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HR special: Communication key to improving driver performance

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As with any performance issue, the most important element of improving driver behaviour is clear, consistent communication. It is important that the employee understands the various implications of their failure to comply with policy, whether those are commercially or safety-related, because this depersonalises the issue and removes the idea of arbitrary rules.

Judith Popay, fleet manager at AstraZeneca, says: “I think that you have to be consistent and fair to all.

“Anticipate all the tactics that they might use to try to get what they want and have reasoned arguments ready to counter their arguments.
“Keep calm when having the difficult conversation. If challenged and you don’t know the answer, don’t try to fudge the answer – take the question, find the answer and go back to them.”

Ted Sakyi, fleet manager at Tube Lines, says that all performance discussions must be a dialogue, not one-way.

“It depends on the issue. Some things are simply not negotiable, such as legal requirements/legislation changes and obvious safety concerns,” he says.

“ drivers are the people that operate within the vehicle policy, it is important to listen to their views and suggestions.”
It is also essential to ensure that a full support network is in place, with appropriate briefings, guidance and training. Rick Wood, head of driver training and fleet solutions at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, makes the point that expectation or incentive alone are not enough.

“There is no point in incentivising someone to be crash-free if they don’t have the skills to achieve it,” he says.

Once the ground rules are understood, most companies adopt a mixture of carrot and stick to inhibit unwanted driving tendencies. Tracey Scarr, fleet and road safety manager at Arval, says while it embraces communication, training and engagement in many ways, there is also value in allowing drivers to take some measure of the cost of poor driving. “Where a driver is involved in repeat at-fault incidents, we do request a small driver contribution in relation to the repair of damage to the vehicle,” she says.

“A company car is a valuable asset and drivers must take a level of accountability for their actions. Not passing any cost on would potentially send out the wrong message and promote a flippant attitude to driving.”

Avoiding personal penalty can be a strong motivator, but it can also mean that minor damage and near misses are not admitted to, compromising the company’s safety data.

Telematics can fill in the gaps with obvious benefits in terms of targeted training, and this data can also be used for competitive rankings, penalties or incentive schemes.

There are benefits to all of them but there are also possible downsides.

Some drivers respond well to a sense of competition.  John Catling, CEO at FMG, says: “In one instance, a driver from one of our clients was ranked 58th out of 58 in his company with a performance score of 57%. FMG discussed this driver’s data with the client and recommended the range of actions he needed to take to improve his score and how this could be achieved.

“The driver acted on the feedback and one month later achieved a score of 92%. In some instances, incentive schemes can act as a further impetus to produce the required performance improvement.”

Not all will be motivated by a public airing of their failings, however.

Rhys Harrhy, telematics consultant at ALD, says: “Drivers can often look at training and think: What’s in it for me? Financial incentives can garner a more positive response.”  

However, incentives can be troublesome as they can also distract from good practice in favour of simply winning.

Like personal penalties, the idea of competing for a prize can encourage drivers to hide mistakes, or pay for damage or fuel from their own pocket. Incentives schemes often work best when aimed at groups with a clear focus on skills and process and not outcomes.
Will Murray, research director at Interactive Driving Systems, says: “League tables, for instance, should be based on the process of driving well and not just outcomes,” he says. “Otherwise incentives can twist behaviour.”

Rewards should be competed for and granted to teams and not individuals. This way there is a shared cultural approach and a peer pressure to stay within the rules. Individuals skipping paperwork or cutting corners will be policed, but also encouraged, by their team mates.
“Teams should include work allocators and line managers,” says Murray. “This engages the workforce better and ensures that line managers will be monitoring and motivating good performance.”

There is evidence that positive reinforcement in the form of reward and recognition schemes can reduce accident rates and costs but, as a safety report (Work-related road safety: a systematic review of the literature on the effectiveness of interventions 2011) from the Transport Research Laboratory suggests, there has been little proper research into the effects of incentive or penalty schemes. While many companies which employ incentives see benefits, they are often also hosting an array of other interventions as well.

Murray says: “Rewards and incentives should not be used as a substitute for any other good practice but, if implemented well, can help enhance a programme.

“If implemented badly and without thought, or as a pilot study to test, they can cause more problems than they
are worth.”

Recognition schemes can be as informal as verbal praise, or as defined as money in the pay packet. HR professionals need to stop and consider carefully not only which type of recognition has most impact, but which may be problematic if withdrawn. It is very hard to take away financial benefits once granted. However, a culture of encouragement with a monthly meeting to honour not only those with best performance, but also the greatest improvement in performance, is unlikely to ever become too costly or problematic to maintain.

One of the difficulties of handling difficult drivers is that driving may not be their core task. They may be exceptionally good at sales, engineering or whatever core task they were hired for.

However, this expertise cannot be allowed to shield them from the implications of unsafe driving. A company may be prepared to overlook the high cost of fuel from a heavy-footed sales whizz, but very often smart, safe driving is synonymous with fuel-efficient driving. And firms cannot afford to overlook unsafe road practice.

This kind of scenario is easiest expressed as a cost-benefit equation.

An unsafe driver risks substantial cost in vehicular damage, but potentially enormous cost in terms of third-party liability or injury, legal implications for the company including, potentially, corporate manslaughter charges or a wrongful death suit, uninsured losses and the hard-to-quantify knock-on effects on company morale.

It would be hard for a company to defend itself against claims of negligence if it has noted, but taken no action against, a driver who repeatedly flouts the rules and subsequently has a serious collision.

How much revenue does a great salesman have to generate to offset that kind of potential loss? Not dealing with problematic drivers simply isn’t an option.
 

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