The E-newsletter for Waste Industry Professionals

(No.2, January 2004)


A Guide to this Month’s Edition

1. Welcome

2. ProTips for Professional Development

3. ProTips for Operational Profitability

4. Topic of the Month: Hire Smart

5. Quote of the Month

6. Ramblings

7. Announcements



Happy New Year and welcome to Issue No. 2 of “ProTips, the E-newsletter for Waste Industry Professionals”. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season.


This month’s newsletter is filled with tips and thoughts to help with your professional development and to manage your business more profitably. My purpose is to stimulate your thinking; the industry benefits most when we all do our best.


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2. ProTips for Professional Development


Self-Evaluation is the precursor to meaningful change. If you're not willing to embrace change, you'll stay stuck where you are unless you're forcibly moved, and you may not like where that can take you. If you failed to meet a goal, performed poorly, or just want to improve, self-evaluation, followed by written goals, is the answer.


It is virtually impossible to set goals and change directions without reviewing last year’s journey. Great artists stand back from their work looking for ways to make it more beautiful. Professional athletes review film of previous games to identify ways to improve their performance. And so you, too, should stand back from your daily activities, review your performance, plan your future, make corrections, and watch yourself succeed.


Goal Setting, “I’ve heard enough,” you say. “Everywhere I turn, somebody’s giving me advice on the importance of, and how to set, goals. Take heed, especially if you don’t regularly set goals or set them only in your mind. There is no substitution for writing your goals. The trick is to make sure they are clear, concise and achievable. One way to accomplish this is to write SMART Goals. If you’ve never heard of the term, or want a refresher, there is a great article on the subject at


Take Action every day, because tomorrow never comes. You’ve completed your self-evaluation and written your SMART goals; now it's time to act. Action brings your goals to life, lifts your spirit, and gives you satisfaction. Action builds confidence and adds momentum to a daily grind. Today is the only day you have to work on your success. Give it all you have, and success is bound to stop at your doorstep.



3. ProTips for Operational Profitability


Visit your customers is my best advice for account retention. The time to visit your customers is not when they’re complaining, or when you need a rate increase. It's NOW, so you can get acquainted with their needs and expectations--the key to building a long- term relationship.


Sandy Skaggs, an attorney I worked with a few years back, said to me, “It’s easier to say no to someone you don’t know than it is to say no to someone you do know.” When it comes time to renew your hauling contract or to ask for a price increase, which customer do you want to call on, someone you know or someone you don’t know? You make the call, or your competition will make it for you.


Drop in on your operations before they get started, and stick around until everyone has left the yard or the office. There is no substitution for a first-hand look to let you know how things are really going. You’ll learn lots of interesting stuff, some good and some not. Most importantly, though, you’ll get an unfiltered understanding of why things are the way they are. You’ll quickly identify any glitches that need to be corrected and any workers who deserve a pat on the back. I’ve yet to see it fail; a visit from the boss can calm an unsettling situation or bring relief to an overworked crew. Get out there and visit…often!


Visit your crews---You’re not finished visiting yet. Whether you operate a collection operation, landfill, transfer station, or a recycling center, visiting your front line workers on the job is good for morale--yours and theirs. You’ll observe some very interesting things. Some might shock you, and some might make you proud. Most important, you’ll notice how the work is being done. Is it done safely? Is it done efficiently? If your workers interface with your customers, are they courteous, helpful and tidy?


You can’t make these observations from behind the desk, so get out there and visit the troops. In addition to building morale, you will get tons of first-hand information about how your operations work. With this newfound insight, you'll be able to plan new strategies, set goals for your business unit to be more effective, and drop more dollars to the bottom line.



4. Topic of the Month


Hire Smart--- Poor hiring is one of management’s deadly sins. Here are seven things you can do to help you make the right hiring decision.


  1. Be clear on your hiring needs. What is the job you’re hiring for? What qualities are you looking for? Make a list of your best workers. Identify the qualities and skills these individuals bring to the job that makes them so valuable, and use this information throughout the hiring process.


  1. Target your next hires. Don’t wait until you need to hire. Start looking now. Ask employees if they know someone they want to have on their team. Be on the lookout for workers who get your attention because they provide good customer service or who show exceptional driving skills. Invite them to fill out an application. If you take only those who knock on your door, you’ll be missing some really great people who might never have thought to work in the garbage business.


  1. Ensure that your candidates are literate. I can't stress this enough, even for entry-level jobs. Literacy is more important today than ever before because technology demands it. Don’t laugh. How many times have you hired someone and subsequently found out they can barely write their name, or who has a difficult time reading the simplest instructions? One quick way to determine if your candidates are literate is to insist they complete your employment application on-site by themselves. Give them a private place to complete the form and don’t allow anyone to visit with them during the process.


  1. Make sure the applicants have a clean driving record. This should go without saying, especially when hiring for driving positions. A clean driving record is also a good indicator for any job. If a person is not responsible when driving a car, what makes you think they will be responsible while on the phone, sorting bottles, or operating a dozer? A poor driving record, in my opinion, shouts, “I don’t care.” Hire safe, courteous and responsible individuals. It's worth the effort.


  1. Interview with the end in mind. This is the time to pull out the list of your best workers discussed in No.1 above. To find out how a candidate stacks up, develop a list of open-ended questions. Probe deeply to identify the candidate's skills, values, and work ethic. This is your opportunity to draw out important insights on how this person will fit into your company and serve it well.



  1. Reference and background checks--three are good, five are better. Call every one of them! Most companies will only give you name, rank, and serial number, but keep asking questions; you’re bound to get a response. Keep checking until you’re confident you have enough information to help you make an informed hiring decision.


  1. STOP before you make the final hiring decision! Look over all the information you’ve gathered. Is everything in order? Do the references and driving record check out? If you’re satisfied with all your work so far, then it’s time to take a deep breath and hope you make the right hiring decision.


You might be thinking to yourself, “Ron, this is overkill.” Well, think again. Hire the wrong person and you’ll be faced with two jobs you won’t like--firing, and hiring a replacement. Worse yet, if this person is in the union, you’ll need an act of congress to fire them. Act now--the Republicans are in control. And don’t forget, every time you fire someone, you always run the risk of a lawsuit. Hire Smart!



5. Quote of the Month


“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” --General George S. Patton


General George Patton was one of the most successful generals of World War II because of his boldness, but he never became the highest-ranking Army officer because he was brash. The lesson here: be bold…put your brashness on hold.



6. Ramblings

Once I was the General Manager of a garbage company. After I had been there for a while, I got an uncomfortable feeling that something wasn’t right in operations. You know the feeling--something's not right, but you can’t put your finger on it. I asked lots of questions and got all the wrong answers. I asked different people more questions and got different wrong answers, but I persisted.


At the time, I had an assistant manager. We talked about my uncomfortable feeling, which he didn’t necessarily share, but he did acknowledge that things might not be going well. So I gave him a hint, “Maybe you should visit operations early in the morning and see what’s happening.” A few weeks went by and I gave the hint again.


Over the next couple of weeks, I gave the same hint to more people. When talking with my staff, the assistant manager included, I said, “If you were the flight officer on an aircraft carrier and you had a 4:00 a.m. flight operation, where would you be?” They looked at me in silence, so I added, “I hope the heck you would be on the flight deck to see how things are going!”

You would think that after hearing this a couple of times, someone would get the hint. But no, things went on as usual until finally I’d had enough. I told the assistant, “Tomorrow morning you and I are starting at 4:00 a.m. We have a flight operation.” He got the hint.


Reluctantly, he joined me. What an eye opener! He was shocked. I wasn’t surprised at what we found. I was just disappointed, especially with myself. As a seasoned veteran, I should have taken immediate action to find out what was going on instead of waiting.


I’ll spare you the details of what we found. But you’ll be happy to know that in about two months of very long days we were able to right the ship. It was smooth sailing from then on.


My former assistant is grateful for the lesson and all the time I spent with him. Since our paths have parted, he’s been called upon several times to fix troubled operations because he’s good at what he does. When I talk with him, he always reminds me about the valuable lessons he learned that morning on the flight deck at 4:00 a.m.


There's no substitute for first-hand information, and there is only one way to get it. My advice, if you are in troubled waters, is to be willing to get on the flight deck, even at 4:00 a.m., and check things out. You’ll be happy you did.


PS: This little episode netted me the nickname "Commander." My attorney friend, who was our safety manager at the time, gave it to me because of my frequent references to the aircraft carrier.



7. Announcements


“ProTips, the E-newsletter For Waste Industry Professionals” is produced and distributed monthly by R.J. Proto Consulting Group, Inc. I encourage you to share it with your colleagues and friends. You may reproduce this electronic newsletter in whole or in part, as long as you include the correct copyright notice (at the end of this newsletter) with a link to my website,


Your submissions are always welcome. Send them to If I use your submission, I’ll give you credit, unless you wish to remain anonymous. All submissions become the property of R.J. Proto Consulting Group, Inc., unless otherwise requested by the writer. (Sorry, that’s my lawyer friend).


If you would like more information on any of the above topics, contact me at, and please visit my website at for more ideas on professional development and operational improvements.


Best wishes for a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!


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Copyright 2004 Ronald J. Proto All rights reserved.