When I train new supervisors and directors we always spend a fair share of time talking about how to create a successful culture where fresh, creative, and productive ideas flourish. Everybody wants to work in such an environment. Unfortunately, what I frequently hear at many of those same workshops is that these same managers / supervisors currently work in a setting that doesn’t in any way resemble such a successful culture.
In a prior blog Management – Einstein Style I discussed specific actions that leaders can take to help change their work environment. Now, several months later, after speaking with many school transportation professionals, I realize that what might be perceived of as a failure by an individual really demonstrates a weakness in the culture of the organization. Sure, a culture is built by individual actions but it is also built upon systems. That is, effective systems can bias the organization towards transparency or towards secrecy. If you’re in the pupil transportation business it would be beneficial to have processes that support openness. If you’re in the spy business perhaps you’d be better off with clandestine operations.
I’ve written a book about it. I’ve given presentations about it. I’ve made it a focus of my career to teach school transportation professionals how to make a legally defensible decision. With all of that, however, I’m not sure I’ve distilled anyplace just what a legally defensible decision is. Here’s what I don’t mean: some decisions are poor decisions, but because of legal technicalities, or state governmental immunity statutes, or even poor lawyering on the part of the parent’s counsel, the school district will win. In other words you have a legal defense, but not because you did something right.
Instead, I mean a decision you can defend with a straight face because it made sense given all of the information you had at your disposal, or would have had if you’d exercised due diligence. . . . even if it didn’t turn out well. You did the best you could under all the circumstances – because your best is still limited by the fact that you’re only human – but a student was hurt, or worse.
Here’s what a defensible decision looks like:
- You had and used a process for making the decision
- It’s the product of objective reasoning with a basis you can articulate
- You can point to behavior that reasonably demonstrates your concern for the student involved
- It complies with applicable law, regulation and your own policy
- When there isn’t a big fat elephant in the room that betrays the fact that your decision could never work, or is directly contrary to anyone’s common sense, or flies in the face of the law. Basically, it passes the “straight-faced” test: you can convey it with a straight face.
A parent approaches a school bus door as he is just finishing a conversation, which you overhear, about his recent trip to West Africa. It looks like he might have a fever as he is sweating profusely.
Pete: In modern America, with its 24 hour news cycle, most bus drivers not only became aware of Ebola but probably became sick of it (as opposed to sick from it.) Despite all of the publicity, they came to know that the chances of this deadly disease affecting them or anyone on their bus are beyond miniscule. There’s a comparable chance that their bus will be hit by a meteorite. Nevertheless, some drivers, swayed by the incessant media publicity, might overreact to the sweating parent at the school bus door. Worse yet, some supervisors and directors might do the same.
Peggy: As you know, Pete, with the holidays, the indecision and confusion of planning a kitchen remodel, and other professional and personal distractions, I’m just now reading your late November thoughts. Interestingly – and sadly – the first paragraph might now say: “A parent approaches a school bus door as he is just finishing a conversation, which you overhear, about his unwillingness to have his son vaccinated for measles.” Unlike Ebola, measles is a more real, “trending” threat. While a driver – and a supervisor – might have a far more legitimate fear about letting this student on the bus, how does planning for the possible impacts of unvaccinated students on the bus impact our actions? Read the rest of this entry
As I wrote for an article in the forthcoming November 2014 issue of Legal Routes, “When Sue Shutrump and Charley Kennington asked about including my 2003 Information Report for NASDPTS, “Sharing Student Health and Medical Information with School Transporters” in the Appendix of the NHTSA 8 hour course, I frankly balked at their publicizing this 10-year old document in light of subsequent changes in law, regulation and guidance. When Sue and Charley were kind enough to grant me extra time to update the Report if I wished to do so, I could hardly say no.” Read the rest of this entry
Recently I’ve been hearing phrases like “If they only knew how difficult” or “If they only knew how complicated”. Usually, the phrase is spoken in reference to some demand for service that someone is having trouble meeting and is used almost as an excuse for not being able to live up to expectations.
Typically, explaining how busy you are, how short staffed you are, or how complicated the task is, is perceived as an excuse. Modern customers don’t want to hear it. Barring some major “catastrophe” like a flu epidemic they don’t care that your organization didn’t hire enough people to get the job done. In their mind, that’s your problem and they’re not willing to make your problem their problem. There are almost always constraints or obstacles to performing any worthwhile task. Whether they are legal, political, procedural, fiscal, or even psychological, there are factors that make what would otherwise be a simple task, more difficult. Any dispatcher worth his or her salt can list at least 10 constraints off the top of their head. Read the rest of this entry
A few months ago I wrote about a very progressive staff “play day” I witnessed during a layover at LaGuardia airport. Soon after I had another layover at New York City’s oldest airport; the negative experience there has inspired this post.
On a hot and humid July afternoon, I had almost two hours to wait due to a flight delay. Unfortunately the air conditioning system was not working which made the wait especially painful. There were many angry and frustrated passengers, most of whom had no choice but to be resigned to sweating it out and hoping they could make their flight connections at the next airport. We all crowded into the waiting area of our assigned gate listening for updates on the status of our flight. There was a single fan aimed in our general direction which provided very limited relief from the New York summer heat. Then, to my surprise, one of the airline employees picked up that fan and repositioned it to aim at the two agents working at the service counter. I was amazed at the brazen disregard for us and I mentioned it, probably a bit too loudly, to the gentleman sitting next me. As it turned out, that comment started a chain of events which ultimately led to a small uprising, that fan being redirected back towards the customers, and another fan being brought in and aimed at us as well. Read the rest of this entry
One of the workshop sessions I particularly enjoy teaching is a class for new supervisors/directors. Usually attendees are eager and even anxious to learn the “tips of the trade.” There are always some “veterans” attendees who are there to be reminded of why they do what they do. Then there is the occasional “wily” veteran who is really there to “catch” the presenter in a contradiction or error.
Early in a recent session we talked about choosing your battles. That is, an effective manager can’t do everything at once, or certainly can’t do it effectively. In fact, if the manager has his/her proverbial finger in every pie it can really hurt the operation. It negatively impacts morale, staff development, and overall performance. Read the rest of this entry
As I stood waiting in line to register at a hotel, I had time to think about the often uttered but seldom meant “I’m sorry.” Contrary to Elton John’s assertion (“Sorry seems to be the hardest word,”) this one customer service agent seemed to be a master at it. He would draw closer to the customer and quietly say “I’m so sorry.” Every once in a while he’d add the words “for your inconvenience.” If the customer was really irate he might even offer them a free soda or chocolate bar. Read the rest of this entry