For as many years as I’ve worked in the school bus industry, we’ve embraced the open-door style management and avoided chains of hierarchy. We call each other co-workers and consider each person who works here a key piece of our family-oriented system. We’ve long used the company motto “compliance is an obligation; excellence is a choice” to passively encourage our employees to choose excellence.
Somehow that system failed us, our employees, and our customers.
At the start of the school year, a seasoned driver made an embarrassing and completely avoidable mistake, another veteran driver delivered a student to the same wrong address twice, and a third experienced and reliable driver failed to manage students with a kind and caring attitude.
It’s clear that we had to adjust our management style. We needed clear boundaries and expectations for each person employed by our company. We needed to define goals and encourage those who work with us to focus on those goals. We needed to stop assuming everyone was doing what they’re supposed to do and implemented checks and balances. We needed to acknowledge our leadership and hierarchy to best protect our company, employees, and customers.
I’ve long considered mistakes opportunities for teaching. To a certain degree — with some types of mistakes — that’s true. I’m not sure there’s a way to train someone to keep the bus fueled, how to follow the directive “stop at every stop every day”, or how to teach someone to be kind and caring.
Stated emphatically here for the first time is the standard we’ve hinted at for years: we will not tolerate substandard people behind the wheel of our vehicles. It’s never been our policy to employ people who are bad drivers. However, there’s more to a good bus driver than the ability to safely operate the motor vehicle.
A good bus driver follows state, local, and company laws, regulations, and policies. One of our policies requires buses to be kept at least half full of fuel at all times so we are ready 100% of the time to evacuate the schools should there be a nuclear emergency. With that policy in place, a bus should never be at risk of running out of fuel on route. An excellent bus driver constantly monitors fuel levels, even in the most harsh weather.
A good bus driver communicates effectively with office and shop staff. An excellent bus driver communicates honestly as well, admitting mistakes and taking the opportunity to learn from them.
A good bus driver follows the explicit directions on the route sheets, stopping at every stop every day (especially the first three weeks of the school year). In the early days of the school year, an excellent bus driver calls out the names of the students assigned to the stop because he or she knows the world looks different from the heights of the bus than it does on the road. A student’s stop should never be missed.
A good bus driver maintains order on the bus, encouraging good behavior throughout the route. An excellent bus driver manages to encourage good behavior without shouting or berating the little people on the bus.
I am not satisfied with employing good bus drivers; I want excellent bus drivers. Using our online training website, we define our boundaries and expectations for our drivers; they are required to visit that online site weekly. We will be focusing on creating company goals and communicating them to employees. We will also develop ways to ensure employees understand and partner with management in the quest for excellence.
As I look at each person arriving at work in the morning, I see potential excellence, and I’m excited about where we’ll go. This is a good place to be.