position. I know what it's like to get frustrated with a company and quit. However, I recognize that while those jobs may have gotten to the point where they were awful for me, there were people at each who absolutely loved them.
In the world of Best Fleets, the companies that make the Top 20 always have satisfaction levels well above 80% (last year the average among the Top 20 was 90.84%), so they're clearly finding drivers that like what they're doing. A fleet's lease purchase plan, or freight mix, or hometime schedule, or payroll procedure, or whatever else may not be right for some people, but it's definitely a good fit for others.
We see the same phenomenon happening outside of the Top 20 as well. We regularly have finalist companies that are large, well-known fleets, and those fleets have their detractors. I can confirm from experience, though, that those fleets also have A LOT of drivers who absolutely love them and have been working with them for years.
Input from an Angel
Earlier this year, at the Truckload Carriers Association annual convention, I had a chance to talk to the gentleman who had been named the Highway Angel of the Year, a truly remarkable driver who absolutely earned that title. As a driver attending a convention that's focused on management issues, he was really enjoying the experience. One of the things he said really stuck with me:
"Drivers often think management isn't really paying attention to our problems, but when you come here and listen to all these sessions and hear about all the things they're trying to do, you realize that they've got a lot of their own problems to deal with. They have a lot that they need to stay on top of."
The comment stuck with me because it echoed my own experiences talking to fleets over the years. I don't know exactly how many companies I've interviewed since we launched the Best Fleets program, but I can honestly say that every one of them has been staffed with people who are diligently trying to make things better for their drivers. They may not succeed in every case, and they may not have all the pieces together to make it into the Top 20, but they are all making the effort. There are definitely some that I'm curious about each year, but I'm always pleasantly surprised by how much they have going on and what they're working on.
So, the next time a driver says that company X is the worst, because they did this or that, take it with a grain of salt. If you're a small company and that other fleet is big, it might just be that the driver isn't a fit for that kind of organization. The drivers that hate that big company may be exactly the kind of people you want. The opposite is true as well – if a driver comes in extolling the virtues of that large fleet and all the things they offered, they may not be happy in a smaller company. Recognizing that, and finding the people who are a fit for the company and its culture, is an important part of building long term success.
View from the Edge is a bi-monthly review of best practices in risk management, driver development, and technology for the trucking industry, produced by CarriersEdge.
CarriersEdge provides interactive online driver training for the North American trucking industry. A comprehensive library of safety and compliance courses is supplemented with extensive content creation and customization options, full featured survey tools, detailed management reports, and the industry's first dedicated mobile app for driver training.