ProTips

The E-newsletter for Waste Industry Professionals

No. 17, April 2005)

 

A guide to this monthÕs edition

1. Welcome

2. ProTips for Professional Development

3. ProTips for Operational Profitability

4. Topic of the Month: Toot Your Own Horn

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

 

Just say noÉand win friends. Have you ever asked a colleague, a club member, or a follow volunteer for assistance, only to have your request go unanswered? ItÕs frustrating, and doesnÕt speak well of the other person. You wait and wait; unfortunately, your unanswered request leaves you scrambling to complete your project. When someone asks for your help, if the answer is no, say it promptly, so the requestor can move on with the project, or better yet, offer an alternative. A no answer will win more friends than no answer at all.

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Act nowÉturn urgencies into priorities. Do you feel like you work for the fire department instead of the garbage company? Are you always putting out fires instead of taking care of the work at hand? Take a step back and ask yourself why. Perhaps your priorities are out of sync with whatÕs really happening in your operation. Yes, emergencies come up from time to time, but they should be the exception, not the rule. If youÕre always dealing with emergencies, reevaluate your priorities. Give attention to the hot issues, the ones that are causing you the most heartburn. With time and attention, you can tame any issue and gain control of your work and your operations.

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Protect confidential informationÉkeep your desk neat and organized. DonÕt leave confidential information lying around. You never know who will sit near or at your desk. As a courtesy, how many times have you let someone use your phone or work at your desk? This may leave you vulnerable to others having access to important company information. A neat and organized desk is a small protection against snooping eyes.

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Please Note: If youÕre attending Waste Expo in Las Vegas next month, stop by and say hello. IÕll be the moderator for two educational sessions. The first one is Monday, May 2, 3:15 p.m. on Automated Collection. Then on Tuesday May 3 at 1:45 p.m., IÕll moderate the session on Garbage Contracts.

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3. ProTips for Operational Profitability

 

Avoid over paying vendorsÉ. review your accounts payable register before sending out checks. This might not seem like the best use of a busy managerÕs time, but trust me; it could save you a bundle. Here are two examples that might make you a believer. Consider the AP clerk who punched in the vendorÕs zip code in the amount section, resulting in a $70,000 over payment. How about the clerk who inadvertently sent a five-figure check to a vendor who wasnÕt due anything? As you can see, the time spent reviewing the accounts payable register can save you time, and maybe lots of money.

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When it comes to crunch timeÉdonÕt reinvent the wheel. Go with proven programs, systems and technology. Whether youÕre starting up a new program or submitting a bid proposal, the last few hours before a project is due are critical. When youÕre down to the wire, donÕt change things or rely on someone to complete an important task, unless youÕre sure s/he can handle it. If for some reason you think you have to make a last minute change of plan, donÕt! Refocus your efforts on your original plan and give it your best effort. The worst thing that can happen is that youÕll finish your project with time to spare.

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WorkersÕ compensationÉwe shall overcome. Nothing can drain your profits and demoralize your work force like a poorly managed workersÕ comp program. In many states, the system is so convoluted itÕs tough to make sense of. Add to that deadbeat employees, cheating doctors, and unscrupulous attorneys, and you have what some consider an impossible situation. ItÕs easy to throw up your hands and give up, but donÕt. Be focused, be persistent, and most important, be patient. Start with the worst abuser and get him/her back to work or off your payroll. YouÕll improve your bottom line and the workersÕ morale.

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4. Topic of the Month: Toot Your Own Horn

 

Every day, rain or shine, you, your managers, and your front-line workers make a heroic effort to help keep the community and the environment clean and healthy. Like the legendary mail carrier, nothing stops you from doing your job, day in and day out. The Herculean effort that takes place behind the scene to collect garbage goes virtually unnoticed. I had a colleague tell me once, ÒRon, before I came to work for this industry, I thought the garbage just disappeared from my can every Tuesday. I had no idea what it takes to get our job done.Ó I think that sums up the point very well; the community you serve doesnÕt know what you do and how much you contribute to their well-being.

 

Most companies like it that way--do your job, do it well, and get it out of sight and out of mind. Unfortunately, that business model doesnÕt work any longer.  If you donÕt agree, think back on your last rate increase. The city council, staff members, and the rate consultant probably didnÕt treat you very well. ItÕs doubtful they considered your company an important part of the community; more likely, they characterized you as just a money hungry ogre. IÕll bet the press had their way with you, also. Your challenge is to turn that perception around. Your have to Toot Your Own Horn if you want to be recognized as a contributing member of the community.

 

You can start by providing quality service. Before you can make inroads into the community, your service must be impeccable. How will you know if youÕve reached that service level? As you move through the community, your customers will tell you. They will go out of their way to compliment your service and your employees. Yes, you get an occasional complaint, but the overwhelming talk about your company will be positive.

 

Next, immerse yourself in the community. Managers at every level must be involved in the effort. Become active members of the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, and other service organizations. The emphasis here is on the word active; passive membership buys you nothing.

 

It should go without saying, but get to know the elected officials of your municipality and their staff on a first name basis. Find out what is important to them and figure out ways to support their pet projects. And donÕt forget them when they leave office; they are still community leaders. IÕm not suggesting that you be insincere or unethical, or conduct illegal activities; if you take a moment and broaden your perspective, you can almost always find value in these peopleÕs ideas and projects.

 

Get involved with neighborhood associations, and find out how you can participate in their meetings. They are always looking for speakers and articles for their newsletters. The members of these associations are the voters. When faced with difficult decisions, the deciding factor for an elected official can be an impassioned speech by one of their constituents. Make sure they are on your side.

 

Attend the apartment ownersÕ and business ownersÕ association meetings. Show them how they can recycle more and reduce their bill. ÒOuch!Ó you say. ÒRon, youÕre taking money out of my pocket.Ó Ah, thatÕs short-term thinking. Show customers how to reduce their bills and youÕll have customers for life. They may even support your next rate increase.

 

DonÕt forget the schools. Children go home every night and talk about what they learned. Teachers are always looking for new and interesting material for their classes. Develop an interactive, informative presentation, and have your supervisors and managers take it to school. The kids will love it!

 

As you can see, Tooting Your Own Horn is not an easy task. ItÕs hard work and involves everyone in your company. It starts with impeccable service and incorporates community activism at all levels. Let your customers know who you are, and how youÕre working in their best interests. DonÕt languish in obscurity. Become a contributing member of your community, and Toot Your Own Horn.

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5. Quote of the Month

 

ÒStop focusing on the problem; concentrate on the solution."

Albert Einstein,

Scientist

 

Managing at any level in the waste industry is fraught with challenges. ItÕs easy to get consumed by the problems you face each day. They can drain your energy and redline your anxiety, if you let them. Remember, there is a way out of every difficulty; you just have to find it. Take a tip from Dr. Einstein--concentrate on the solution, not the problem.

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6. Ramblings

 

A ProTips reader from Maryland writes:

 

     Ron - as always I enjoyed reading your monthly ProTips. But I wonder about your prediction of a one-cart future. Aren't there some areas that simply will not allow for one cart collection due to overhead lines, trees or highly crowded streets? I'm not just thinking of New York City. My own suburban Maryland neighborhood, with trees within ten feet of the curb line and overhead powerlines does not strike me as a good place for automated collection. We are switching to semi-automated collection of paper recyclables, but even semi-automated can't be place everywhere. Washington DC switched to semi-automated years ago and vastly improved its collection (and cleaned up many alleys also), but even in Washington, semi-automated simply couldn't be used in some of the older neighborhoods. Just a question. – Barely Automated in Maryland.

 

Dear Barely Automated:

 

You pose an interesting question. If I read it correctly, your question is more about the feasibility of automated collection than it is about the one-cart system concept. The short answer is yes, an automated collection system can work in New York City and it can work in your suburban neighborhood.

 

Keep in mind though, I confined the one-cart system to residential service only, and I used the term "automated" service. IÕm sure you will agree that automated service includes semi-automated and fully automated collection systems. One of the two systems can operate in any community.  If you can get a garbage truck down the street, you can use some type of automated collection truck.

 

One size doesnÕt fit all in this industry, and there may be places where the one-cart system might not work, but I think they are far and few between. Let me give you an example--San Francisco. They donÕt have a one-cart system yet; they have a three-cart system. They will serve as an example, though, of how automated service can work even in a challenging collection environment. It is essential that garbage, recycling, and organic wastes be placed at the curb for easy access by the collection truck.

 

IÕm sure New York is a challenging city to collect, and I suspect San Francisco might be like New York in many ways. San Francisco is densely populated, there is zero clearance between houses in many parts of the city, they have serious traffic and parking issues, and there are narrow alleys to contend with. Residential areas are interspersed with commercial areas, similar to New York neighborhoods--at least the New York neighborhoods I see on television. San Francisco is laced with overhead wires, partly because of an extensive electric bus and light rail system--and they have hills--some of the most challenging hills for collecting garbage I have ever encountered. In most ways, San Francisco is a microcosm of the waste industry.

 

After testing several types of equipment, San FranciscoÕs garbage collector, Norcal Waste Systems, decided on a semi-automated system with side loader and rear loader trucks. Parking is too much of an issue to use fully automated trucks. On any given day, you will see scores of collection trucks snaking through the streets of San Francisco, up and down hills, and under overhead wires. They are doing an exceptional job of collecting the cityÕs garbage and recycling with an automated system.

 

Automated collection is also well-suited for suburban neighborhoods like yours. A study was conducted in 2003 for a California garbage company to move from backyard service to fully automated curbside service. The service area was densely populated with trees and had many extremely narrow, hilly streets. The study concluded that 80 percent of the service area could be collected with fully automated trucks, and the remainder could be collected with semi-automated trucks. After the company discussed the new system with the city officials, it was determined that it was not politically feasible to move to curb service, but the fact remains that an automated system could have worked in the community.

 

Now for Washington, D.C., I think there is a consulting opportunity. IÕve seen some tough places to collect, but never one that couldnÕt use some type of automated collection. They make automated and semi-automated trucks in 10 and 12 cubic yard capacity. The chassis isnÕt much bigger than a pickup truck. Yes, there might be a few places were you canÕt get an automated truck down the street, but I have to believe they are the rare exception.

 

In many parts of the U.S., labor is cheap, so there is a reluctance to spend the money for an automated system. Some may claim that their area is not conducive to an automated system, but thatÕs just an excuse. ItÕs only a matter of time before automated service is in every U.S. city. If OSHA has their way (not during the Bush administration, IÕll bet) with preventing repetitive injuries, automated collection is one of the only ways to meet the requirements.

 

The moral of the story is that if there is a will, there is a way. Norcal found a way to make automated collection work in San Francisco; the other California community could have made it work, but chose not to.

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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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