Coaching Great Drivers

It has been a privilege of mine, from time to time, to drive high school football state champions. It is a height of the trip to pull the cord on the bus air horn as we turn into the school, announcing to the entire neighborhood, “We won!” Over the years I have driven many winning teams, teams that lost, and even the occasional state champs. One of the key differences I picked up along the way is the difference between coaching state champions and training run-of-the-mill teams. More broadly, there is a stark distinction between a coach and a trainer.

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Working with Stakeholders and Powerbrokers

I read your article in STN and am very intrigued by it. A lot of what I read I have been attempting to do or have already done. One issue I have is the lag time from application to hire due to some of our HR processes. How were you able to get HR on-board with expediting the hiring process and eliminating the dilly dallying around?

Thank you in advance,

Andrew G.

This is a great question!

Working with HR is probably the hardest and the most important facet of recruiting. I think many of our HR folks, like transportation professionals, see themselves as gatekeepers and not as recruiters. In addition, they are so anxious about making mistakes and liability that this slows and even gridlocks the process of bringing on new drivers. Finally, most employees are more about comfort than change. They take the path of least resistance. You and your proposal may represent more work to them so keep that in mind.

Here are some suggestions when promoting institutional change.

  • Great quality service begins with identifying your customers. Likewise, being an agent of change, ethically or institutional, means you know your stakeholders and powerbrokers. Write a list.
  • Start with building relationships with stakeholders and powerbrokers. This should be an ongoing goal. Attend events, like kickoffs, ground breakings, school sporting events in which you can connect with key individuals in your organization.
  • Get a sit-down, face-to-face, meeting with the HR powerbrokers—You want to meet with the individuals who will support you and are in a position to make decisions and delegate change. Be determined and don’t give up until you get your meeting (think bulldog).
  • Come up with a proposal, present as a problem. “Recently I’ve lost three candidates to other districts because . . . .”
  • Win-win plans are the best. Especially if you can convince them that you are going to make their lives easier (think less work). Part of what you need to do at your first meeting is help your stakeholders see the big picture and help them understand how you proposal is better for the entire district.
  • Work out your talking points ahead of time and try to anticipate their questions and reluctances.
  • Be empathetic: “Jane I hear you are concerned about . . . that is my concern as well.”
  • Be short, direct, and charming.
  • Be calm and reassuring—remember you are trying to earn their trust and win them over.
  • This is not about rational arguments but many times about territory and emotions (think salesperson). Using creative positive language reassure them they will not be losing anything but rather gaining.
  • Have a plan “B” to offer as a concession if they don’t like your first proposal—for instance, “How about if we try this for the remainder of the year and re-evaluate in June?”
  • Give them time to process. Big changes can take years. You must be tenacious and patient.
  • Don’t let go of what you want (a life lesson here). Believe in yourself and what you think is best for your organization. Be cunning and crafty, if necessary, to keep surfacing the issue until you can win over your stakeholders.
  • Optional—if you don’t get what you want, go over their heads to the next level of powerbrokers—only as a last resort because if it backfires you’ve lost all bargaining chips for a very long time!

A few more tips. Never be emotional, upset, angry, sarcastic, or pushy. Do not engage in a tug-of-war. Never threaten anyone by saying, “Well, if a student gets hurt it will be your fault.” This just raises anxiety and fosters defensiveness and even stonewalling.

This is no easy task and most folks don’t have the stomach for managing change. However, this is what separates a great leader from a mediocre manager.


Robert Leach

Robert Leach is a Transportation Supervisor at Academy District 20 in Colorado Springs, CO. He is responsible for recruiting, training, and relief/substitute drivers. In 2017, he was named “Colorado’s Best Trainer” by the Colorado State Pupil Transportation Association. Robert writes and teaches frequently on organization development, strategic planning and business ethics. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Recruiting Great Drivers

At the beginning of the school year (2017-2018) my team and I walked away from our bus route bidding event with each and every route filled. We beat the odds and the national bus driver shortage. Not only did we have every route filled, we had 18 relief drivers and two surplus drivers who did not have routes to bid on. Curious how we did it? Read on.

Recruiting vs. Hiring
The first mistake made by those who are charged with hiring transportation professionals is the belief that they are hiring. With unemployment lowering day by day and plenty of employment options for seekers and an increasing nationwide driver shortage, we must reject the idea that we are hiring. Rather, we must recruit. What is the difference? Hiring asks the question, “Why should you work here?” Recruiting asks the question, “Why shouldn’t you work here?” When we focus on hiring we function as gatekeepers. When we actively recruit we function as gatherers. Hiring says, “Here we are, come apply.” Recruiting says, “There you are, come work with us.”

Control Freak
One of the first and foremost things our team did was get control of the process of recruiting, applying, and hiring. Work side by side with your HR people to earn their trust so they will allow you to manage each step of the process. This way you can expedite each candidate through the process rather than waiting on administration to approve your requests.

In this current employment market, you cannot afford to dilly-dally with applicants. Many transportation departments interview a candidate as soon as they receive their application. Never let applications sit idle. Find ways to remove hurdles for recruits. For example, use a motor vehicle record service rather than expecting your recruit to stand in line at the DMV and pay a fee to bring you an MVR. This saves the applicant time and money. All these little helps demonstrate that your transportation department exists to ensure they succeed. That alone speaks volumes to recruits and is much more valuable than .50 cents more an hour than the district down the road.

Accommodate, Don’t Constrain
The days of bundling warm bodies into a large training class are over. The problem with this model is that is it focuses on the convenience of the training staff. Making a trainee, who is eager to start driving, wait until “the next class” is available is unrealistic and inconsiderate. The bottom line is this: You risk losing them to another employer. If necessary I will run three classes with only one trainee in each class rather than risk them becoming impatient, losing interest and moving on. Once you have the fish on the hook, reel it in!

It’s Not About the Pay
Pay seems to be the principal misnomer and most widely used excuse transportation hiring professionals deploy to justify poor recruiting results. Last year, I could not fill several 40 hour a week, higher wage, driving positions. Why? At the end of the day it’s not about the pay, it’s about convenient schedules, access to benefits, giving back to one’s community and organizational culture. If your employees are complaining about the level of pay consider that there may be a deeper issue. Firstly, you may be attracting and recruiting toxic employees. Second, consider that your institutional culture may propagate discontent, discord and dissension.

Tony Corpin maps this out for us in an article entitled, “Culture is Habit,” in the August 2017 issue of School Transportation News. Corpin writes, “Student transporters need to understand the positive and negative motivators for why people work.” Consequently, as industry leaders we need to cultivate an atmosphere that amplifies these positive motivators. The bigger picture here, as Corpin rightly points out, is that “culture drives performance” and culture is more important than your bottom line, safety, or being on-time

Finally, notice that I did not include anything about clever marketing, signing bonuses, or job fairs. Our only means of advertising is three “Now Hiring” banners at high traffic intersections. I attribute our recruiting success to our reputation in our community as being an exceptional place to work. If you are experiencing recruiting woes and lows, then consider looking at the process from a different perspective.


robert leachRobert Leach is a Transportation Supervisor at Academy District 20 in Colorado Springs, CO. He is responsible for recruiting, training, and relief/substitute drivers. In 2017, he was named “Colorado’s Best Trainer” by the Colorado State Pupil Transportation Association. Robert writes and teaches frequently on organization development, strategic planning and business ethics. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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