The solid waste industry is an innovative group. Members must constantly find ways to solve old and new problems. As new requirements are placed upon the industry, methods and equipment to comply are developed, tested and implemented. Many solid waste managers and political leaders quickly grasp how these products and processes can help solve their problems, lower their costs or improve their services. Sometimes, however, the employees who must implement these new ideas are less enthusiastic.
For example, a manager may conclude that an automated collection system will be faster, neater, labor-saving and more attractive to the customer. It will be expensive up front, but the costs will be compensated by future savings in labor, injuries, street cleaning and customer satisfaction. To most managers, this is a win-win situation.
To employees who will no longer have a job, however, automation is not a win-win situation. Nor is it attractive to employees who will be expected to cover more route area, collect more containers or sweep more miles of streets per shift. Although they may be required to expend less energy with automation, some employees still may perceive it as an increase in the quantity of work required or the skill-level involved.
This presents a unique dilemma for managers. A new idea will not succeed if the employees don't believe it's in their interest to make it work. Consequently, any innovative planner first must sell the new idea to his or her employees. Surprisingly, this often doesn't occur. Indeed, management is usually shocked and angered to discover that the new idea is being undermined. Some managers may even consider punitive measures against employees.
However, selling a new program to employees doesn't mean that management lacks control. It's a sound business practice which ensures that all possible problems have been foreseen and addressed and that everyone in the company is involved in making the upcoming project a success.
Fortunately, every leader is a salesperson. They must sell ideas, perceptions, budgets, reports, explanations and direction as well as their own leadership. They also must sell their visions of the future to those they lead. Everyone is a little uneasy about the unknown. Although the present situation may be inefficient, at least it's familiar.
Employees need reassurance that the risks of venturing into the unknown are worth the rewards. They will have realistic concerns. For example, they may be concerned that the new system will replace them, require them to work harder or lower their take-home pay. Older employees may lack the physical dexterity and the eye-hand coordination required to handle an automated vehicle's joystick controls. Employees with poor reading skills, who may have relied on a co-worker for help, may fear having to operate a one-person vehicle. Others who are accustomed to an overtime check may feel threatened. Punitive measures are usually shortsighted, especially without talking out concerns or explaining the merits of the program.
When employees support a new venture, they can suggest ways to improve the operation or present solutions to unforeseen operational glitches. In addition, employees may have questions which never surfaced in the planning process. Just as employees who oppose a new operation can make it fail, employees who support an operation will ensure it gets the best trial possible.
In my experience, it's helpful to assemble a safety committee of drivers, instructors and supervisors to examine all equipment being considered for purchase. These are the people who use it, are responsible for safe operations and whose livelihood comes from successful operations. Regardless of the equipment manufacturer's reputation, customer testimonials or low price, if the safety committee has problems with it, the manager will as well. These people are the voice of the employees; they don't address whether the new equipment is necessary, just whether it's safe and workable.
Employees who participate in committees learn a lot about possible program problems and their own concerns. Many may decide to strive for a promotion once they've been given a chance to offer input.
Giving your employees a voice in implementing new ideas will not only help the program succeed, but it will also improve the plan. Employees' pride of authorship will push them to ensure the plan works. Being the boss can be a lonely job. Being a leader is a lot more rewarding.