In my lifetime I reckon I’ve interacted, in one way or another, with a quarter of a million people, and of that number perhaps 1%—2,500—have made an impression on me one way or another. But I have to go down two more orders of magnitude—25 or so—to get to the realm of unforgettable.
Such a man was Master Gunnery Sergeant O’Neil, our nearly monosyllabic drill instructor, as he faced our recruit platoon, dutifully lined up for our very first junk-on-the-bunk inspection. It was then, after what seemed like an eternity of preparation, that he informed us that instead of the coziness of our washed, waxed, and groomed barracks, we were going to spend the next three hours groveling around ice-stiffened mud in our freshly washed, starched, polished, and spit-shined finery.
“In the beginning there was the word,” he explained with Biblical authority. “But the word was changed, so get your tails out on the grinder…NOW!”
We did, and when, after we had what we thought was all the fun we could possibly have in muck and mire on the wind-plastered shores of the Potomac, he explained that there was far more happiness awaiting us in the previously scheduled inspection that we were now about to flunk.
“Stuff happens,” he explained for those of us too retarded to have noticed in our past lives, but I can promise you it was a lesson none of us was bound to forget.
So what about change?
The only thing you need to establish the velocity of change in all walks of life is to pick any convenient date in your personal history and compare your vision of the world then and now. Even if your rearward horizon is only a year or two, isn’t it amazing how few things have remained relatively static?
When you focus minutely on your role within the confines of waste management, you may even be shocked to see what activities have emerged, grown, mutated, and perhaps even died in what in perspective is the mere blink of an eye. Care to count a few venues? For starters, contrast today’s wastestream compared with that of only three years ago. Then look at our approach to its collection, sorting, processing, diversion, and even disposal in just half that period of time. Now consider the societal milieu in which we operate and the public’s expectations for how waste is managed, and the extent to which it feels compelled to be affected by the process.
Grabbing Hold of 2020
Just as you brought with you an array of knowledge, skills, and social agenda different from that of your predecessors when you arrived on the scene, so too will those who follow in your footsteps. But is it enough to say “good luck” when the time comes for you to step down and pass the torch?
With this in mind, I’d like to propose that you have no more important task today than helping to prepare those to whom you will pass your baton. What does this entail? I can think of no surer way than exposing your people to the decision-making process at every opportunity and giving them increasing responsibility for making at-risk decisions as part of their fleeting-up experience. True, this approach is fraught with danger, but it’s the only way you can assure yourself that your organization will have the continuity it needs.