Do You Need Them More Than They Need A Job?
By Don Archer
When he began, it was just him and a rollback. Now, 15 years later, Tom has 10 trucks and 14 employees and can handle anything from a motorcycle to a tractor-trailer. His business was a success.
The team consisted of three dispatchers, eight light-duty drivers and three well-paid heavy drivers. "Well-paid," because they were hard to replace.
Although he'd done it all to get to where he was, Tom was no longer a road warrior. Now his job was the day-to-day management of the business. Employee matters and dealing with customers monopolized his time.
Being the boss is never easy. To make things run more smoothly, Tom made concessions. He knew that to keep good people, certain sacrifices must be made. Besides the more-than-fair compensation provided, his small business was consistently over-staffed. He kept more drivers than necessary because he wanted to have the ability to accommodate requested time off.
But after awhile ... things just got out of hand.
It could have been that he was too attuned to his employees' needs. He understood that family was important, and that people want a life outside of their jobs. So he gave in—and mistakenly made guarantees that frequently allowed a few key drivers to leave before evening drive time; all the while knowing there was no guarantee that the need for those drivers wouldn't erupt at any moment.
And he had some close calls.
One of his biggest fears was not being able to respond when law enforcement needed him. The police scanner can ignite fear in the heart of a man who's made promises he can't keep, and make him say and do things that he might not otherwise consider.
One day in particular had been a busy day for the big trucks. Two of the heavy drivers were still on the road at 6 p.m. and one of them was whining about going home. The third was about to leave to pick up his daughter. But, there were three more heavy calls that needed to get done that evening.
The problem was no one wanted to do them.
At first Tom tried reasoning with the trio. He reminded them of the times when there was no work, and how they were still paid. He then tried bribing them, offering a bonus to the man who could get the job done.
But nothing worked. No one was willing to stay.
So he tried a little harder and reminded them that, "when the work comes in ... that's when the work's gotta get done."
But the drivers had heard it all before, many times. They knew they had him over a barrel and didn't care.
And Tom knew it, too.
So there he stood, broiling amidst the ringing phones, mulling over his choices. The drivers had successfully convinced Tom that he needed them more than they needed a job, and he'd become weakened because of it.
It was in that moment that something in him changed: Tom had had enough.
He snapped. He quit pleading and demanded that the work get done. More specifically, he told them what he thought of them. It all spilled out. His incredulity at their indifference to his sacrifices. What he thought of their never-ending infantile demands for time off. How he wished that it was still just him and the rollback.
As soon as he heard the words come out of his mouth, he knew he'd made a mistake. The mistake was allowing it to get this far. It was his fault that the trio had taken advantage of him; he had enabled their behavior by giving in so many times.
It was in that moment of outrage and anger that he decided to make some changes. He could no longer go on like this.
Over the course of the next three months Tom added much-needed structure to his business. He created a handbook and implemented guidelines designed to circumvent similar catastrophes. He reworked the schedule and changed driver compensation where, rather than longevity, loyalty and consistency were rewarded.
And the trio? When no reconciliations could be made, he was forced to replace them.
Although the fear of not being able to respond still lingered, Tom's changes brought new life to his business.
What he'd learned was invaluable. He learned that people act in service to their own self-interests.
And, in order to get things done, you must have policies in place that align their self-interests with what's best for the company.American Towman Field Editor-Midwest Don G. Archer is also a multi-published author, educator and speaker helping others to build and start successful towing businesses around the country at TheTowAcademy.com. Don and his wife, Brenda, formerly owned and operated Broadway Wrecker in Jefferson City, Mo. E-mail him direct at firstname.lastname@example.org.