I was watching a Canadian reality TV series that follows the challenges faced by a team of heavy haulage rescue and recovery drivers based in Hope, British Columbia. The owner of the family business (now in its 3rd generation) felt that he was unnecessarily losing business to the competition.

Whereas the recovery operators just saw the problem as simply a lack of customers.

The owner wanted his employees to be more proactive with finding work. The recovery operators believed that the responsibility for finding work lay with the owner and that their only responsibility was to recover vehicles as quickly and as safely as possible.

The owner, however, felt that the operators should be driving up and down the highway proactively looking for work, not just waiting for a call out. Communications between owner and operators was almost non-existent. But when the owner realised that he was spending more than he was earning, he called a meeting. To his credit he was polite but for the operators he came across as finger pointing the blame on them.

Up until then the operators did not feel that they were part of the business, nor was there ever any hint that their boss welcomed ideas or proactivity from them.  It was easy to see where the owner was coming from but it was a difficult and emotional situation to manage. It was then I got to thinking about what could have been done differently.

In a situation like this, I believe that it is always important to talk to the experts and the experts in this case were right there in the room; the drivers, mechanics, despatchers and apprentices. They all had valid ideas and the will to save their jobs and be heard.

If I was the boss, I would have explained how I wanted to protect the business and ultimately their jobs by obtaining an increase in efficiency and revenue, and only then ask them if they had any ideas.

One trick I have used before is give each stakeholder a pen and paper and ask them:

  • To write down in silence as many ideas they have, no matter how wacky. I would give them a maximum of three minutes.
  • After three minutes I would ask them how many ideas they have each.
  • The one with the most ideas is asked to read them out and I would write them down on a flip chart.
  • After the first list is complete, I would ask the rest of the room, if anyone has any ideas not already written down and then include these on the list. Praising each and every idea that comes up.

This way, after less than fifteen minutes, I would have a very comprehensive list of ideas from the very people who will later live the changes.

After this it is simply a matter of working with my team to implement the best suggestions, along with the ones of my own.

I believe that whoever we are and whatever position we hold, if we are genuinely given the opportunity to get involved, to be listened to and to take responsibility, we tend to step up to make a difference.

As my first boss said to me, “Don’t just bring me problems, bring me some solutions too.”

Until next time.