Technology today is amazing. Electronic communications, data gathering, computation and even map making are done by microchips at a speed that was incomprehensible a few years ago, let alone a decade ago.
With reams of facts only a few key taps away, much of this marvelous equipment has made solid waste managers more knowledgeable and more responsive.
But while electronically gathered information may have speed and veracity, there is no substitute for personal observations, the use of shoe leather and the filtering process of hands-on experience and common sense.
“While electronically gathered information may have speed and veracity, there is no substitute for … hands-on experience and common sense.”
It's of vital importance for solid waste managers to observe what is occurring in the field, at the landfill, on the curb, in the alleys and in the yards. Someone has to verify that the data we so easily gather is reliable and accurate. Also, we can't hide behind electronics when dealing with customer complaints and customer satisfaction. The same is true for dealing with workers in the field. That's why managers — even without microchip implants — need to step outside their offices and verify that operations are functioning properly.
Having the latest gizmos, hiring the best and the brightest, and posting a rising bottom line does not give absolute assurance that the gods will smile forever on your endeavors. No electronic marvel can replace personal contact, years of experience and knowledge of the jobs of those you manage. This is not to say managers must have hands-on experience in every position. However, they should have at least a working knowledge of what a position entails, how workers accomplish their goals and what goes into creating the output produced. If you don't have all the answers, try talking to your employees.
People like to be noticed, especially by those who can influence their careers. A few minutes spent jawing with employees can yield a wealth of information about how to keep things moving along.
In my experience, being gregarious and curious about almost everything can work in your favor when it comes to discovering problems, bottlenecks and nipping them in the bud. Going into the field also helped me garner information to solve problems that I had trouble solving alone.
I became involved through visits to workplaces and gathering places, and by following up on citizen complaints. I attended employee parties, helped create festivities that could recognize employee achievements and recruited the attendance of big-wigs as well.
Having a personal touch is far from threatening to a manager's role as a leader. For employees, managerial involvement doesn't mean you are less in control because your boss wants to mingle with the masses. Proactive management is a matter of personal ability, style and sometimes, self-worth.
So if you're a manager sitting behind a desk, firing off e-mails or organizing a Palm Pilot, also remember that a manager who does nothing to verify operations is indeed an illusion of a hollow shell.
The columnist is an independent solid waste consultant for governments and private organizations. He was formerly with the city of Los Angeles' refuse division.
Got a question about your solid waste operations? Contact Bill Knapp c/o Waste Age at 6151 Powers Ferry Rd., Atlanta, Ga. 30339. Phone (770) 618-0112.