Although Waste Management Inc. is best known for its curbside garbage collection services, the company offers a full range of environmental services to nearly 21 million residential, industrial, municipal and commercial customers across North America. From hazardous waste disposal to municipal recycling programs, Waste Management is committed to a foundation of financial strength, operating excellence and superior customer service. To ensure better quality in these three areas, however, the company recently revamped its training and development approach to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and consistency of training for its approximately 50,000 employees.
Until about three years ago, Waste Management’s training and development efforts were decentralized among its corporate departments, meaning the IT department, for example, internally developed and provided training solely for its professionals.
“The transformation began with the CEO asking questions like, ‘What should our training strategy be? I see bits and pieces of training here and there — should we build a corporate university, put it next to our best-run operations and have people train at one central location? Or should we decentralize the training and just set guidelines and let people design the training that they need in each of the groups?’” said Raymond Turek, vice president of training and development, Waste Management.
After wrestling with these questions for some time, the company determined training and development efforts should align under one corporate department to ensure all training efforts complement the organization’s overall goals and objectives. As a result, Waste Management developed a formal training and development organization.
Turek, who subsequently was appointed vice president of training and development, coordinated and consolidated all the training and development efforts.
“Our initial focus was to centralize and consolidate the internal training and development assets that we had,” Turek said. “The other thing was to look at and identify the true needs of the organization and focus on operations as opposed to focusing on a specific function. We also formed a training advisory council, which consists of primarily operations leadership in the field. Their tasks include looking at all of the training initiatives and requests and prioritizing those, looking at implementation strategies and ensuring those strategies are in sync with operations so they make sense and get some traction.”
Turek said the training advisory council includes representatives across North America, including market-area general managers, as well as leaders from the finance, safety, information technology, human resources and maintenance groups.
With a new training and development strategy in place, Turek and the advisory council pinpointed two strategic job roles within operations in need of a fresh training and development program.
“Because of our newfound strategy, we turned our focus to our route managers and district managers,” Turek said. “Those roles were identified as being the most critical job roles we needed to focus on based on our training strategy. So we put together an operations training program for those folks.”
Originally, the program was intended to be exclusively for new hires. During the operations training program pilot, however, both new and veteran route and district managers participated, which Turek said proved extremely beneficial for all participants.
“After piloting the program, we decided not to just focus on the new folks,” he said. “We decided whether you have worked at Waste Management for six months, six years or 16 years, you need to go through the training.
“We have had folks go through the training that have been employed here longer than I have been (more than 19 years) that have said, ‘This is the best training I’ve ever had.’ Then there are folks that have been here five or six years saying, ‘Gee, I wish I would have experienced this the first year I started because I would have been a more effective leader earlier.”
Janet McCollum, training manager at Waste Management, said the overall objective of the operations training program is to ensure route and district managers not only grasp their day-to-day responsibilities but also how their everyday job performance influences the overall success of operations.
“We are trying, in particular, to stretch them to think and look more broadly at the overall impact of their job roles,” McCollum said. “We are trying to stretch them in terms of systems thinking rather than fixing problems, so they’re looking at the overall interactions and interrelationships between their people and the culture they’re building within their districts and operations.
“In the past, we focused more on fixing problems as opposed to looking at the system and saying, ‘What are the interrelationships and links that make the overall system better?’ When you merely fix a problem, what we have discovered is we didn’t necessarily get to the root cause because it may actually be caused by something entirely different from an entirely different area.”
Turek said the operations training program is like no other training program Waste Management has performed. Targeting about 1,500 route managers and district managers across North America, the program is application-based and includes pre-work, facilitator-led workshops, homework and follow-up meetings.
“We have had supervisory training before with a standard of ‘come, go through the sessions led by facilitators and go back out into the workplace,’” Turek said. “The operations training program was set up with five phases to it: pre-work, Workshop Session 1, homework/pre-work, Workshop Session 2 and follow-up. All phases are linked back to applying it on the job.
“The other thing that is different about it — and it’s a first for us — is HR folks are not teaching the classes. The people teaching the operations piece are the market area general managers, the supervisors of district managers. This gives learners a lot of real-world experience they can pull on. Plus, the facilitators enjoy it because they can actually see the caliber of folks in the organization and kind of recalibrate themselves as far as, ‘Here’s some things I should do differently back in my shop to improve my people.’”
Turek said employing leaders as educators also ensures route and district managers are trained to the company’s standards.
“The more we get folks engaged in facilitating training workshops, the more we can ensure that the training and development initiatives we roll out get traction,” he said. “People can pencil-whip surveys and perform tests that might give some reassurance, but in my view, holding them accountable for applying training on the job is the real gauge.”
Moreover, McCollum said the operations training program also boosts internal networking between the route and district managers.
“One of the strengths of the program is the networking among participants continues after they finish the classroom portion,” she said.
McCollum anticipates the 1,500-plus route and district managers across North America will complete the operations training program by the end of 2007.
Although Turek measures and quantifies participation levels and employee satisfaction rates with training, he said, “I am more focused on getting reactions from our managers on the results they are seeing back on the job, behavioral changes they have observed, etc.”
Turek also said much of the change he has observed with operations managers in the field has been behavioral thus far.
“These managers understand their job functions from a broad perspective,” he said. “They are more cooperative, more productive and better communicators. It gives managers a better foundation for more honest and candid communication.
“For example, if a route manager or district manager is more knowledgeable about the business and can explain to someone that they are part of a system and explain how his or her job contributes to a bunch of other things, it ultimately helps the business work well. It instills a sense of pride in people. It makes the long hours and hard work a little bit easier to take because you know how everything fits together.”
In addition to overall business savvy, McCollum said she has observed greater productivity from drivers, enhanced customer satisfaction scores, overall improved operating margins, fewer accidents and more.
“Taking the larger approach to organizational effectiveness and imbedding the appropriate training so that everything links together and goes toward one direction has a great impact,” she said.
Turek and McCollum said, looking ahead, they plan to build on their training strategy by continuing to drive systems thinking, as well as customer and employee engagement.
“In the systems thinking and customer-employee engagement, most of it looks at not just a transfer of knowledge but how to drive it — what are the skills you want to give the people to use so they can operate independently?” Turek said. “For example, it’s not just a skill they use like a turning a wrench. It is, ‘What wrench do they pick up and use in numerous capacities and ways? What are the skills we need to provide so they can apply it across the different challenges that they have?’ Although this tends to be more challenging, in the end you get a lot more leverage out of it.”
– Cari McLean, firstname.lastname@example.org