A Case Study with Salt Lake Express
By Gregory S. Hendricks, director of Safety & Compliance at Salt Lake Express, vice chair BISC Human Performance Committee
At Salt Lake Express we operate daily line runs and a charter service. Annual revenue tends to be evenly split between both operations, although it fluctuates depending on the season. Between 2015-2017 our ridership almost doubled on our line runs. We did take on new markets at this time, but the ridership on our established lines was what lead to most of the growth.
In addition to our traditional line run service, which continued to expand, charter requests began to increase as fast as we could purchase additional vehicles. We increased our vehicle count by almost 50 vehicles in the period of two years. Some were purchased for new geographic locations and expanding markets, although the vast amount was purchased for our established line runs and charter service. Our fleet usage during this time went from 75 percent usage to just under 100 percent usage.
With the increase of sales, we attempted to increase our hiring rate. We went from 60 drivers companywide to over 175. In mid 2018, we began to experience a real difficulty recruiting and retaining drivers. Up to this point, with few hiccups, we had been able to keep up with turnover and an increase in market share. This problem became more pronounced though as our leadership team was beginning to have to fill in on trips as well as perform their regular duties.
Although we knew we had a problem on our hands, we did not have any solutions. We needed to gather data and find out what the problem was. First, we began to track turnover rate, which was averaging 65 percent. Second we asked our drivers for feedback. Why were they leaving? With their feedback coming in we tried to address their concerns, but it was overwhelming. Our management team was now driving full time, and nobody had the time to really sit down and try and address any of the concerns.
This is when we had our insurance provider, who was familiar with our business, call into question our culture. What we learned was that culture is built from the top down. The highest levels of management set the culture, through example, for others to follow. Our high turnover and overwhelming amount of complaints was a signal that management was not setting the culture.
So now the hard part, we had to change our culture. Culture is not changed by saying it is changed. You have to make fundamental changes to how you operate. Being a privately owned LLC, the first step was for the owner and myself to meet with all drivers through group driver meetings in each area. In these meetings we admitted areas that we had let the drivers down and set expectations for ourselves and for drivers going forward. We spent the time to educate drivers about the financials of the company and worked out plans together to address concerns such as vehicle conditions and driver pay. The decisions were made together on what the next steps needed to be to change how we operate.
After the meetings we updated drivers about the progress we were making on their concerns, as well as any new problems we were facing. Through communication, drivers began to feel a sense of ownership. They began to take pride in where they worked. The feedback we received from drivers was leading to changes made by management. Drivers who did not meet our new standard were dismissed. We did not want any bad apples to affect the group. It took six months, but our turnover rate began to drop and finally was averaging 29 percent (seasonal turnover was expected).
Another statistic that decreased was our accident rate. In 2018 we had 23 accidents/incidents per million miles. In 2019 this was down to 10 per million miles. With our turnover rate and accidents trending down, the next step was increased recruiting.
Working with our drivers we found out what it was they really like about working for us. We took this information and used it in every job post. In the interview we made sure that the applicant knew what our standard was. We did not hire anyone who was not up to the standards we set. During training we ensured that only the most enthusiastic trainers worked with new hires. Although we still needed drivers quickly to fill seats, we slowed down the hiring and training process to make sure that the applicant really was a good fit and would stay.
In conclusion, we found that company culture does fundamentally impact recruiting and retaining drivers. By creating a culture of communication and personal ownership our drivers began to take pride in where they worked again. By presenting a high standard to all applicants and having someone who was enthusiastic to work with them, we found that applicants were more likely to stay on long term. Most importantly we found that although culture is set from the top down, it takes a direct line of communication to management from the employees who are in the field each day to know what changes need made.
Learn more from Greg and the chair of the BISC Human Performance Committee Jeff Brown during their BISC webinar presentation on Oct. 5 at 2 p.m. Sign up at buses.org/events. You can also catch more on this topic at the California Bus Association’s Annual Convention & Trade Show and BISC West Presentation on Oct. 26. Visit https://www.cbabus.com/Events/2021Convention-ConventionSchedule.aspx to register.