So, you’ve bought yourself a new telematics or fleet management piece of kit for your fleet but how do you make the most of it? One of the most of common techniques is to attach an incentive programme for drivers that rewards good and economical driving with financial awards but do they really work? And how do you turn long term gains into lasting changes in your fleet’s performance?

US firm Vnomics has spent many years working with customers to optimise the use of fuel, and while in some Middle East markets the price of diesel remains low, it is increasing, and director of customer success, speaking during a special webinar hosted by US magazine fleet owner, Ethan Sweeney says anything that a fleet can do to help minimise or get the most out of the costs for their driver and their fuel obviously has “benefits from the fleet.”

He adds: “Where we work with fleets on is in the cab and how is the driver performing? What’s the driver technique? Drivers have an impact on fuel economy. Among all the things that can impact fuel economy – aerodynamics and whatnot – your best driver compared to your driver could be up to a 30 percent difference. There’s a piece of money here to be addressed and done well you can really go after that from a cost-savings perspective.”

Sweeney emphasises that concentrating on fuel efficiency isn’t just about saving refuelling costs and should lead to safer driving and lower maintenance across a fleet.

“Safe driving is highly correlated with fuel efficient driving. A driver that accelerates more under control, anticipates traffic ahead, reduces their speed; all those things are paramount in a safe driving behaviour,” he says. “So, as your driver population becomes more fuel efficient oftentimes a fleet will come to understand that they’re also a safer driver population. Similarly, with maintenance, we’ve had fleets that talk about the amount of diesel that goes through my tractor is highly correlated to maintenance of my emission systems and my engines. A reduction in fuel consumption helps reduce some of the preventative maintenance costs or extends some of those cycles.”

If a fleet introduces a driver incentive programme correctly and rewards professional driving behaviour it often sets up for a good culture around driver engagement and driver retention, he argues.

“If drivers feel they’re being treated fairly and they’re being rewarded, recognised or compensated for that professional behaviour that’s certainly a positive thing.”

Since its inception in 2018, Vnomics has invested $30 million to offer one of the most powerful vehicle and fleet fuel optimisation systems available in the industry today. With a strong early, relationship with the US Army it has gone on to be one of the leading troubleshooters for fleets in the US. Consequently it has gathered a mass of intelligence on the fleets that are making driver incentive programmes work.

“I think there’s a little bit of a shift from the traditional idea that you’re just paying people more, or by offering a carrot or a stick that generates motivation. And I think there’s a little more that’s being published and being proven to be helpful in this in this space. And it boils down to three topics,” he states.

“If a person has autonomy, that ability to have control of what they’re working on or have some level of self-control in that fashion – it’s productive. The next level is purpose – so I understand why I’m being asked to do what I’m being asked. Certainly, when you’re talking about fuel efficient driving, if it isn’t tied to better fuel efficiency I don’t understand why you’re asking me to do that.

“And, there, is the concept of continuous challenge or mastery. So, you’ve asked me to do something you’ve given me control of, how I go about it, but you’re giving me the tools and you’re allowing me to go after this level of mastery. We want to keep some of these things in mind and making sure that we’re addressing this as we go forward.”

While Sweeney is demonstrably enthusiastic about the use of driver incentive programmes, he openly admits that it is now always straightforward to implement with some fleets rolling it back later on down the line.

“They’ve had challenges when they’ve implemented a programme or they’ve explored a programme and internally they’ve just decided it’s not worth the trouble which is kind of an interesting thing,” he muses.

While most fleets in the US use a driver incentive programme in one form or another – rewarding delivery times or safe driving, for example – less than half are using fuel as a way to measure performance.

“It’s a mismatch. It seems to be odd that fleets are looking at the fact it’s a monetary benefit but they’re not implementing programmes en-masse. And I think the real rub here is that it’s not the easiest, most straightforward thing to implement,” he remarks.

“I think there is enough evidence from fleets that if you implement a programme incorrectly you run the risk of it being counterproductive. It’s not just that you’ve implemented a programme that’s wasting money, you’re actually driving a culture that the drivers would rather there would be no programme.”

So why do some programmes fail? Citing research from a Canadian analyst, he says that some fleets are finding that classroom-based training simply doesn’t stick with drivers.
“One of the things that fleets struggle with is can ‘I just do a classroom or do a driver training and get all that fuel economy benefit’. I think is pretty prevalent,” he says.

“If you’re thinking that you can just address this by doing a classroom session one time and all your drivers will be fuel efficient, we at Vnomics, from a technology standpoint, believe that that training and that feedback should happen in the cab.”

He also says that fleets are relying solely on the monitoring the amount of fuel. By using Km/gal as the only metric to compare drivers in a fleet is fraught with problems. Most are often running different routes or loads and this means that fleets are not comparing like with like unless they can take a variety of factors into account.

“I worked with a fleet here recently that has over a thousand tractors, over a thousand drivers and engaged with one of the drivers about the current programme that the fleet was advertising pretty heavily,” he recalls.

“Their reward was winner take all, so a handful of drivers got prizes, including a motorcycle, and the feedback from talking with one of the drivers was that with the MPG assessment he wasn’t able to win from the start and the overall sentiment within the driver population was the drivers that win are actually gaming the system.

“This fleet specifically based it on fuel receipts and they were finding that drivers were pumping in their own fuel. They were putting out of their own pockets so that they could go after these prizes. The fleet was spending well over well into the six figures on rewards for their driver population on an annual basis and it was generating this discontent from the driver population so it was counterproductive.”

Sweeney says that most fleets which have followed this route will come to the conclusion that they need to have a handicap metric in place. Much like a golf handicap, penalising a less-fuel heavy route or delivery can help even the playing field for drivers. While he feels this is a step in the right direction, Sweeney worries that it can be labour-intensive to implement.

He adds: “The other piece of friction is the more complex this system is, and the handicapping mechanism, the harder it is to explain to a driver that the system is fair and here’s what’s going on. If you’re spending all of your time educating your drivers on exactly the maths that’s going on to give them their metrics and you’re not spending your time on coaching or recognising them, that’s not the best approach.”

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to effective driver incentive programmes, Sweeney believes the ones that have been successfully implemented share several common ideas.

“One of the ones that I think works most successfully is the idea of competition. We have a large customer that when they started their first approach at competition they didn’t do it at the driver level they did it at the terminal domicile level. So every one of their 300-plus terminals had a break room and they posted each of the domicile ratings. The end result within that first year was they saved 5% of their fuel expense,” he explains.

“That’s at the team level but we’ve had others fleets that do it at the driver level. This should be done a little more sensitively as you are calling out drivers but we have had fleets that have done that successfully,” says Sweeney.

“They’ll post driver-by-driver rankings and help highlight who’s doing well, recognise those and work with the folks that are not doing as well. The concept of competition when a driver has a fair metric is pretty compelling. Drivers seem to engage in that fashion. A compensation structure around this also works, we have other customers that use it to drive a financial bonus.”

One of the most successful progammes he has witnessed was an agricultural firm that operated on a seasonal basis. Their challenge was to ensure the drivers maintained their technique when they weren’t driving year-round. Using Vnomics solution, the company combined fuel efficiency with attendance and used a very high incentive (over a $1,000 dollars) to motive their driver population.

“These guys found out with that around 90% of their driving drivers achieved the fuel efficiency and attendance metric but 5% of them tried but couldn’t or didn’t achieve either the attendance portion or the driving technique portion. And the last 5 percent, they felt weren’t interested in playing the game. From their perspective 90% success was a good use of the technology and it drove the business results they were hoping for,” Sweeney explains. “They were able to offset some of their labour costs with the fuel savings they were seeing.”

He also cites a smaller, family-owned company that was seeing driver costs increase due to higher health care expenses. Drivers were told that the company could afford it, if they bought into the fuel efficiency scheme.

“They were able to drive the adoption by the team based on, we can do this if we can subsidise the cost and there wont be an impact to your paycheque with the rising healthcare, assuming that we can drive some of that fuel efficiency out of business.”
Many fleets will think of the rewards and recognition aspects of driver incentive programmes and Sweeney has seen this take many guises in fleets.

“One that’s worked well is the branded fuel champion and a recognition kind of apparel. Whether it be hat for your trucker that says ‘hey I’m the fuel champ’ or a shirt or something that allows them to have a little bit of notoriety. That works well,” he remark.

“The other one that I’ve seen he worked pretty well is on friday afternoon reward the drivers that achieve the metrics with something like a gift card for dinner that night.

“And that has two benefits: one is you’re recognising them in front of their peers so everybody sees that as a culture you’re rewarding and you’re really reinforcing that. The other thing is that the drivers family gets accustomed to getting that. There’s a little more discussion at home about what’s going on when we didn’t get that benefit this week.”

Access the webinar via the Fleet Owner website