ProTips

The E-newsletter for Waste Industry Professionals

No. 15, February 2005)

 

A guide to this monthÕs edition

1. Welcome

2. ProTips for Professional Development

3. ProTips for Operational Profitability

4. Topic of the Month: How to Solve That Nagging Service Problem

5. Quote of the Month

6. Ramblings

7. Announcements

 

Welcome

 

Welcome to ÒProTips, the E-newsletter for Waste Industry Professionals.Ó This monthÕs 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.

 

I encourage you to share ÒProTips, the E-newsletter for Waste Industry ProfessionalsÓ with your colleagues and friends. They can subscribe by simply going to

http://www.protoconsulting.com and selecting the Sign-up link on the home page.

 

If you have any comments, questions, or would like more information about any of the topics discussed in this newsletter, call me at 510.881.9440, or send an e-mail to ron@protoconsulting.com.

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2. ProTips for Professional Development

 

DelegateÉto get more done. Delegate to whom, you ask. There is no question; with all the cutbacks there are fewer people to delegate to now, but if youÕre a supervisor or a manager you do have folks reporting to you. Your assignment is to hand off the tasks that are holding you back from reaching your most important business goals. The first place to start is with routine tasks. What are you doing that your direct reports can incorporate into their jobs without a lot of special expertise or training? Next, delegate tasks that are time consuming, but essential to producing the results you want. Last, find a trusted employee who is demonstrating exceptional talent and give her/him a challenging project. With all delegated work, donÕt ass-u-me that it will be done on time. Periodically check in with the folks to let them know what theyÕre doing correctly and what they can improve. They will appreciate the attention and the opportunity to expand their skills.

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Advisors, coaches, and mentors, who needs oneÉyou do! Advisors, coaches, and mentors all serve the same purpose; they help ground you in reality and give you the inside track to meeting your career goals. If you see someone who is on top of their game, most likely they have had an advisor or two along the way. Nowadays, there are so few experienced senior managers to go around that itÕs difficult for a new manager to find someone within a company to give her/him the inside scope. If youÕre in that situation, look outside your company for help. You may be lucky enough to befriend a successful senior level executive in your Rotary Club or the Chamber of Commerce to be your coach. Most successful people understand the value a coach or a mentor brings to their personal and professional growth. So if you canÕt find a coach, do as the senior executives and pro athletes do, and hire one to help get you to the next level.

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Take paper and pen in handÉthe next time youÕre trying to solve a problem, planning a project, or just dreaming about your future. For some reason, nothing quite compares to putting your thoughts on paper. Thoughts are fleeting--unless you capture them the moment they present themselves, they may be lost forever. There is something about paper and pen that helps the thinking process. Just as a photographer has to take a hundred pictures to get the right one, you might have to write a dozen pages to clarify your thinking. As a good book can nourish the soul, writing out your thoughts can free the spirit. The next time youÕre faced with an important task, put pen to paper and start writing. Before you know it, the answer youÕre looking for will appear right before your eyes.

 

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3. ProTips for Operational Profitability

Secure containers after collection Éto prevent accidents and injuries. I recently watched a front-end-loader (FEL) driver struggle to return a container to its original location. He pushed and shoved and pushed again, trying but failing each time to get the container to stay in place on a short, steep slope against a fence. Finally, on his fourth attempt, the container stayed in place, or so he thought. Right after he drove away, the container rolled down the slope and into the driveway. Fortunately, it didnÕt hit a passing vehicle or pedestrian. Train your drivers to secure containers before leaving the collection area by chaining them to a fence, other stationary object, or by chalking the wheels. Taking an extra minute to prevent an accident or injury is money well spent.

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Are you sending two types of collection trucksÉwhere one will do? If itÕs a conscious decision because circumstances dictate, that may be okay, but thatÕs rarely the case. However, if two different types of trucks, say rear-end-loader trucks (REL) and FEL trucks, are collecting the same shopping center because of poor routing, thatÕs not okay. This is not only costly, but itÕs disrupting and confusing to your customers. Get together with your operations folks and review your routes; eliminate any crossover routing. If you have REL customers next to FEL customers, now is the time to convert them to the more profitable FEL service.

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A safety tip for kidsÉWhen driving by a school, especially an elementary school, I see all those little kids with great big backpacks. The heavy load is hanging below their waists and they are struggling to maintain their balance. HereÕs a tip to ease the stress from someone who has packed a lot of weight on his back. Buy a backpack thatÕs the right size. It will prevent the load from hanging below the waist. Next, adjust the straps so the load rides higher on the back. This way, children wonÕt have to lean so far forward to maintain their balance. Last, make sure the backpack has a hip belt. Securely fastened, it will transfer some of the weight to the hips and lower back, where the weight belongs. Better yet, do the kids a favor, buy a backpack with wheels, and take all the strain off their backs. IÕm sure theyÕll thank you for it.

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4. Topic of the Month: How to Solve That Nagging Service Problem

 

If youÕve been in the garbage collection business for awhile, no doubt youÕve been confronted with a tough service issue. IÕm not talking about the occasional service mishap; IÕm talking about a really serious problem, one that happens day in and day out. The type of problem really doesnÕt matter. The fact is, you have a serious problem, and try as you may, you just canÕt get it under control.

 

Customers call to complain and the city staff chimes in. TheyÕre not pleased with your service. Then the inevitable happensÉyouÕre reading the morning newspaper and Bang! it hits you between the eyes, the scathing letter to the editor; now youÕre really on the ropes. YouÕre not sure what to do. YouÕve tried and nothing seems to work.

 

Before you give up, try these five tips to help you get out of a jam.

 

  1. 1.     Clearly WRITE OUT your service expectations. DonÕt mince words; be brief and crystal clear; leave no room for interpretation. Your expectations should be based on your strong customer service values, contractual requirements, and the cityÕs expectations.
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    1. 2.     Discuss your expectations with your supervisors and get their buy in. Let them kick the idea around; listen to their objections. Now ask them to work out the details on how THEY can overcome the obstacles and still meet your expectations. The key is to get the supervisorsÕ buy in. When people are involved in the solution, they tend to take ownership of it. ItÕs only when they own the solution that they will follow through on it.
    2.  

      1. 3.     Now follow the same process with the drivers that you did with the supervisors. You should attend the meeting, but let your supervisors take the lead in getting the drivers to buy in. Remember, the drivers report to the supervisors. A strong relationship needs to be built between the two.
      2.  

        I know this is a lengthy process, but itÕs worth the effort. If the drivers know your expectations and get a chance to become part of the solution, they, too, are more likely to follow through and take ownership of the solution.

         

        1. 4.     This step is crucial. You need to monitor the situation closely. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so take lots of them, and videos too. ItÕs tough to argue with a picture. If you choose to delegate this part of the process, you must do so to a trusted lieutenant or a third party who will give you unfiltered feedback, not one of the supervisors involved in resolving the service issue.
        2.  

          You need to make daily visits to the problem area in the beginning, so you can see how service is improving. Meet with your supervisors after each visit. Let them know how theyÕre doing. With digital photo and video cameras, you can show them exactly what you see and how you interpret that in terms of your expectations. If necessary, you can get them to take corrective action immediately.

           

          1. 5.     There should be a zero tolerance policy. Now, IÕm not suggesting a strong-arm method, but whatÕs needed is a firm, supportive approach to ensure your expectations are met.
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            Remember, if your expectations arenÕt met, the fault lays with the supervisors, not the drivers. You need to hold the supervisors accountable on this one; you cannot let them blame the drivers. The supervisors are failing to get the job done to your specifications by failing to correct the driversÕ behavior.

             

            Anecdote: When I ran an operation and things went wrong, the drivers were the first to be blamed. IÕd pounce on them along with the supervisors. Then it dawned on me that my problem wasnÕt with the drivers--it was with the supervisors. When I turned my attention to holding the supervisors accountable, things started to improve.

             

            There is no question; it will take a lot of time and effort to get a tough service issue under control. This isnÕt for the faint of heart.

             

            First, it takes a strong personal commitment on your part to resolve the problem. Second, supervisors and drivers must have a clear understanding of your expectations. There can be no doubt about what you expect. Third, all parties must buy into the solution. You have an uphill battle if they donÕt. This is a case where they are either with you or against you. There is no middle ground. Last, you have to monitor the situation closely, constantly giving feedback until you get the job you, your customers and the city expect.

             

            Good luck on solving that nagging service problem.

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            5. Quote of the Month

             

            ÒGrant me the courage not to give up even though I think it is hopeless."

             

            Chester W. Nimitz (1885-1966)

            U.S. Navy Admiral

             

            His greatest accomplishment was the victory at the Battle of Midway. If youÕve ever read the accounts or seen the movies of this battle, you can imagine just how hopeless it looked to him, yet his courage and perseverance led to the greatest victory in U.S. naval history. The next time you think your situation is hopeless, think about the battle of Midway and Admiral Nimitz. ThatÕll put your situation in perspective for you.

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            6. Ramblings

             

            Once again, I met with some of the buddies I grew up with in the garbage business. ItÕs been about a year since we last met. A few first timers showed up, and a couple of veterans couldnÕt make it. Nevertheless, it was business as usual; stories, stories, and more stories; they were flying fast and furious about the outlandish events that punctuated our journey in the garbage business. ÒThose were the good old days,Ó said Don Sims.

             

            As the evening wore on, we became a little somber. Someone lamented about the quality of service today. Once it started, everybody chimed in about the ills that plague our industry--service quality and low productivity. Ron Risi said, ÒThe one thing we had thatÕs missing today--we had pride.Ó

             

            The next day I was reflecting on the prior eveningÕs events and I thoughtÉhow could those be the good old daysÉand whatÕs with this pride thing? Packing garbage--thatÕs what we called carrying garbage on your back in a barrel or in a burlap sack---it was a tough, physical, and nasty job. How could those be the good old days, and what was there to be proud of?

             

            We packed in hot weather, absolutely the worst conditions you can imagine if you were a garbage collector in those days. You grew to hate hot weatherÉuntil the winter came. Then those were the worst days, with cold, freezing rain. You couldnÕt wear rain gear; it was too hot and youÕd get tangled in it. The remedy was to go without rain gear and get soaking wet, and when you stopped, youÕd start to freeze. So those were the good old daysÉhmmmmÉand, what was there to be proud of? Being a garbage collector wasnÕt the most cherished job in America.

             

            Yet these were the good old days in a different way, and there was plenty to be proud of. For starters, there was a strong bond between workers. Working shoulder to shoulder, through thick and thin, you couldnÕt help but bond, because you did everything together. Your family became their family, and their family became yours. You helped each other at work, worked on each otherÕs houses, partied together, celebrated the birth of one anotherÕs children, and mourned the loss of each otherÕs family members. Plain and simple, you were there for each other day in and day out. The friendships and bonds grew strong, and they continue to this day.

             

            For the most part, immigrants started this industry before the turn of the 20th Century. They had little formal education and most didnÕt speak English very well. Every day, rain or shine, they showed up for work. They never complained the work was too hard or that their job was nasty. Humble as they were, they worked hard to build their businesses one customer at a time, and they prided themselves on the quality of their work.

             

            When I started--way back when--I worked with the second and third generations of garbage collectors. They were just as hardworking and proud of their work as their forefathers. They, too, never complained about their jobs. When the going got tough, they just dropped their heads and pushed a little harder, never complaining and never wincing. They stuck with it until the job was done, and the next day they were right back at it.

             

            WeÕre lucky, my buddies and I. WeÕre descendents, so to speak, of hardworking, proud garbage collectors. They instilled in us a strong work ethic and pride in workmanship. They taught us that hard work could be fun. They showed us that no matter how tough things were, you could always get through it with a little more effort. They taught us never to give up, no matter how tough things got.

             

            Having said all this, IÕm thinking, if our forefathers did such a great job with us, what did we do--fail this generation--the one weÕre complaining about? Or were we cursed with a bad batch? I think neither. When you look at the entire workforce in the garbage industry, they still belong to the legacy left to us by our forefathers. They are just as hardworking and proud of their work as the previous generations. ItÕs the few, the very few, bad apples that spoil it for the rest of us. Without them, we would have nothing to complain about.

            So until next time, keep plugginÕ along and make our forefathers proud. We owe it to them.

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            7. Announcements

             

            If you would like more information on any of the above topics, call me at 510.881.9440 or send an e-mail to ron@protoconsulting.com. Please visit my Web site at http://www.protoconsulting.com for more ideas on professional development and operational improvements.

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            ÒProTips, the E-newsletter For Waste Industry ProfessionalsÓ 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 Web site, http://www.protoconsulting.com.

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