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June 14, 2021

Transportation: Retaining your star non-driver employees

Kenny Ray

In recent years, I have had the privilege of assisting several trucking companies as they sought to hire non-driver employees.  In most cases, the job opening was for a safety director or other member of the safety team.  In a couple of instances, the motor carrier sought assistance in filling an operational position.  In a few of the cases, the motor carrier created a brand new position. However, in the majority of cases, the motor carrier was filling an open position following the termination or resignation of a former employee.

As each of these employment processes unfolded, it reminded me of an encounter I had several years ago with the CEO of a large OTR trucking company.  Although I never worked for this CEO, he is a dear friend and is highly respected and admired in trucking circles.  He invited me to lunch one day to discuss what he labeled as “a catastrophic failure of leadership.” 

This CEO related an incident where a high-performing terminal manager left the company for another opportunity.  The CEO described the terminal manager as “a rock star”.  According to the CEO, this particular terminal manager led the company’s busiest and most productive terminal.  The terminal manager excelled in every metric the company tracked—revenue, new business, retained business, productivity, driver retention and safety.  The terminal manager left the company for another position in trucking that afforded more responsibility, greater career opportunities and a significant increase in salary.  The CEO emphasized that the contributions the terminal manager made were directly tied to the overall success of the company.  Following the departure of the terminal manager, that particular terminal became average at best and often below average in many of the aforementioned metrics.  I will never forget the words of this highly respected CEO, “I now realize the impacts that man made on my business were irreplaceable, and I let him get away.”  The CEO went on to declare that his greatest responsibility as a leader was to take care of his employees, who would then take care of his customers. His failure to retain the outstanding terminal manager was what the CEO described as “a catastrophic failure of leadership.”

Now, many would say their greatest challenge at this time is hiring and retaining truck drivers.  However, I encourage you to also recognize the importance of retaining your other high-performers.  Numerous available articles offer suggestions for retaining your company’s “rock stars”.  The following tips are found in one such article published by The Management Center. 

The article begins by noting that many managers don’t pay enough attention to developing and retaining their high performers since such employees are most often highly motivated and require virtually no supervisory oversight. Although such high-performing employees may always have their work covered and not need a ton of guidance from you, you do have one crucial job where they are concerned…retaining them. In fact, with most high performers, retaining them may very well be one of your most important tasks.

Here are five key things you can do to get the most from a high performer, and maximize your chances of keeping him or her around:

1. Help your high performer grow in their role. Great employees are continually learning and expanding their skill set.  Such employees often seek increased responsibilities as part of their growth.  Many rock stars often go elsewhere if they can’t get that in their current role. To ensure retention of your high-performing staff member, work with him or her to set stretch goals that will move them out of their comfort zone, add new responsibilities at appropriate times, and talk explicitly with them about their personal and professional development.  If you don’t know what their career aspirations are, ask them!

2. Share with your high-performing employees the longer-term picture of what your company is trying to achieve. Make sure they understand how crucial their work is and how it fits with the whole. They should never have to doubt their value to your organization.  It is your responsibility as a leader to let them know!

3. Make sure your rock star knows how much he or she is appreciated. Too often, high performers leave because they don’t feel recognized or valued. Make sure he or she knows how much you appreciate their contributions and talk explicitly with them about the impact their work has on your organization. This means more than the regular “great job”; it means being specific about why it was a great job.

4. Use “stay interviews” to find out what it will take to retain your best talent. Instead of worrying about whether a high performer is happy in his or her role, and planning to stay long-term, simply ask them: “You’re crucial to our work. How can we make sure that you stay for the next two years?” Even if you don’t get a clear commitment, having an explicit discussion and showing that you care enough to be thinking about it can make a big impression that will factor into their thinking about their role with you.

5. Don’t forget about compensation. While great employees generally aren’t motivated primarily by money, we’ve been surprised by how much it can help. While organizations understandably want to put as much money as possible into direct program work, the reality is that without the best possible people to execute those programs well, your results will suffer. After all, one high performer will generally get better outcomes than several average performers combined.  Thus, if you have an opportunity to differentiate your best people’s pay, do it – you will most often find that they are worth every penny and then some.  If you don’t adequately compensate your rock stars, someone else will.

Contact your local MMA representative if you have any questions about these topics. MMA’s team of Risk Consultants is dedicated to supporting your safety and training initiatives.