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Unsolicited Advice

Sep 21st, 2012 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

Unsolicited advice is one of my pet peeves, so to speak. I try not to give it, and I don’t really listen to it when I receive it. Which is probably unfortunate because in every mountain of dirt there are likely a few nuggets. When I was managing tow truck drivers, there was an unending supply of “suggestions.” A lot of conversations started with, “You should …”

Like I said, most unsolicited advice is well-intentioned and I suppose I should have felt good that these people who worked for me knew that I was always looking for ways to improve our operation, and that they were engaged in the process. One of the most valuable management books I’ve ever read is The One-Minute Manager Meets the Monkey, by Kenneth Blanchard. All of the One-Minute Manager books are great — useful, concise, easy-to-read and simple. The monkey is a reference to the monkey on your back, or the monkey that someone wants to place on your back, and how you can keep it off your back. It’s interesting to hear the response, or lack thereof, from a “helpful” unsolicited advice giver when you ask them how they are going to get started on the new program they’ve just suggested you undertake. Well, of course, they don’t have time to work on something extra. It might take ten hours a week, or worse. They haven’t thought to wonder how you will find another ten hours a week, even though they know you’re in early, leave late, and cover some of their weekend shifts when they want to go to their third cousin’s wedding.

You have to guard against taking on too many projects and responsibilities when you’re in management, especially from below. Remember who signs the paycheck. That’s where your direction should come from. You do serve the people you manage, in the sense that you provide them with anything necessary to do their job at peak efficiency and effectiveness, but what they think is in their best interest isn’t necessarily what’s best for the operation as a whole. A manager walks a narrow path between ownership and employees, balancing the perceived interests of both to create a workplace that functions in the best interest of the company overall. I used to tell my boss that it was an indication that I was doing my job right if he thought I favored the employees, and the employees thought I favored the company. Most of the time he didn’t buy into that, so I had to call an audible.

Another favorite of mine is cross-departmental wisdom. When I first started managing, I managed the dispatchers, but not the drivers, and one of the “suggestions” I received from the driver manager regularly was that the dispatchers played favorites, and it was unfair. Some drivers got all the good calls, especially if they were married to one of the dispatchers (we had two spousal teams). So I got a lot of, “You need to do something about it.”

I’ll admit, I didn’t do a whole lot about it. There was enough grumbling going on about it that I don’t think either of the dispatchers would have taken a chance, knowing everyone was looking for it. The ironic thing was that the driver manager decided eventually that he didn’t want to manage anymore, that he just wanted to be a driver. One of the better driving shifts came open, and he negotiated with the owner to take that shift and step down from his management position. The owner then promoted me to managing both departments. One interesting thing I found out soon afterward was that the former driver manager’s name was conspicuously absent from the list of employees provided to our insurance company for random drug screens. I added his name to the list, and eventually he was selected, and guess what? He tried to claim he had a prescription for the drug that was in his system (Oregon is one of “those” states) but he couldn’t produce any paperwork. That was strike one. Ten months later it happened again, and he moved on to different pastures. Favoritism. Unfair. Hmmm.

Managing two departments that work together and often have conflicts is really an ideal position. Yes it’s tricky, but at least you don’t have arguments with the manager of the other department (if you do, you might need professional help). That alone saves you about 40 percent of the time spent on resolving interdepartmental conflicts. Also, you can really help each side see things from the other’s perspective, especially if you’ve done both jobs yourself. One thing that I found really helped to bring the two departments together was cross-training as many drivers as possible to dispatch, and vice-versa. Nothing helps you see something from someone else’s perspective better than sitting in their chair for a busy work shift. Plus it gives you a better pool of back-ups for vacations, sicknesses, personnel departures, holidays, and special events. However, here’s one thing you have to do: you have to pay them about the same. Drivers have traditionally received higher wages than dispatchers, yet the two positions are equal in importance. You can use a commission system for the drivers that gives the go-getters greater earning potential, but you don’t want a big gap between the average driver and the average dispatcher.

Now that I’ve moved away from managing tow truck drivers and dispatchers, I still get a lot of unsolicited advice, but from a different source set. Now it’s marketers and advertisers who call me out of the blue and tell me how we should spend our marketing dollar. Print publications, internet marketers, trade shows, professional organizations — they all “know” what’s best for TowPartsNow. We’ve tried many things beyond the standard catalog and our website, and the only thing that has ever provided a worthwhile return on our investment is the Reno Tow Show and our e-newsletter. Of course, the Reno Tow Show is no longer. This year the CTTA moved the show to San Diego and from June to October, so we’ll see how that changes things. Reno worked well for us because it was economical for us to get to, and because there wasn’t much competition for us on the show floor. The e-newsletter, of course, is very low-budget, but the readership continues to expand and I don’t think there’s any secret to why it works: it’s not an advertisement. It’s a story, a joke, a shared experience, a small detail about my life or the life of someone I know, an unpopular opinion that makes people send me back responses with four-letter words in them — it’s a dialogue. It’s organic.

Alright, now that I’ve panned unsolicited advice for eight paragraphs that include my own unsolicited advice, I’ll leave you with this last little nugget: Buy organic.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper