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Towards an Open Transportation Culture

When I train new supervisors and directors we always spend a fair share of time talking about how to create a successful culture where fresh, creative, and productive ideas flourish. Everybody wants to work in such an environment. Unfortunately, what I frequently hear at many of those same workshops is that these same managers/supervisors currently work in a setting that doesn’t in any way resemble such a successful culture.

In a prior blog Management – Einstein Style I discussed specific actions that leaders can take to help change their work environment. Now, several months later, after speaking with many school transportation professionals, I realize that what might be perceived of as a failure by an individual really demonstrates a weakness in the culture of the organization. Sure, a culture is built by individual actions but it is also built upon systems. That is, effective systems can bias the organization towards transparency or towards secrecy. If you’re in the pupil transportation business it would be beneficial to have processes that support openness. If you’re in the spy business perhaps you’d be better off with clandestine operations.

We know some of the individual actions that help create a receptive workplace, but how do we go about changing the culture? It seems like a much more daunting problem. The old joke about “How do you eat an elephant” comes to mind. Well the answer, obviously is, “one bite at a time.” In part, to change the culture you need to start taking metaphorical bites out of your own business practices. Meet with your staff regularly. Make yourself available. Reward people who share problems and solutions. That’s a good start. However, to really make a difference you have to examine some of the “anti-openness” practices that are ingrained in your everyday processes, your forms, and even in your own methods of interacting.

In that spirit, here is a list of 25 common business practices or situations. Unfortunately, they’ve been drawn from the real (or surreal) world that is pupil transportation. How many apply to your organization?

  1. You have someone assigned to be the troll on the bridge, and the bridge is the path to your office (or that of a supervisor).
  2. Responding to your emails is more pressing than listening to serious problems from your staff.
  3. You go to the bathroom in a different place than most of the people on your staff.
  4. You have never eaten a meal in the driver ready room or the mechanic’s break room.
  5. There is no structured method for a driver who’s not sure of a safety procedure to get help without getting into trouble.
  6. Nobody knows where the key to the suggestion box is.
  7. What’s a suggestion box?
  8. Once you implement a solution you have no standard practice or process that causes you to revisit the situation to see if the solution actually worked.
  9. Some people seem to miss many mandatory meetings.
  10. You’ve been surprised when one person in your meetings actually chipped in on a conversation because you thought (s)he was a mannequin.
  11. You get grievances/H.R. complaints and they are valid.
  12. People are longing for the good old days “when things really sucked.”
  13. Your absenteeism rate is over 15%.
  14. Everyone dreads going to the employee/management committee meeting.
  15. Far too often you hear staff defending rather than explaining.
  16. You can’t remember the last time there was a good idea in your department.
  17. You can remember but the idea was from you (or your spouse).
  18. A common explanation for a problem begins with “I didn’t know.”
  19. There is no standard communications form for drivers to communicate with office staff.
  20. That form doesn’t require a response or doesn’t get a response.
  21. There is no log recording daily problems.
  22. There is no regular review or follow up on those log entries.
  23. Staff do not receive regular performance evaluations.
  24. On the evaluation it is possible to get a maximum grade on “Quality of Work” having never submitted any student referrals or communications forms.
  25. Although your home is not on the range and you know you can’t be that popular, “seldom is heard a discouraging word.”

If you can honestly say that 5 or less of them describe your workplace, CONGRATULATIONS – you work in a great environment. Be thankful because you are one of the few. On the other hand, if some of these items sound way too familiar then it’s time to tear down the wall of “business as usual.”


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