Employees Are Number One
It is probably safe to say that all solid waste organizations have goals pertaining to customer service and costs. Could we make the same assumption about employee satisfaction? Southwest Airlines has been ranked No. 1 in service for nine consecutive years. Its corporate philosophy includes 11 primary attitudes, and first on its list is "Employees are #1. The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers."
I believe that if an organization would spend more time and energy on employee satisfaction, customer service and efficiency would follow. Since frontline workers are usually the best resource for improved efficiency, employees must be a part of the solution to any problem. One of our task forces made a recommendation to city council on how to reduce down routes and received a round of applause for its work. Obviously those employees felt pretty good about what they had done. Another group spent one year developing a more comprehensive orientation and training program. The final product was a training manual titled SPIRIT (Special People in Refuse Introducing Training). We celebrated its success by providing each employee with SPIRIT caps and clipboards.
We have continued to involve employees through the creation of teams. Each supervisor holds weekly team meetings, and the agenda covers issues relating to personnel, equipment, safety, operating procedures, and general information. The small-group format provides a fertile environment for feedback and ideas. Teams deal openly and honestly with each other in addressing problems and performance issues. Issues arising out of the supervisor team meetings are addressed by the Self-Directed Work Team (SDWT) made up of all supervisors. The SDWT was implemented when the superintendent position was eliminated. Over the last few years, the SDWT has expanded its skills and knowledge and is very effective in managing the day-to-day operations.
Pride within the team is promoted through team identity and recognition. Each team selected its team name, and a team logo was developed for use on T-shirts, trucks, and so on. Team incentives were developed by the SDWT to recognize each team member (with a $100 gift certificate) if the team as a unit is able to meet certain safety, customer service, and attendance criteria.
Celebration is another important tool for recognizing and motivating employees. The celebration starts on the first day of employment when the employee is treated to lunch with the division supervisors and me. We have a good time, and the employee is able to sense the open relationship between the manager, supervisors, and employees. The cake and balloons usually have a welcoming message to the employee. From the first day on the job, we want employees to know we are glad they have joined our team.
The division celebrates the successful completion of the probationary period by giving the employee a City of Plano watch and certificate. The city recognizes service milestones and has a safety incentive program. In addition, our division plays Bingo, calling out a safety message and number every day. Winners are eligible for a $100 gift certificate if they have not had an injury or an accident or missed any work.
We celebrate every complimentary letter by reading them at divisional meetings and giving the employee an ABBY (Above and Beyond) award of $20. This practice provides positive reinforcement for good customer service and serves as a constant reminder that their efforts are noticed and appreciated by the citizens. Some of the letters are very touching and some are humorous, giving employees an opportunity to share in common experiences.
The top 10% of employees (based on merit evaluations) receive a coveted "Outstanding Employee" jacket. Criteria are established annually so that all employees know how they can receive the highest merit possible. In addition, five employees are selected by their peers as Employees of the Year, and the supervisors recognize one employee in each of the following categories: Most Customer Service - Oriented, Most Dependable, Most Initiative, and Most Improved. All of these awards are presented at the annual employee awards banquet.
I once heard someone say that you cannot motivate anyone, but you can create an environment that will motivate by finding out what is important to your employees. It has been our experience that the things most important to our employees deal with daily operations, such as equipment, working conditions, routing, wearing apparel, and even the flavor of Gatorade. Automation definitely provides a better work environment. We give employees an option in shirts and provide a jeans and shoe allowance. We make truck assignments, and employees have an opportunity to provide input to the equipment specifications. We reward highest-ranked employees based on a seniority and evaluation formula by giving them first choice in route assignments.
We implemented an alternate form of disciplinary action that has also been popular with employees. This alternate disciplinary procedure eliminates "suspension days" because they punish employees who must cover routes impacted by this action. It also enables the division to terminate poor employees in a shorter time frame.
I know many of you are reading this and all you can see is $$$. We operate as an enterprise fund and benchmark our services and fees annually. Our monthly rate is $10.95, and we have had no increase in six years. As a manager, I look at everything we are doing and ensure that we are spending money on those things that will improve employee satisfaction. When I listen to the employees and do everything that can be done to give them the best equipment and the best working conditions possible, the results are phenomenal. This past summer was a good indication of the employees'’ positive attitudes. With 85 consecutive days without rain, 46 days of above 100ºF temperatures, and some routing challenges, I was continually amazed at the good morale and exceptional customer service. They continue to inspire me to work harder for them.
Author's Bio: Nancy Nevil is solid waste manager with the City of Plano, TX, and a member of MSW Management's Editorial Advisory Board