One of my former drivers called me a few weeks ago to tell me he was moving, and he asked me to write a letter-of-reference for him, which I did happily.  I was his supervisor for 5 years, and he was one of these guys who always stepped up when something extra needed to be done, always working extra shifts, running on-call from home, coming in early, staying late.  If we’re lucky, we all have drivers like this.  It's easy to take these people for granted, especially once we get used to them doing this for us.  We have to remember to say Thank You once in awhile, and usually that recognition means as much, if not more, than the extra money they earn by working extra.

It reminded me of one of this driver's quirks, and if he's reading this, hopefully he can laugh along with us as I tell you about it.  One of his pet phrases was, "It's a Catch-20."  Now, most of us know that the correct phrase is "Catch-22," from the Joseph Heller novel about a WWII fighter pilot who tries to get out of the service by claiming he's crazy, but the military reasons that no sane person would want to stay in the military flying missions, so because he wants out, he's not crazy.  So he can't win either way, which is what we now call a "Catch-22."  But this driver always said "Catch-20," and it was a point of humor for those of us who worked with him.  I'm sure someone corrected him at some point, but he kept saying "Catch-20."

At some point during my management time I heard that if you want to change or establish a habit, you have to do some new behavior for 21 days.  I don't know if it's true, but it made sense to me, and I was having trouble helping my drivers establish new habits, or changing old ones, so I decided to try the 21-day program.  The way it worked was this: say your drivers were having trouble remembering to lock and secure impounded vehicles in the storage lot.  I would go out every morning and check all the vehicles.  If anything was unlocked or unsecured, I would make a note of which driver towed it in, ask around to make sure that no one else opened it up to move it after it was towed in, and then I would give the driver an assignment.  For the next 21 work days, he or she would be responsible for checking ALL of the vehicles in the storage lot at some point during their shift, and if they found anything unlocked or unsecured, they would lock and secure the vehicle, and report it to me.

This way, I had other people checking the vehicles besides me, and reporting the problems, and most important, locking and securing the vehicles.  If the driver failed to do this successfully during their 21-day sentence, the sequence would RE-START.  If I found a vehicle unlocked or unsecured, and someone was in the middle of their 21-day sentence, and I could determine that the vehicle was in the lot for their entire previous shift, then the driver who towed the car in would start a 21-day sentence, PLUS the driver who was in the middle of their sentence would get to start over.

This became almost comical (for me), as I had multiple drivers out checking cars at all times of the day and night, and some of them went on and on for weeks on end, because they couldn't put together 21 work days in a row.  The look on a driver's face when I told him his 21 days was starting over, as he suddenly remembered what he forgot to do the day before, was p-r-i-c-e-l-e-s-s.

You could do it for other things to, like pre-trip inspections, for instance.  If they didn't do their pre-trip inspection one day, then they would be assigned to pre-trip at least one additional truck other than their own for the next 21 work days.  Then you'd have drivers checking trucks that they didn't normally check, which of course would turn up maintenance issues that the assigned drivers weren't reporting because they weren't really doing their own pre-trips thoroughly or properly.  Then they'd start on their own 21-day cycle.

It was all so much fun.  I don't know if it worked, but it was one of those things that the veteran drivers would tell the new drivers about during their training, as if they were recounting tortures in a Turkish prison, thereby striking fear in the hearts of the newbies as they started to wonder about what this nice guy who hired them was really all about if he could come up with something so cruel and relentless.  As a manager, you KNOW something has value if it can do THAT.

When I first laid out the program at an Employee Meeting, I explained how it would work, which produced many groans and threats of legal action, then I told them, "We're calling it the Catch-21 Program."  This was extremely funny to a handful of employees who knew about the Catch-20/Catch-22 discrepancy, and they had great difficulty silencing their laughter.  Mr. Catch-20, who was listening intently, because he was someone who was very meticulous about his work and didn't much like people getting away with not being meticulous, said, "That's a great idea!"

I smiled. "I knew you'd like it," I told him.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper


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