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How Pareto’s Law Applies to Managing Driver Behaviour

Pareto’s Law—or the 80/20 rule—is well-known and often quoted. For example: “80% of our crashes involve just 20% of the drivers.” In fact, there’s a further breakdown that crops up again and again but is lesser known: the 20% of the whole also has an 80/20 split, and that 20% splits 80/20, and so on.

Examples of 80/20

Let’s take, as an example, driving instructors. The Driving Standards Agency, which regulates and periodically monitors the standards of Approved Driving Instructors (ADIs) in the UK, uses a rather odd grading system from 1‒6. Grades 1‒3 are substandard; any ADI who is so rated would be struck off the ADI Register. So all driving instructors who can legally practise their trade have a grade of 4, 5 or 6.

80% of ADIs have the minimum acceptable Grade 4.

The other 20% are either Grade 5 (good performers) or Grade 6 (the best performers). Guess what, around 80% of the better-than-acceptable ADIs are Grade 5 and 20% are Grade 6.

Similarly, in sales we typically find that 80% of income tends to come from 20% of customers. But just 20% of the higher income-producing customers are the really high-spenders who produce the lion’s share of profit for the business.

What’s this got to do with managing driver behaviour in fleets? Well, let’s look at the composition of both fleets and drivers.

80/20 in fleets

80% of fleets pay little attention to managing driver behaviour. They accept that accidents “just happen” and are “inevitable.” Any initiatives to address the problem tend to be sporadic, knee-jerk reactions to events. There’s no joined-up thinking or underlying strategy. Unsurprisingly, the overall risk performance of these fleets is mediocre: typically 40,000‒50,000 vehicle miles between incidents resulting in insurance claims.

20% of fleets bring driver behaviour onto the regularly-discussed business agenda. They create sensible policies and do a reasonable job of educating their drivers in the importance of appropriate behaviour.

But 80% of that 20% demonstrate naïvety in their approach to performance improvement: they tend to employ interventions dictated by tradition rather than those indicated by scientific research; for example, they may provide equal doses of (infrequent) driver training for everyone. Despite their shortcomings, the risk performance of these fleets is well ahead of the larger 80%, with perhaps 100,000 or more vehicle miles between incidents.

The top 20% of the top 20% of fleets perform much better, with a few reaching 500,000 vehicle miles or more between incidents. The key ingredient in these fleets’ approach to managing driver behaviour is their solid, well-communicated and well-respected culture of safety. And they provide plenty of assistance to help their drivers to improve their performance and incentives to do so.

But where even these fleets tend to be weak is in the cost-effectiveness of their programmes. They get good results by putting lots of resources into managing driver behaviour. But they probably haven’t analysed that 80% of their results come from 20% of their efforts and expenditure. By increasing their investment in what works best and reducing it elsewhere, they would get even better results.

One of the keys to optimising cost-effectiveness is to be highly selective and intelligent in matching interventions to individual drivers.

80/20 drivers

Any fleet driver trainer who has worked at the sharp end of the business for a few years would confirm that individual drivers also tend to fall into populations that split 80/20.

80% of drivers who are sent on traditional in-car driver training courses don’t really need to be there. Some are safe drivers who have reached such a standard that further noticeable improvement would require a great deal of additional training (the law of diminishing returns).

Others would definitely benefit from learning about, and applying, some more effective techniques or they have demonstrated that they have gaps in their knowledge. But there are much more cost-effective ways of teaching those techniques or presenting that knowledge than one-on-one, in-car training.

For 20% of drivers, in-car training may be relevant. These drivers may have shortcomings in their skills or lack confidence in certain situations.

We’re likely to find that 80% of this group have a willingness to learn and a positive attitude towards being able to behave appropriately. Consequently, they are likely to benefit from the individual attention that in-vehicle driver training can provide (as long as the trainer is working to fulfil the student’s needs and not working to his own agenda or following a standardised syllabus).

The real “problem” drivers are the 20% of the 20%. Experienced driver trainers know that giving these drivers a “standard dose” of driver training is like water off a duck’s back—none of it can be expected to stick. Achieving any lasting improvement in these “problem” drivers’ performance may require training, coaching, counselling or even therapy, or any combination thereof. In large quantities. And still they may not improve.

It is extremely unlikely that the benefits derived from eventual improvements in their performance would outweigh the costs of achieving those improvements. It must be accepted that the behaviour of these particular drivers is a liability. Even if they are tremendously valuable to the business in other ways, it would be wise to remove them from driving roles.

The 80/20 approach to managing driver behaviour

Given that the 80/20 rule is one of those weird and wonderful “laws of nature” that seem to govern how the world works, how can we make best use of it in the management of driver behaviour?

Well, the first thing, in order to maximise the benefits to your organisation, is to make sure that your fleet is in the top 20% of the top 20%. Look at what the very best performing fleets do—and then find ways to do it better.

Secondly, understand the 80/20 splits within your driver population.

You can’t just assume that those drivers who had crashes over, say, the last twelve months are your key minority. There is a random element to crashing. Even the generally safest drivers may appear in the crash statistics occasionally. You’d need to look at a few years of records to see who regularly appears. But you won’t find recent recruits in that list. Or those drivers who may have been safe performers in the past but who, through developing problems or deficiencies, may prove to be unsafe in future.

Establishing developmental needs should ideally be done by such means as psychometric profiling, performance assessments and management reviews.

Don’t waste expensive interventions on the 80% who don’t need them; provide what’s useful to them by cheaper, and just as effective, means.

And carefully study the 20% with more extensive needs (or problems). Allocate resources sensibly to the 80% of these who are likely to be responsive.

Most importantly, identify the small minority who will never provide a return on whatever you invest in trying to turn them around, because they just won’t change. These are the people you don’t want driving your vehicles, wasting your resources and causing consequential problems throughout the organisation.

You need to remove those few bad apples from the barrel—you know what happens if you leave bad apples in there.

The 80/20 of Drivernetics

I’m fully aware that 80% of fleets won’t understand or appreciate the value of the Drivernetics approach. Fine by me; I really don’t want to waste any time on them.

The clients I want to work with, and with whom I can achieve the best results, are those in the top 20% of the top 20%. If you think that your business falls in that sector, or that’s where you want it to be, you might like to consider setting up a no-obligation intial strategy session and we’ll see if we have a fit.

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