August 30, 2010

How I Saved Jimmy’s Career as a Glass Truck Driver

By Paul Bieber

Jimmy was a driver for our glass fabricating company. (Actually his name is not Jimmy, but I won’t use his real name). He was due in at 8:00 daily, and just couldn’t make it. 8:10, 8:21, 8:07 were on his time card daily. And then I made it worse. Our hours were 8:00 to 4:30 for our day shift of manufacturing and delivering. In my first couple of months as manager of the company, I asked our customers what they wanted, and the most common request was earlier deliveries.

So, I met with the managers, and then the Union, and we all agreed to start at 7:00 am.

The Union Business Agent and I knew we were going to have one problem. Jimmy. If he couldn’t make 8:00, how in the world was he ever going to make 7:00? He made it the first day, and was 7:02 the second day, and went downhill from there. We had a progressive discipline system in place, and in coordination with the Business Agent, we wrote him, then wrote him up more sternly, then suspended him for a day, and then for three days.

A little background on Jimmy would help. He was one of the ‘good guys.’ When he was here, he was one of the best workers, the customers loved him, and he always made all his stops, even on the longest days. The best part about Jimmy was his attitude. He didn’t complain and he loved doing the work.

But, and there is always a but, Jimmy still continued to come in late. Our next step on the discipline ladder was termination, and that is the step that no one wanted to take. But if we didn’t, we were a paper tiger on our discipline program, and that spelled long-term trouble.

Jimmy cost me sleep…I was the new manager and this was a crisis that had to be solved. I asked Jimmy to stop at my desk the next afternoon to discuss options. At 2:00 a.m. that morning, the light bulb went on over my head. I had it.

On my way to work I stopped at a local store, made a purchase and went to work with a smile. I played back all the conversations in my head that we had with Jimmy. He loved his job; he didn’t want to lose his job, but he just had trouble waking up every morning, no matter what motivation we had given him.

At the meeting that afternoon, I gave Jimmy the “Super-Loud” alarm clock that I had bought that day. It cost me about $8. Jimmy was never late again!

We hadn’t listened. He kept saying he had a hard time waking up. It wasn’t that he went to sleep too late, or was drunk, or anything. He needed to be really jolted out of his very deep sleep. And my new friend, Mr. Super-Loud, did the trick. I learned a great lesson. Listen to the problem, and then the cause of the problem and try to make the solution work on both parts.

This wasn’t a disciplinary situation, or a motivational situation, but simply a stupid logistical thing that saved Jimmy, who went on to be one of the best employees we ever had.