Giving the Drivers a Voice

A Bar-Nunn driver gets a ticket in Canada. He isn’t used to the border rules, and he doesn’t know he has to go back to the customs agent after seeing the brokers. The company is going to make him pay the ticket, saying he should have known the procedure.

But thanks to an innovative mentorship program at Bar-Nunn, the man has recourse. He contacts one of the 10 driver-mentors whom the company makes available to its 740 drivers, and he complains.

The mentor appeals the case to his boss, who agrees that Bar-Nunn doesn’t go into Canada often enough for the drivers to know the rules. “It wasn’t really in the company manual,” says Jim Nesterak, who has driven for Bar-Nunn for five years and has been a mentor since December.

In addition to getting him out of paying the ticket, the man’s appeal may lead to a change in the company. “Now, Bar-Nunn is thinking about making a checklist of what you have to know to go into Canada,” Nesterak says.

For three years running, the program has given drivers a voice, say officials of Granger, Iowa-based Bar-Nunn. “These are guys who are out there on the road who can help drivers who are having problems, whether it’s company or family issues,” says Mike Freauff, the company’s training and development manager. “And if they can’t answer them, they know who to contact directly so the driver can avoid going through a maze to find the answer.”

All Bar-Nunn trucks are equipped with satellites, so it’s usually not a problem to hook up a driver with a nearby mentor, Freauff says.

Giving drivers someone to talk to makes the road a safer place. “You’ve got to have a clear mind when you drive, or you’re an accident waiting to happen,” says Mike Manatt, a mentor and an eight-year Bar-Nunn driver. “The mentor program allows us to air our problems.”

One duty of mentors is to help the new hires – especially older drivers – learn the satellite system. Another task is to help dispel rumors. Recent gossip had it that the company was being bought, and that it was eliminating benefits. “There are all sorts of things that get started that the mentors are able to put to rest with fact rather than fiction,” Freauff says.

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“You’re like a liaison out there in the field,” Nesterak says. “If a driver isn’t happy, we can either try to solve the problem, or he’s going to get another job.”

Indeed, one of Bar-Nunn’s goals with the program was to cut driver turnover. “It’s a retention tool,” Freauff says. “Our goal is to get our turnover under 50 percent, and the mentors are out there helping us achieve our goal.” He says he gets three or four calls per week from companies who want information about the mentor program, the details of which he is reluctant to disclose.

Another driver who is grateful for the program is a man who didn’t get paid for unloading. He failed to get the receipt from the receiver saying that he did the unloading, Nesterak says. “He was in a hurry; they gave him the wrong copy. The company intervened. He got paid.”

Other driver problems are more personal. “It could be an argument with the wife before they left,” says Jim Damwood, an eight-year Bar-Nunn driver from Monmouth, Ill., who has mentored since the program began. “We give them someone to turn to, to feel comfortable with. It’s important that we’re drivers because the idea was that other drivers would open up more to us than going into the company to complain.

“We look at it like a big-brother program. We don’t want to ignore the problem and let it fester up and have him quit. It might just be a misunderstanding.”

One of Damwood’s success stories is a female driver who felt uncomfortable at night in the company’s back lot, since there are no lights. “We turned in a form to Bob Sturgeon, the president, and he said he’d put in more lights.”

Response to the program among drivers is mixed, Nesterak says. “Some guys think you’re a brown noser,” he says. “Some guys would rather complain than get it fixed.”

For those who want to get their problems fixed, the resources are there. “We understand and relate the policies to drivers,” Manatt says. “Where the good freight is, where it’s slow, how the company is doing financially, we can explain to drivers what’s going on in the office.”