In our companion publication, Grading & Excavation Contractor, we’ve focused on five key issues spelling the difference, we believe, between truly successful operations and also-rans. While that publication pays attention to the specific needs of dirt-movers—landfill operators, for instance—if you broaden your focus, I think you’ll agree that they apply to nearly all aspects of the waste business as well. I think you could mix them up and roll them out like dice from a cup, and the order you put them in would make little difference, because the more you look at them the more you see that they are inextricably linked. So here’s what rolled out on my table.
Safety—It makes no difference what the business; it is our responsibility—fiscally as well as morally—to reduce the exposure of our workers and the public at large to all risks to life, limb, and property within our control. While the waste industry has shown improvement over the past few years, it still ranks as one of the most dangerous in many of its operations.
Productivity—While there may seem to be no end to the number of tasks we attend to in the course of a workday, when all is said and done there are a certain few that lie at the heart of our charter. Yes, there are the economic rewards, but underlying them is our innate urge to excel…a compulsion honed by the rigors of competition. Productivity in those areas spelled out in our goals and objectives is the tool we use to measure success.
Cost Control—Whether we work for a public agency or a private enterprise, it is our responsibility to achieve the maximum benefits of our efforts for the most enlightened—notice I didn’t say miserly—use of our resources. As most providers of goods and services are quick to point out, least-cost and cost-effectiveness rarely go hand-in-hand. As the tools for performing life cycle analyses permeate the waste field, the public is getting more bang for its buck than in the past.
Regulatory Compliance—While today’s increasingly regulated business environment is driven largely by environmental goals and requirements, many of which seem pretty far removed from our day-to-day existence, in the long run most reflect the awareness that many of our actions have long term consequences are not seen or whose costs are not borne during their commission. As an “environmental” industry, you would expect that its practitioners would be among the most compliant.
Employee Concerns—While I can’t imagine there has ever been such a thing as a stationary target in the composition or needs of our workforce, I do believe that today we face changes that demand our total attention. The most obvious example of change is the growing percentage—now nearly two-thirds nationwide—of workers whose primary language is other than English. While those in the Southwestern US have experienced the influx of workers from Mexico and Central America for decades and have developed the programs and procedures for taking advantage of the situation, many in other parts of both the US and Canada find themselves playing catch-up.
While language may be the most obvious feature, other areas such as education, technical knowledge, expectations, and view of authority may pose greater challenges both immediately and in the long run since the dynamic we’re experiencing is still in its infancy.
MSW Management has devoted considerable space both to the topic and approaches to taking advantage of the change, and you can expect us to step up this activity in the future. Beyond the details of dealing with employee matters, however, lies an even more important area of concern: our underlying vision of how best to accomplish our mission.
A decade ago, Nancy Nevil, past president of SWANA and a former member of MSW Management’s Editorial Advisory Board, wrote a Guest Editorial entitled “Employees Are Number One” , espousing the concept that the way we treat our employees is the way they will treat our customers.
“I believe that if an organization would spend more time and energy on employee satisfaction, customer service and efficiency would follow,” she proposed, and I am convinced she was (and is) spot on target. The rationale for her assertion? “Since frontline workers are usually the best resource for improved efficiency, employees must be a part of the solution to any problem.”