Bus company director Charlie Hamilton (EMBA 2017) wanted to recognise – and learn from – the hard work of his employees. His new scheme gave one of his nominated staffers a day off, whilst he looked after their 12-hour cleaning shift.
On a mild December evening, I took the job (temporarily) of our cleaning supervisor, Matt. I gave him a pint of beer and a night off as extra paid leave, all in recognition of Matt being nominated by, and voted for, by his peers, to be our first Employee of the Month.
I shadowed Matt on the evening of Tuesday 18th December (only until midnight – I had a meeting in London the next morning nice and early) and then the following evening I was cleaner/shunter for a 12-hour shift. It actually lasting 13.5hrs as I was somewhat slower than Matt would have been! This involved emptying the coach toilet after 17 hours of use, fuelling the coaches, cleaning them inside and out and preparing the yard for the morning’s service delivery. I’ve learned so much about the tough and demanding job our cleaner/shunters are doing – the standard of vehicles is the first thing our passengers see, and I loved getting a true understanding of what is involved.
Understanding what our employees do
A few months ago, I wrote an article about why I was learning to drive buses & coaches, and why I thought leaders (of teams, businesses, projects – it doesn’t really matter what) should be able to do, or at the very least have a real understanding of what everyone’s role consists of. I spoke a little bit about the difference between leadership and management, but to expand on that a little, Katzenbach & Smith wrote about the discipline of teams and the difference between teams and working groups – and creating a team environment rather than a working group is something I firmly believe in. Some of the characteristics of a team as described by Katzenbach & Smith include collective outputs and individual & mutual accountability. I want my team to have a clear vision, know what it is we are trying to achieve and to know what they can offer to support that vision whilst being accountable for the business outputs collectively and individually. A rising tide lifts all boats (as quoted by J.F. Kennedy in 1963).
Recognising the talent in our company
Whilst I go out and drive buses, I wanted to do something more to recognise the excellent staff we have in the business.
More often than not, the MD of a company knows the name of the employees for the wrong reasons and the incredible, hardworking and talented staff often go under the radar.
We decided we needed to do more to recognise the amazing talent we have in the business, and as part of our employee engagement strategy, in November we launched an Employee of the Month scheme, whereby anybody in the business can nominate anybody else in the business (including themselves) for the recognition, the management team will select the top five, and create an online survey allowing all the staff to have a vote. The winner receives company wide recognition for being excellent, a day’s paid leave, and the satisfaction of knowing that I as MD will be covering their shift.
In November, we received a lot of excellent nominations (some less excellent than others) – but we, as a management, selected the top five, and Matt, our cleaning supervisor, won with the recommendation of:
“Matt is very versatile, committed, conscientious and always goes the ‘extra mile’ at short notice which often causes disruption and de-harmonises his personal life for the needs of this business. Nothing is too much trouble i.e. taking and fetching coaches from Diss, cleaning at both Diss and Cambridge, helping engineering and covering driving duties as and when required usually at short notice!”
After putting five nominations out to colleagues to vote on – Matt won 48% of the company vote.
The lessons I learned whilst working a 4pm-4am cleaning shift have been invaluable – from simple things that are easy to rectify through to considering some fundamental changes to the way we run our services. I cannot recommend highly enough for mangers and leaders to try doing this. I am looking forward to seeing what I will be doing for the December Employee of the Month.