What was I doing talking to the Boilermakers Union?
Several years ago, my agency was invited to offer the International Brotherhood Of Boilermakers a proposal for a statewide campaign promoting organized labor in Alabama.
Being Southern, and a business owner, I’d naturally been conditioned to harbor deep suspicions about unions. However, the opportunity was too good to dismiss it outright—so I agreed to an initial meeting with Boilermakers president DeWayne Parker.
What Parker told me in that meeting entirely changed my way of thinking. “We want to help the companies we supply labor to,” he told me. “We want to help them succeed and prosper by delivering value—both in terms of superior skills and a better workplace attitude.”
That certainly didn’t sound like any union I’d ever read about. That was a message we could sell to Alabama businesses. Still, I told him, a PR campaign was doomed to fail unless the entire Union was committed to making the changes needed live-up to those ideals. Without hesitation he replied, “Then that’s exactly what we’ll do.”
Two months later, Parker was soundly defeated in his bid for re-election. And as far as I know, the union never made any of the changes he envisioned.
What’s The Boilermakers Union got to do with driver recruiting?
That experience came to mind recently, after a trucking company invited my agency to analyze its recruiting problems, then offer a plan for addressing those problems. In researching the company, we discovered there was a massive disconnect between its stated mission and the reality drivers were experiencing once they joined the company.
In short, the company wasn’t keeping the promises found in its mission statement, or in its recruitment advertising. Consequently, overall driver turnover was significantly higher than the industry average; among younger drivers, it was literally double the industry average.
Which is why our recommendations focused on what we saw as their top three needs: 1) Making the changes necessary to get the company back in line with its founders’ mission, 2) Realigning its brand promises with reality, wherever organizational changes couldn’t be made, and 3) Elevating the role of Driver Retention to its proper place in supporting Recruiting’s goals. After all, we reasoned, what’s the point of increasing your flow of new recruits if you’re just pouring water into a fishnet?
They knew we were right. They said as much. So what did they decide to do? They implemented a program for increasing the flow of incoming recruits.
Now, I fully understand how important it is to maintain a steady flow of incoming drivers. But the sad truth is, the company simply wasn’t willing to address its real problems, or make the real changes they needed so badly. Changes that certainly involved short-term costs—not to mention pain and suffering—but which would have ultimately led to long-term improvements in the health (and cost-effectiveness) of their recruiting and retention programs.
The sadder truth is, that company is far from alone in this industry. So how about you: Is your recruiting campaign making promises your company can’t keep? If so, at the very least, you need to change one of two things: Your promise, or your company. For best long-term results, I’d recommend taking a good long look at changing both.