Letting the boss have it

By John Bendel, editor-at-large

Have you ever wanted to let the boss know how you really feel? Ever wished you could sound off in an anonymous note?

Generally speaking, that's not recommended. But if a new technology startup has its way, anonymous notes to the boss could become acceptable after all. In fact, you may be expected to share your thoughts on a regular basis. Got a gripe? Whip out your smartphone and let the boss have it.

The technology involves a smartphone app that lets drivers express themselves anonymously to company management. Drivers let off steam. For its part, management learns about problems that it was unaware of and that might be causing drivers to quit. It's all about driver retention.

The company called WorkHound is the creation of Andrew Kirpalani, described on the company's website as "leading all things product," and Max Farrell, who calls himself the "head hustler." Kirpalani is a developer; Farrell is a business guy and company spokesman.

Big issues in little problems

"We chose the name WorkHound because our goal is to sniff out the biggest issues for folks at work in the trucking industry and bring them to light so we can act on them," Farrell explained.

Farrell said that WorkHound interviewed more than 100 drivers and executives to learn about the industry. Farrell did a ride-along on a load from Des Moines, Iowa, to Los Angeles. "We knew there were some big issues … and we wanted to figure out new ways to tackle them," he said.

Farrell admits WorkHound won't keep drivers from quitting over pay, home-time, or equipment, "but one of the big things that kept popping up was that drivers leave for misunderstandings and small issues."

When a small issue goes unaddressed for days or weeks, he said, it can "germ up into a really big thing." That's what WorkHound is designed to prevent.

"We want to bring those things to light for the company so that some of these issues can be addressed, and driver experience can be improved so that drivers want to stay with the company," Farrell said. "Nobody wants to quit and go sit in another orientation again. People want to be on the road making money."

WorkHound helps, says Farrell, by fostering communications between drivers and the company.

"There are two sides to what we're building. There's a driver's side, which is a mobile application, and then there's a company side, which is a dashboard they can access on their desktop," Farrell said.

At the outset, he explained, drivers get to rate their satisfaction with the job.

"How happy are you right now on a scale of 1 to 10?" he said, "And why are you feeling that way?"

According to Farrell, the 1 to 10 scale provides a quantifiable data point that helps WorkHound provide a driver morale scale on the company dashboard.

The happiness score

"So there are two sides to the management dashboard where you start to see some of the metrics, like what is the average happiness score of the fleet? How many drivers are on board? What's the number of comments the drivers shared and what's the frequency over time?" Farrell explained.

"And then on the other side are specific comments that drivers share. What you see is a black silhouette that says 'driver' on it. It's completely anonymous," he noted. "So instead of scrolling through a spreadsheet to understand what the drivers are saying, managers just look at the dashboard and get the idea."

From that information, WorkHound identifies themes.

"With one of the companies we rolled out with, I think there are 10 or 11 items that popped up, specific things like toll roads and dispatchers," Farrell said.

Ideally, he explained, the company will review the themes at least weekly and address them with a message to drivers.

"The message might be, here are the biggest themes we saw. Here's what we're going to act on. Here's what we heard about but can't take any action on and here's why," Farrell suggested.

"So you have a combination of action and empathy and a response to the drivers," he said. "Drivers are happy to get a clear understanding of what the company means by some of its policies."

What happens when a company wants to speak with an anonymous driver?

"There is a process to facilitate what we consider a two-way, double-locked-in communication," Farrell said. "The company will say, 'hey, this comment about a driver going over his hours of service is concerning. Can we reach out to that driver?'"

"So we connect with the driver and say, the company wants to talk with you about this. Are you OK with that? And the driver either says, 'yes, I'm happy to, or no.' And if they say no, then they remain anonymous," he explained. "It's all about protecting the drivers so they share the most authentic insights possible."

As of mid-October, according to Farrell, WorkHound had two carriers signed up, but he would not reveal who those carriers were.

"At this point we're not disclosing the carriers we're working with, but the sweet spot that we're focused on is companies in that 100 driver to 1,000 driver range," he offered. "We rolled out with the first carrier in early September, and we have probably 30 percent of the drivers on. We just sent out the first feedback follow-up to the drivers, and we know it's good. That has already started to drive an increase in engagement. That's the kind of cadence that we know is important to foster a stronger relationship."

Farrell said WorkHound was in the early stages of roll-out, and they would learn a lot more in the coming months.

"But we saw immediate interest, satisfaction, and approval. We know there's more work to do. But the big thing for us is we're in the business to create value for drivers and the trucking companies. And so as long as we can continue to do that on a consistent basis, I'm happy about where we're headed." LL