Five Top Tips from A Top Driving Coach
Lytx 2018 Coach of the Year Mark Barnett, pictured with his wife, Kelli, led the implementation of the Lytx Driver Safety Program at TransWood Carriers’ Tulsa terminal three-and-a-half years ago, assuming the role of driving coach. He continues to make a positive impact on the Tulsa terminal’s drivers.
When Mark Barnett says driver coaching techniques are built on a lifetime of experience, he means it.
After all, his father owned a trucking fleet, and Barnett worked in the family business as a truck driver for a time.
“I’ve been around trucking my whole life,” Barnett said. “Even now, I can imagine myself in the seat of a truck. I understand what drivers experience on the job, and that helps me relate to them when I’m coaching.”
Barnett, the Tulsa (Okla.) terminal manager for TransWood Carriers, was named the 2018 Lytx Coach of the Year for the impact he’s made on the safety of TransWood’s Tulsa fleet. While he currently oversees 45 drivers, he’s made a habit of helping drivers improve at every stage of his career, whether he’s boosting their safety or their efficiency.
But one doesn’t become Coach of the Year overnight. To become the best, Barnett relied on his experience, his instincts, and the help of data from the Lytx Driver Safety Program.
How the Right Driver Coaching Techniques Helped Prevent Collisions
When Barnett joined TransWood Carriers as Tulsa terminal manager in 2014, the company looked to him to implement the Driver Safety Program and take on driver instruction. At first, Barnett doubted the value of an inward-facing lens that can capture driver behavior when certain driving events, such as hard braking, swerving or speeding, occur. But it didn’t take him long to change his mind.
“The more I coached, the more I came to see the need for an inward-facing lens to help change driver behavior,” he said. “When launching the [Driver Safety] program, you assume your team is complying with company policies. But once you have that inside lens, you begin to see the reality of what’s taking place in the cab. It can be very eye-opening.”
The Driver Safety Program has helped Barnett understand the root cause of collisions, empowering him to change driver behavior through effective driver coaching techniques. When drivers see themselves on video exhibiting risky behavior, such as following too closely or texting and driving, they become more aware of their actions. It’s one way the Driver Safety Program has helped the TransWood safety team reduce preventable collisions.
In the five years before implementing the program, TransWood’s Tulsa terminal averaged nearly $74,000 in annual auto liability collision and workman’s compensation costs. Since installing the program in December 2014, the Tulsa terminal’s liability costs have dropped 88 percent to $8,774, and the terminal hasn’t had a single collision-related workers’ compensation claim.
“I attribute that to coaching, which brought about a change in driver behavior,” said Barnett, whose coaching effectiveness score typically ranges between 70 percent and 90 percent. It’s an excellent score, considering the Lytx average is 60 percent. The coaching effectiveness score measures how often a driver is coached on the same behaviors within a 60-day period. The higher the score, the more effective the coach.
Barnett didn’t become Coach of the Year by chance. He’s worked hard at it over the last three-and-a-half years. Here are some of the driver coaching techniques that have helped him reach the top:
1. Make safety personal.
Barnett personalizes the safety message every chance he gets. It’s his secret sauce. Close following distance is the No. 1 behavior Barnett coaches on. “So I ask my drivers, ‘Would you be following that car at the same distance if your wife and kids were in it?’” Barnett said. “I look for every angle to personalize the impact of their behavior. When you personalize the message, it has an impact.”
2. Treat drivers with respect.
Barnett strives to treat drivers how he’d want to be treated, and it’s served him well. “My philosophy on being a driver coach is maintain your integrity with the drivers,” he said. “Be truthful with them, and they’ll know you’re going to call it like it is.”
As a driving instructor, Barnett strives to find common ground with his drivers. Each one is unique, and he’s careful to recognize that. “I make sure to spend time with every driver that comes through my door,” he said. “I’ve worked at it. It takes energy to deal with each one individually, but over time they’ve come to respect me for it. And I respect them.”
3. Communicate often.
When Barnett notices that a driver has “a flurry” of DriveCam events within a short time frame, he doesn’t waste a minute before asking what’s going on. If something’s happening in a driver’s life or mindset, Barnett wants to address the issue right away. “Drivers want to perform well,” he said. “If something’s happening with them, I want them to know that I’m here to help them do their best. As safety professionals, our function every day is to bring drivers back in one piece. So that’s where I always start with them.”
As a driving coach, Barnett clarifies expectations as early as the interview process. Since launching the Driver Safety Program, he’s directly hired about 80 percent of TransWood’s Tulsa fleet. “I make expectations known up front,” he said. “Through onboarding interviews, drivers learn that I use the [Driver Safety] program as a driving instruction tool. I explain what will be expected of them. If they’re professional, they’ll understand. Explaining up front how I use the program has helped us reduce risky driving behaviors in the long run.”
4. Establish trust.
For Barnett, trust begins with building rapport. It takes effort and patience. “You can’t have a cookie cutter approach when you’re coaching. It won’t work,” Barnett said. “As you move along, you realize that you have to deal with each driver individually to gain his or her respect and establish common goals.” To foster trust, Barnett praises drivers who exhibit defensive driving techniques and a keen awareness on the job. A kind word goes a long way in building morale and creating positive results, he said.
5. Create a culture of openness and honesty.
Barnett is a big fan of an open-door policy, and he’s seen the positive impact it’s had on his relationships. “In time, my team has become more comfortable talking about things in general,” he said. “Drivers stop by and say, ‘Did you see that event?’ or ‘Did you see that car run out in front of me?’”
Barnett takes the time to review each video clip and discuss it with a driver, even if he’s not coaching them at the time. “If they’re interested in it, it’s worth my time,” he said. “Keeping my door open helps my relationships—and coaching is all about relationships.”
Now that you’ve heard it from the best, learn more about how effective coaching can put your fleet on the fast track toward improving driver performance.