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Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

Feb 17th, 2012 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

As a manager, I loved meetings. When I was a commission driver, I hated them. When you’re a commission driver, anything you do that isn’t involved in direct revenue generation seems like a waste of time. I say “seems,” because sometimes things have indirect effect. You couldn’t have convinced me of that at the time. The only thing I liked about meetings then was the entertainment value, like the time I locked the keys in a co-worker’s truck on purpose right before a meeting, because he kept parking it in the way, and then he tried to pound me at the start of the meeting.

I’ve witnessed some funny things at meetings as well as many irritating things. At one safety meeting, one of my co-workers argued that he was entitled to drive up to the speed limit, no matter what, and that it was okay to advance through a red light when you could see the side-street light turn yellow, if the coast was clear. Playing devil’s advocate, I said, “What if some little kid runs out between two parked cars, and because you’re not driving defensively, you don’t have time to stop?”

His reply: “Not my problem.”

The very first meeting I ran as a manager was for my dispatchers, and one of the dispatchers brought his puppy to the meeting — without asking. If he had asked, I would have certainly said no, because the puppy was a BIG distraction, and he smelled bad (the puppy). I didn’t really know this at the time, but that was a signal that meant, “I need attention and I need you to set boundaries for me.” Had it happened at a later time in my management career, I would have given him the option of leaving or finding somewhere else for the dog to be for one hour. And then I would have found a way to fire him later before he started doing serious damage.

When I managed a tow company, my favorite TV show was The Apprentice. I really wanted to implement a policy that one person would get fired each month, no matter what. Imagine the motivation! Looking back now, there were so many employees I let slide along, slowly eating away at the quality of our customer service, slowly deteriorating my will to succeed, rather than cutting to the quick and moving on. It seemed like such a daunting task to find qualified employees. I didn’t want to let people go until I had no choice. Really, maybe I should have been fired for doing that.

Our managers’ meetings were usually at a restaurant, and for a long time they were lunch meetings, but thankfully, they changed to breakfast meetings because they sometimes lasted a long time. I’m not kidding — at one breakfast meeting the waitress asked us, around 11:30, if we wanted lunch menus. So the lunch meetings were killing the rest of the workday completely. One morning we all met as usual, but the company owner, our leader, was not there. We waited a few minutes, and then someone called him at home. He answered and asked, “What’s going on?”

The manager calling said, “Oh, not much. I’m just sitting here at Lyon’s with the rest of the managers. What’s up with you?”

Long pause. “I’ll be right there.”

The second time it happened, we all debated awhile and then decided not to call him. That was a mistake. He was not happy that his management staff ran up a breakfast tab and then had the meeting without him. I’d love to say it was the most productive managers’ meeting we ever had, but we actually just shot the breeze for an hour and a half and then went to work. He didn’t miss any more meetings, though.

It took me a couple years to convince him to have a meeting agenda and follow it rather than a haphazard meandering through topics that would end up resembling the Quest to Destroy the Ring in Mt. Doom. I never quite got him on board with distributing the agenda beforehand, and I recently went back-and-forth with a GM at a sister company about the same thing, although this person had a different reason for resistance. My thing is this: I want everyone to know what’s going to happen at the meeting, and if I want some ideas or feedback or questions, I want people to have time to think about it. I also want them to be at the meeting, so I send out reminders, sometimes a lot of them. For a monthly drivers’ meeting, I would post the agenda two weeks beforehand with time and date, post a reminder a week before, send reminders to their pagers the day before and the day of. Yes, I know it sounds like babysitting, but the most important thing is that they’re there, not that I can use the meeting to cull the absent-minded from my crew or build up demerit points against them. That doesn’t mean I can’t add something to the agenda at the last minute, but it’s not a pop quiz, so why not share the information beforehand?

And then after the meeting, I write and distribute meeting notes, so everyone can remember something that was discussed at the meeting.

I didn’t come up with this format. I think I learned it in high school student council, where we had to follow Robert’s Rules of Order during the meetings. It’s a tried-and-true method, and I highly recommend it.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper

General Manager