Feb. 25, 2008
“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don‘t trust enough.” -Frank Crane This is the reef where driver recruiting and retention efforts run aground and come to grief in the trucking business: Trust. Too many ...

“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don‘t trust enough.” -Frank Crane

This is the reef where driver recruiting and retention efforts run aground and come to grief in the trucking business: Trust. Too many times, I‘ve heard from drivers about pay packages, benefits, and home time offered at signing that never materialize once they get behind the wheel. And too many times I hear from fleets about drivers that hide traffic accidents, jail time, and other potentially damaging information at signing time, only to see all the dirty laundry aired at a later and most unwelcome date - like during a roadside inspection.

Let‘s face it: with the truckload industry facing turnover rates in excess of 120% on AVERAGE in recent times, we know that trust (and other virtues, such as ‘loyalty‘ and ‘respect‘) is in short supply these days. Not to paint this industry with a broad brush here, but such turnover numbers indicate a mammoth problem before both drivers and fleets. Pay, benefits, and home time are all critical issues, of course, and must be addressed, but without trust, none of them are worth a hill of beans. You can‘t get drivers to stay on if you say one thing but do another, and fleets can‘t rely on drivers that fudge their records and pay only lip service to professional and safe conduct on the highway.

As usual, I‘d like to turn to Professor Jerry Osteryoung, one of resident sages at Florida State University‘s college of business. After working with business entrepreneurs for years, he knows a thing or two about the critical importance of trust - and has his own tale to tell where this virtue is concerned. Professor Osteryoung, the floor is yours, sir:

“I have been at Florida State University for 34 years, and I really love this university. Before I came to FSU, however, I taught for two years at another university. I left that position because the dean promised me research support and a higher salary, neither of which ever materialized. When I approached him about these two items, he said that it was his sole prerogative to make or break promises.

After this discussion, I felt that there had been a complete breach of trust. My wife and I left the university and came to FSU, leaving our house unsold. It was worth it to me to pay almost any cost to get out from underneath a boss that I could no longer trust.

Employees need to be able to trust you, or your credibility goes out the window. A firm that we were trying to help had some cash flow problems, so they unilaterally cut the sales staff salaries and commissions in order to balance the budget. You guessed it: they lost every single sales person, as they no longer trusted management.

Sure, this firm had some serious financial issues, but they should have gone to their employees and gotten some feedback before they cut salaries. Lowering employee salaries is a sure way to lose the trust of your staff and send them looking for new jobs.

Another entrepreneur decided she needed to improve profitability and, without notice, eliminated the coffee and coffee makers that she had been providing for over five years. Obviously, the staff felt as if they were blindsided, and the morale of the organization plummeted as trust was destroyed.

In yet another case, an entrepreneur wanted to improve the profitability of his business, and he told his staff that he would distribute 10% of the increase in net profits among the staff. The staff really liked this idea and worked much harder to make this happen. The employees knew that profits were increasing, yet they never received a cent or an explanation as to why. In fact, the entrepreneur never even mentioned the arrangement again. Obviously, morale declined, and employee turnover increased dramatically.

I like to say that leaders have a ‘trust bank‘ with each employee. Funds are added to the bank when the leader demonstrates trustworthiness, either through actions perceived or actions viewed by the employee. Funds are deducted, however, when trust is breached in some fashion. For example, if the employee feels that a leader is not being consistent, funds are withdrawn.

Leaders and managers can only be effective if employees feel as though there is a positive balance of trust in the bank. If the bank hits zero or drops into the negative, employees will simply be unable and unwilling to trust the manager. The employees will either begin seeking other jobs, or they will just reduce their work output to the absolute minimum.

Trust is such an important part of the leadership of any business. You must make sure that your staff trusts you both now and in the future to ensure that your ‘trust bank‘ stays full.”

You can reach Professor Osteryoung by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 850-644-3372.

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