One of the Family: Building a Culture of Respect and Support with Mike Coble

As listeners of our podcast know, we like to interview people who have a deep knowledge of the trucking industry at every level. One could say that Mike Coble, Vice President of Recruiting at Robert Heath Trucking truly started at the bottom—as a child, he played on the floor of his father’s truck cab, then later became a driver himself. Due to his love of the job, Coble saw himself as a life-long driver behind the wheel and even owned a seven-truck carrier, but he saw an opportunity to use the knowledge he had gained to help the industry he loved. He transitioned to work as a field recruiter, and now directs recruiting at Robert Heath. To Coble, his job is not only to recruit drivers for his company, but also to empower those drivers to set and work towards meaningful goals.    

Robert Heath Trucking itself is a truly a family company. Founded in 1939 by Bob and Lila Heath, today it is run by their daughter Terri and her husband. Coble’s own wife quit her job as a trained paralegal to work behind the scenes when they owned their own carrier, and now also works as a recruiter at Robert Heath. Many companies say they are family-owned, but at Robert Heath, they really walk the walk. Several husband and wife teams work there together, and the culture is all about teamwork and fostering a family environment. Most importantly, Robert Heath Trucking works to support their drivers with the respect and support they deserve. Due to the family feel at Robert Heath, drivers really stick around—for 12, 15, even over 20 years. That’s pretty impressive in an industry suffering from a high-turnover epidemic. So how do they do it? 

1. They hire drivers strategically

While many recruiters would be satisfied hire a driver who lives along the way, Coble prefers to hire drivers who live at the beginnings and ends of routes so they can get home to their families. If a driver wants to skip over this rule, he must meet with Coble personally and the request must be approved before orientation. Coble sits down and explains to the driver and how his location will affect his hours to pre-set expectations on the front end.

2. They provide support for the home front

From Coble’s perspective, helping drivers deal with financial and home obligations builds a stronger foundation for workplace success.  He recalls his anxiety as a young driver worrying about his wife and family at home and how the bills were getting paid. That’s why he feels it is important to proactively talk to drivers about finances at home and provide information and counselling on personal finance & money management for drivers to establish budgets and a financial safety net.  Robert Heath Trucking also keeps a chaplain on staff with a Chaplin’s Corner feature on their Facebook page every Friday to help support drivers through other types of struggles. The life of a driver is not easy, but it helps to know that things at home are running smoothly.

3. They help drivers set and work towards personal goals

Many employers set work-related goals for employees, but how many help to set personal goals? During orientation, Coble uses the example of planning a route before there was GPS—you had to look at a map and plan out which way to go, including stops along the way. Working with drivers to set and achieve personal goals is a great motivator and leads to a happier and more satisfied driver. It’s important to ask the essential questions like “Why are you doing this?” “What do you really want?” and “How to do you get there?”

Coble spoke with the pride of a father giving several examples in the podcast of drivers who seemed to have little direction in life until they sat down and created significant, personalized goals and planned the steps to work toward them.   

4. Don’t forget to provide regular maintenance—for the drivers

Drivers are your most important piece of equipment that require regular maintenance to perform their best, running and operating at maximum efficiency for the long haul. At Robert Heath Trucking, fleet managers ask one driver a week how they are doing, and the question is not about the load. Coble maintains that if you address problems when they are small, they never get the chance to become big problems. It’s that personal attention that creates the family atmosphere drivers stay for. It’s especially important to talk with drivers who are struggling. By always strengthening the weakest team member, fleet managers can create a trickle-down effect, like ripples in a pond where that driver goes on to help others, who go on to do the same.

For Coble and the rest of the team at Robert Heath Trucking, it’s all about how you treat your drivers. When you have that piece in place, recruitment is easier too. Word-of-mouth is the best advertising, and Coble directs the money saved by advertising less into substantial referral bonuses, thereby further developing the family-feel of Robert Heath Trucking. All of this said, Coble says that his company is not perfect. There are still the typical problems that any carrier will experience. But with a reported turnover rate of 28.6 percent in an industry with a 73-94 percent average, it looks like Coble and Robert Heath Trucking are doing a lot of things right.

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