The three levels of fleet maturity

Published on July 24, 2023

After interviewing countless Best Fleets participants over the years, we’ve discovered that carriers can be grouped into three broad categories of maturity in their relationships with drivers:

And this isn’t just true of the fleets we’ve talked to—it seems to capture an industry-wide phenomenon. Here’s what we mean:

Companies that do things to their drivers are what we would call the traditional, standard trucking company. This is the kind of organization that has a policy for everything—progressive discipline, a standard safety bonus, and so on. It’s set up with a system of rules developed by the carrier (and pushed out to the drivers) to make sure the drivers are doing exactly what the company wants them to do. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, but it’s important to note that there is a clear distinction made between the company and the driver: “We’re on this side, and you’re on that side.”

When we get to the next level, there’s a realization that “we have to take care of our drivers!” At this point, carriers are beginning to be more open to recognizing how important drivers are, and they start to do things for them. Sure, the system of rules and policies is still there, but now they want to take care of drivers a little more. Maybe it’s a semi-annual BBQ or some kind of recognition program, or they start highlighting them on social media. But there isn’t a lot of collaboration—companies are just rushing to do whatever they can think of. To be sure, this is moving in the right direction because they are legitimately trying to find ways to make life better for drivers. But whatever new program is decided upon, it’s still developed by management and pushed out to the drivers (although maybe the drivers have some input on the BBQ menu). Just like in the previous level, there is a clear line drawn between the company on one side and the drivers on the other.

Most of the industry sits somewhere between the first and second levels. However, companies that make it into the Best Fleets Top 20 have moved beyond the second level and reached the third level of maturity.

Levelling Up

The third level—where companies begin to do things with their drivers—is where something remarkable starts to happen. Fleets at this level have discovered a way of approaching their business that allows them to include their drivers in ways they hadn’t before. Here are two examples of things they regularly do:

  1. Process over policy
    Companies at level 1 or 2 (companies that do things to or for their drivers) will have a bunch of policies they’ve decided to follow and enforce. For example, if a driver is texting while driving and the company has a zero-tolerance policy, they have to fire the driver. That’s it. But a company that does things with their drivers will have a process for looking at what happened and for making decisions afterward; in this example, a level 3 carrier will have an investigation first, to figure out what happened—asking about all the things that contributed to that event, and what do they need to address. Of course, the driver shouldn’t be texting, but why did it happen? Were they being badgered by operations? Is a loved one in the hospital? What are all the elements going into this, and how can we adjust our process to avoid this happening again?

  2. Collaboration
    More than just pushing out surveys to drivers, level 3 fleets complete a communication loop with the feedback they get and then keep drivers involved in decisions. There are some that even seek advice from their Driver Advisory Board when assessing driver fault for an impact (“I know that yard—it’s a very tricky turn coming out of the gate. Could happen to any of us.”). This approach is more than just having a suggestion box or open door policy—the top fleets don’t even talk about that sort of thing anymore because it’s just not enough to get them to where they want to be.

Both of these features have something in common, and that’s what puts a fleet into this level 3 category: they’ve broken down the wall between the company and the drivers, and they now see them as parts of a whole. That’s why we say that they are doing things with their drivers.

So, is it a problem if your fleet is in level 1 or 2? Not at all—if you’re running a good, safe and profitable business, and you fall into one of those categories, there’s nothing wrong with that. But it is the case that level 3 companies (companies that do things with their drivers) tend to have better safety scores, retention, driver satisfaction and more. So if you find your company struggling with any of those, it may help to take a step back and evaluate the relationship you have with your drivers—making a change there might take you to the next level.

You can find more discussion about these levels of fleet maturity in our Best Fleets 2023 final results webinar here.