Often, business people feel that instituting internal control measures is counter productive to staff morale and worse -- it breeds resentment. Properly instituted, the reverse is true.
Some years ago I was appointed as transport manager by a large rural wholesale firm for their fleet of 15 trucks. My first question to the previous incumbent was; “Who is the best driver?" The previous incumbent said: “They're all just drivers!”
A word prized the world over regardless of colour, creed or nationality is a person's name. My first task in my new job was to learn the drivers' names and stop treating everybody like just another driver.
The drivers and their crews suddenly found they were known by name. I gathered these named people and told them from now on there would be a new transport manager, who also had a heavy duty driver's licence.
The people in the transport division were divided into crews of drivers and loaders. One problem I identified almost immediately was that some crew members were coming late to work. A lack of a full team meant the lorries were immobile and the entire squad was prejudiced. They lost their place in the queue for loading. Deliveries were late -- incurring the wrath of the customers. The staff returned after dark and dinner. To remedy this state of affairs, I told the staff that anyone coming late would be sent home and a day's pay docked.
The second pronouncement was for all trucks to line up from 07:30 to 08:00 hours for problems, inspections, cleaning and record keeping. I introduced logbooks for distances, fuel consumption, tyre wear and repairs.
Initially, of course, there were late comers. Punctuality improved dramatically after I sent a few people home. Someone from the transport pool strolled across a meadow. When he saw the assembled crews he realised he might be late. He started to sprint, cheered on by his co-workers. He arrived panting and disheveled -- but on time. This illustrated to me a positive shift in staff morale.
Inevitably, one of the drivers came to the transport manager and complained of not feeling well. It was quickly apparent it was syphilis, a notifiable disease. Fortunately the district surgeon was very enlightened. He said: “Send him to me and I'll fix him up.” I made no further mention or censure to the driver.
How to rate your staff? Unfortunately the firm had a challenge. Many of its customers ordered all manner of things in 44 gallon drums (100 litres). A problem we had – and it was reaching a crisis – was getting the empty drums back.
Collecting empties could only be done when there was space on the loading bed or on the return journey, this after a long day. Furthermore, loading these drums was unwieldy and time consuming. I told the staff I was aware of these problems so I only expected five or six drums per truck.
Initially few trucks returned with drums. Praising those by name who had made the effort produced positive results. There were more lorries with empties and the number of drums per truck increased. Finally a driver Nimrod came back with his truck crammed with empty drums. “Good Heavens, Nimrod” I said “What did the trading station owner say when you took all these drums?” Nimrod beamed and said “Ek glo dit nie.” (I don't believe it.) Whether this enormous effort was the result of the generally enlightened policy of the syphilis incident is not known.
“Sharp sharp”, I said.
This is a very important aspect of staff management -- not only praise -- but treating staff as human beings. The question: “What did the trading station owner say?” highlighted a personal relationship.
Some time later, my home phone rang quite late at night. The caller told me one of the drivers was clearly drunk. The vehicle was weaving from side to side on the road.
I intercepted and drove the vehicle. It quickly became apparent the power steering wasn't functioning. The driver was not drunk, just exhausted.
This incident had far-reaching implications. Firstly, at the morning roll call I asked about the working of the power steering units.
Secondly -- and more importantly -- why was the truck on the road so late at night? It transpired this driver had the longest route. After consulting the log books I liaised with the billing department and made sure the trucks with the longest routes were loaded first.
After relaying the new rules to the staff they realised the record keeping was being used for their benefit as well as a business tool.
I had taken the transport department and solved some of the main problems.
The logbooks helped to plan our routes better for both the crews and the company.
We were getting our empty drums back; productivity had increased because the crews were punctual and we were being more proactive about truck maintenance.
More importantly, staff morale and efficiency had increased – all because of implementing controls – not only for a reduction in costs but for the benefit of the workers.
Not for the transport workers daily drudgery. The firm and customers treated them with respect. They were justifiably proud of their work. When the annual salaries were reviewed, there were yardsticks to improve performance, those who had performed well were rewarded and praised.
We had achieved profitability, productivity - and a motivated staff. asa
Ingo Viedge, BCompt, is the Proprietor of Profitability Management Services.