Play To Employee’s Strengths

May 18th, 2012 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

I was reminiscing with a coworker about all of the job interviews I’ve conducted over the years. It’s always interesting to meet new people, especially people who make you wonder, “How did they think they were going to get this job?” Or, “If that’s what they wear to an interview, what do they wear around the house?”

As I’ve said before, personnel issues is one of the major challenges this industry faces, and we’re not alone. With all the unemployed people out there, you would think the pool of prospective candidates is expanding. And I suppose it is, but maybe all that additional mass is clogging the filtration system.

When I managed a team of drivers and dispatchers, I liked to find one or two employees who had the insight and intelligence to give valuable counsel, even if they lacked the tact and savvy to earn a promotion. I had two who worked for me for several years — a driver and a dispatcher — and I thought of each as a consiliere, like Robert Duvall’s character in The Godfather. These were the people I could talk to in confidence to get the lowdown on something that was unclear to me, or to get a thumbs up/thumbs down assessment on another employee.

Both of my consilieres had consistently good records in this regard, even if they were lacking in other areas. They were both good at assessing coworkers in the same or different departments. For instance, the dispatcher could work a shift with a new driver and give me a thumbs up/thumbs down, and he usually ended up right. The driver could give me an assessment of shady activities that were rumored to be happening with other employees, and most of the time his instinct was right on. Both were emotionally detached from their jobs, which helped them to be impartial.

Now, I didn’t make decisions based purely on the information I gathered from these sources. However, I did use their information to guide the decision-making process, always keeping in mind how unscientific the data was. If you don’t currently have an employee like this, I encourage you to find one, or to develop one from your current staff. They are invaluable. I also made a point of “announcing” that I had a consiliere, but not telling anyone who it was. That kept everyone abuzz for a while.

The dispatch consiliere hadn’t been in towing very long when I met him, but I could see his potential right away. I was just a driver myself, and he sent me on a police tow. When I got there, it had no wheels. I was driving an Eagle. I asked if he had known it had no wheels, and he said yes, he had. I asked him why he hadn’t told me, and he answered that he knew I had been driving for over 10 years, so he was confident that I could figure it out. He was right, of course. If I had known, I would’ve just complained or brooded or maybe tried to get out of running the call, but I was the logical choice, so really he saved me 15 minutes of angst. He also wrote a DOS-based Dispatch Software Program that was better than anything I’ve seen, before or since. He also taught me how to plug a tire (from watching other drivers do it).

The driver was also very sharp and way ahead of the technology curve — the first driver I ever saw with a laptop. He had other gadgets as well. To solve the problem of other drivers “borrowing” items off his assigned truck, he painted many of them pink. He was a very mild-mannered person and good at mediating disputes between employees.

So here’s my question: why can’t you ever get the total package in an employee? Why can’t you find an employee who has the advisory gifts of these two employees, as well as productivity, good people skills, attention-to-detail, a good attendance record and a sense of humor? I guess that’s who gets promoted. Both of my consiliere employees ended up self-destructing. The dispatcher, who had always had a penchant for upsetting his coworkers, etched his gravestone by posting a very inappropriate cartoon on an office window, with the name of a coworker written on it. And he couldn’t understand why I was firing him. As one of my colleagues put it, the coworker could have sued the company for 50 grand and won — was the offending employee worth a 50 grand bonus? Not hardly.

The driver had a series of mishaps that were attributable to simple inattentiveness and bad judgment. He drove a carrier, and one of our storage lots was a massive property in an industrial district with about 600 cars in it. The lot manager drove a Ford Explorer, and he was there one overcast afternoon with his Explorer parked in an open area. Our driver came in with two cars, unhooked them, did his paperwork, then backed up and to the side at a high rate of speed to turn around, planting the bed right through the rear of the Explorer. He never even looked. He was as surprised as anyone when he felt the collision. Our main lot was in a downtown area on a busy one-way street. Most drivers drove through the building to get to the two-way side street to give them a choice of routes, but one day he decided to drive out the main gate and go the wrong way down the one-way street to get to the side street. The coast was clear, after all. What he didn’t account for was the cross-traffic from the side street. A gentleman in a Subaru pulled up to the stop sign, looked right, and right only, since it was a one way, then continued through. He was very surprised when our carrier appeared suddenly in his path, going the wrong way, and he t-boned the center of the bed. Our driver must have seen the Subaru stopped at the stop sign. Or maybe he didn’t. Anyway, I couldn’t justify keeping him after that, especially since he’d been given a final written warning only a month or so before for the Explorer incident.

I guess it just goes to show you that it’s better to play to people’s strengths, and be happy with the contribution you get from that.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper

www.TowPartsNow.com