Implementing an Effective Driver Coaching Program

Photo: Deborah Lockridge

Steve Fields, a professional driver with YRC and America’s Road Team Captain, doesn’t mind having his driving critiqued using video. He likens it to an NFL team that analyzes every play in the video room after a game in the pursuit of continuous improvement.

“It makes you aware if you’re slipping into bad habits. It’s a coaching device that kind of keeps me in check. We all develop bad habits,” Fields said during a virtual American Trucking Associations Management Conference & Exhibition panel on telematics and driver coaching.

To get drivers on-board with such technologies, however, fleets must properly train the coaches as well as the drivers on how the technology works and why it’s being used, said Lisa Gonnerman, vice-president of safety and security with Transport America.

“It can’t just be there to help the company,” she said. “You have to explain to the driver on the other end, why and how it can be helpful to them.”

It’s also important not to expect perfection overnight, she added. Drivers will respond differently to coaching, and Gonnerman suggested experimenting to determine if drivers react better to their peers, current fleet manager, or maybe another company leader. If drivers don’t respond well to coaching, she said, termination should only be a last resort.

“That’s not the answer anybody wants, where in today’s world it’s tough to get that good, quality driver,” Gonnerman said.

At YRC, Fields said peer-to-peer coaching has worked best. He is on the road most of the time but also serves as a coach a couple days a week. That current over-the-road experience helps him relate to drivers during coaching.

“I’m out there doing what they do,” he said. “I know the traffic they’re in – we run the same areas.”

He also focuses on positives whenever possible. If a driver avoids a collision when a deer runs out in front of the truck, Fields will share that video across the fleet and congratulate the driver.

“We have to find that win and be positive about it,” Gonnerman agreed. “With all these programs, the positive and recognition is absolutely critical.”

When implementing a driver coaching system, Gonnerman said policies, procedures, and performance improvement guidelines must also be put in place and followed.

“Look at it from the perspective of sitting in a deposition chair, defending those policies and procedures if there were to be one of those accidents,” she said. “You have to be able to fall back on those, explain the why of what you did, and how you did it.”

Coaches must be consistent in how they approach all drivers – no favoritism – which is another reason policies must be implemented and followed. Gonnerman suggested getting driver coaches and legal counsel involved in developing such policies.

Driver coaches should even consider their approach to a fellow driver when it comes to reviewing an event.

“When I approach a driver, I always have a smile on my face,” Fields said. “A lot of times it’s the first few seconds in that conversation that determines what happens during the coaching bit.”

‘Problem drivers’ who are not receptive to coaching are referred to management, but Fields said he has never had to resort to that in his five years of coaching. “If you keep at it and have the right attitude, you can get to that driver and change his habits,” he insisted.

Gonnerman said upper management and operations buy-in is also needed for an effective driver coaching program. To convince them to make the investment in coaching, she suggested putting the cost of not doing so in terms they understand.

“Relate it to the number of loads,” she said. “If you have a $5,000 accident, how many loads are you going to have to pull to pay for that one accident? It can be an eye-opener in the rest of the organization when we relate it to that bottom line and it takes 85 loads now to make up for that accident we just had that operations said was a ‘minor accident.’ There’s no minor – it all impacts the bottom line.”

James Menzies is the editor of Today's Trucking, where this article originally appeared. This content was used with permission from Newcom Media as part of a cooperative editorial agreement.

Originally posted on Trucking Info