When it comes to managing a fleet of owner-operators, sometimes it’s not the issue of encouraging or fighting certain tendencies, but rather helping them to manage which tendencies are going to pay off for the better of both them and the entire fleet simultaneously.
To follow up blog articles from fellow Team Run Smart Pros Henry Albert and Clark Reed, respectfully titled “Natural Tendencies” and “Un-Natural Tendencies”, where one of them talked about the natural tendencies of an owner-operator to want to always keep an eye on the bottom line and the other talked about the unnatural tendency that company drivers can practice by looking at their daily runs from a different perspective, I bring to you a bit of both of those worlds.
Having a fleet of my own comprised of owner-operators that pull my wagons, I encourage them to not only look at the overall bottom-line impact to their own business, but also the interest of my equipment and my freight they haul. “How do you do that?”, you might ask. Well, with little control over my contractors other than making sure they get from point A to point B on time, a system of inclusion has helped me find a happy medium between the driver mentality and the owner mentality when it comes to behavioral tendencies.
Having started out decades ago as a company driver myself, I know all too well the urgency of maximizing each day’s driving and on-duty clock. I too felt that need early in my career to not do much but focus on things like fuel costs and tire costs, all for the sake of making sure I got in as many runs as I could in a day. This was ever more prevalent when I was in the aggregate industry and we were paid by the load and by weight, but that portion of my career also taught me things like how a lightweight spec’d truck can make you more money! It was also at that same point in my career where I was brought into the office for a portion of my days by the manager at the time, who took it upon himself to groom me in the skills of being able to see things from a “bottom line” and “break-even” perspective.
Fast forward many years when I started bringing on contractors. We’ve all heard the line, “If the equipment ain’t theirs, they’ll drive it like they stole it, not like they own it!” Constant business coaching to my fleet of owner-operators and always giving them detailed reasons for the way we do things when it comes to safety and maintenance and how it benefits them and their business is the way I keep them focused on “both” of our bottom lines. Starting with the percentage pay that I developed when I first started, all the way up to our most recent inclusion tactics of providing referral bonuses for other seasoned contractors and annual percentage increases for each year they complete in which they have no claims or at-fault accidents, I have never been shy about letting my contractors know exactly how their tendencies of looking out for the bottom line affects the fleet’s bottom line as well.
To make sure they take care of my equipment that they pull, but don’t own, it’s as simple as letting them know that downtime equals lost revenue. Sure, they are not responsible for paying to fix worn trailer tires, but they do know not paying proper attention to things like tire pressure can cause roadside blowouts in the middle of the hot California and Arizona deserts that can easily equal them missing out on an entire load in their schedule for that week. Reminding them that they have the responsibility of looking out for my equipment and not to have the tendency to become complacent with maintenance on the equipment just because it’s not theirs, lets them know that the pendulum swings both ways and that their actions with my equipment can affect their bottom line as well.
To keep my owner-operators focused on safety, it’s all about inclusionary thinking once again to avoid tendencies that might not be all that safe. When talking about safety and our safety program, they understand the actions of one can affect the entire fleet. With rising insurance costs in our industry, their efforts in keeping our excellent safety score help ensure what they pay through me for elected insurance does not skyrocket along with the national average. Green lights on their Prepass transponders that I provide, are another constant reminder to them that safety is not only a “company driver thing”, but that it also affects how many times they get pulled in for a closer look as an owner-operator in the fleet as well! If they want to bring me in clean inspections and get paid for them, not only is there a monetary value but also less hassle when they must run past the coops. It’s a win-win!
Being a leased-on owner-operator, or owner-operator contractor usually has its roots in the tendencies of being a company driver. After all, that is progressively the next natural step when someone goes from driving for someone else to trying to drive for themselves. I know when I bought my first truck, I just wanted to run like heck and make as much money as I could in gross revenue, without as much understanding as I probably should’ve had about where I needed to be to break even and how certain things grossly affected my bottom line. Being a “Hired Gun” so to speak, for whatever company an owner-operator signs their truck onto, shifts their thinking to looking out more for things like knowing a break-even point each period and needing to take a deeper dive into the costs of maintenance, downtime, and safety. The tendency to become complacent in these areas is lesser when someone owns their truck, however from the fleet owner perspective, I like to always constantly remind them so that they don’t slip back into those tendencies of just running to run. So the way I approach better tendencies from the fleet owner perspective with inclusion helps to make sure they understand the need to go from thinking, “If the wheels ain’t turnin’, I ain’t earnin’!” to “If OUR wheels aren’t turnin’, WE ain’t earnin’!”