Who is your go-to guy? When I was managing a producer in St. Louis, I recall a driver whose nickname was “Big Bill.” It seemed the dispatcher worked the driver call-outs so that Big Bill would be the first driver to make a delivery to a new customer or high-profile commercial project.
In time, it became a bone of contention, because Bill wasn't at the top of seniority list. Fortunately for the dispatcher, Bill had a personality everyone loved, and he found a way to keep the clockhouse chatter to a minimum. But in reality, we actually paid for the problem. Rather than taking on the challenge of upgrading the more senior drivers, the dispatcher would just have them punch in early and “clean” their trucks.
I didn't catch this practice right away. But early one cold November morning, I drove into the yard and saw about eight drivers walking around the plant. I saw Bill's truck under the plant, and then I caught on to the problem.
My first response was to admonish the dispatcher, but I just drove through the yard. The drivers recognized my truck and started looking a little more active. Looking back at that day, it was a turning point in my managerial career. I learned that managers do whatever is necessary to get the job done. And to be a good manager, you need to help your employees by giving them the right tools with which to work.
I wish I could say that I found a magic way to solve the problem. I didn't. The company was soon sold. A new general manager was brought in to “clean things up,” and I moved on to Indiana.
I thought about my failings as a manager in this case when I was working on this month's issue. How did I allow an inefficient system to exist where we paid good, hardworking drivers not to be challenged to be better? I thought I was a great numbers guy, so how did I miss this hidden cost? And just as important, how did I allow myself to become complacent in challenging our workforce? Did I allow my quest for better margins to cloud my thoughts on employee development?
In hindsight, I had let my managers down by not providing them the tools with which to incorporate best practices. Maybe that was one of the reasons we were sold.
Now, almost 20 years later, I strongly believe there's no excuse for you to repeat my mistake. Our industry has spent millions of dollars creating economical and effective training for every level of your team. Your managers need to have the right training tools with which to develop their employees.
Hundreds of producers have found this strategy successful. This month, we are reporting on two companies that have committed the time, talent, and treasure to driver safety ("The Ultimate Test Drive""Safe Harbors".
But we have also included a story showing our industry needs to improve. A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report shows that 2/3 of those surveyed failed to follow the basic respiratory requirements ("Take a Breather"). No wonder our industry has received so much attention on this issue.
This is the time of year to reflect and develop a plan on how to incorporate safety and training into your operations. Don't repeat my mistake. Become a champion within your organization so we can be proud of an industry that trains everyone to be the go-to-guy or gal.
Editor in Chief