Companies Behaving Badly-The Return

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Yes! Because of your many fabulous comments and requests, which was so greatly appreciated- This is the return of Companies Behaving Badly which will now be published the third Thursday of each month.

This means I will have to add something new and make adjustments my routine so I can dedicate time to writing this series which is a good thing since it’s nice to change up one’s routine so it doesn’t get too stale and predictable but it’s also bad in that I absolutely hate changing my routine.  Once I get a routine all nicely broken in, comfy and predictable I’m set and can carry on for months if not years.  However, when it comes to safety in the workplace getting into a set routine can be very dangerous.

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When we fall into a set routine we develop a false sense of security and then complacency develops and focus is lost.  You’ve backed up your forklift hundreds of times when loading, unloading trucks or storage racks and you have always looked behind before moving and in all those times not once, did anyone walk behind you.  Complacency begins to woo you over to their ways and letting your guard down as your new false security is reason to believe people know better than to go behind you and they need to watch for you.  So now you backup your forklift without even so much as a slight swivel of your head.

One day it happens – 

So how do we combat complacency in the workplace?  We could hire cheerleaders shouting out encouragement to pay attention to the movement on the shop floor but that could become very impractical and costly overtime not to mention distracting.  We could use the grief and guilt generated from the accident to motivate workers to avoid complacency but unfortunately, that has a short shelf-life as the memory will soon fade.

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It’s not easy to be on the top of your game every day.  Even athletes have off days.  You didn’t sleep, you’re worried about a sick family member, you’re ill, you have money problems, but you do your best to stay focused.   You can’t be a helicopter manager walking alongside your employees every minute of the workday but you can have a huddle at the beginning of each shift.  It’s the best time to communicate with your staff about what to expect, what to watch for and any other reminders you want to convey.

It’s also why you as the manager/supervisor want to be on the shop floor 80% of your time.  Watching for signs of complacency and touching base with workers in real-time.  Let’s face it, workplace safety is not glamorous, at times it seems like your parents scolding but maybe if we think of it as a form of communication instead of safety where we discuss ways to ensure we go home in one piece and understand you are just as responsible for your safety as the company you work for, maybe even more so.

PREVENTABLE – Beer delivery firm fined £800,000 after a worker was run over by forklift truck at Dagenham depot https://buff.ly/2Uzutsx  Here’s a case where a forklift backed up and hit a worker.

PREVENTABLE WORKING TOGETHER –  Workplace fatalities are at their highest levels since 2008. What’s going on?  More than ever we need to watch each other back at work. Stay focused and don’t be afraid to speak up.

PREVENTABLE –  Ever wonder what an accident waiting to happen looks like?  Inside a chaotic warehouse where Hermes staff were ‘buried in parcels. https://buff.ly/36XHzTb Wonder what the customers are thinking.  Housekeeping is an important part of safety in the workplace.  It prevents trips, slips and falls not to mention makes the facility look really good too and keeps the brass from looking deeper.

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PREVENTABLE –  This is not complacency related but is a distraction issue which is just as bad. Jobsites’ most universal hazard is the personal cellphone  https://buff.ly/2UwtZU0: We really are our own worst enemy.

Why you need to inspect

PREVENTABLE – A worker was killed in a wood drying kiln because he couldn’t exit as over time corrosion prevented the door from being opened with the push bar from inside.  A routine inspection could have caught that.  The manufacturer was fined $281,250 https://buff.ly/39xcyY3

PREVENTABLE – Widow of a construction worker killed in light rail site fall sues maker of protection device https://buff.ly/2SrUCXx All safety equipment must be inspected on a regular and consistent basis to prevent tragedies. Make sure it’s being done.

Who’d a thought

We are an interesting species.  We love to solve problems even though the solutions make cause more problems like this one.  WIND turbine blades can’t be recycled so they’re piling up in landfills — https://buff.ly/2v6yI4e Just like all the spent nuclear rods we have piling up.  Eventually, we’re going to run out of space.  Do you have any suggestions for reuse?

Well, that brings this episode to a close and thank you all for stopping by.  Remember you are in charge of your safety.  Don’t let anyone threaten or bully you into doing unsafe acts.  Until next month, take care

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It’s 9 a.m. Do You Know Where Your Contractors Are?

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As your company grows in sales and expands to accommodate more SKUs, greater inventory, new machinery, and additional employees at one time or another, your business is going to need help from an outside contractor.  They may be in the form of an engineering consultant, general contractor, painter or other types of specialists needed for a project well beyond your or your staffs’ current expertise.

When you make that final selection on your outside contractor before you sign anything make sure to do your homework and check up on their history.  If it all comes back good and you’re ready to offer a contract for the work to be done, on their first day at your facility they should be treated like any other new or temporary/seasonal worker that you bring in and participate in a safety orientation before doing anything. 

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Why?  They don’t know what your expectations are on safety and you don’t want to assume they do.  They don’t know your facility very well and you want to make sure as heck that they don’t contaminate your staff with their bad habits.  You also want to make sure they know that if their workers don’t follow those rules at your facility they’ll be banned from entering.  It’s your facility, your rules and you don’t need additional headaches because an outside contractor couldn’t follow direction and is now in need of medical attention.

You’d be amazed how many outside contractors are injured or killed every year on the job because they either cut corners on safety procedures, were traveling (via foot, electric cart, forklift) in an unfamiliar layout, lack of training or the company didn’t communicate instructions to them properly or incorrectly.  Here’s a contractor who’s paying a hefty fine for not following safety rules.  OSHA Fines Contractor $94K After Worker Burned At McDavid Sawmill and here’s another contractor being investigated for a chemical spill, OSHA investigating contractor B.L. Harbert over Birmingham Water Works chemical spill

As I stated earlier, it’s amazing the number of contractors injured or killed and it appears this is becoming a more serious problem as the numbers have increased.  A sharp rise in US contract workers killed on the job

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We hired an outside contractor to do some work on a new production line we were installing and it involved electrical and concrete work.  The main mode of transport within the facility was by man-lift, elevator or stairs with man-lift being the main one and the rule was if you rode the man-lift you didn’t carry a backpack, tools or other cumbersome items.  If you dropped it someone could be injured below or if it got caught riding up you could fall.  Our maintenance crew knew to take their carts and equipment up by the elevator.  The outside contractor didn’t go through any safety orientation as the company assumed all would be well.

A few days after the work began there was a commotion on one of the upper levels in the facility and our in-house emergency team responded to a call at the north man-lift where someone had fallen.  It was one of the contractors and it was bad enough that a call was made to 911 for an ambulance.  He was in a rush and had decided he didn’t want to wait for the elevator but took his tools up the lift with him and wound up falling two stories.  He broke both ankles, a leg, two ribs, a shoulder and sustained back and head injuries.

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The very next day the company had every manager doing recertification on every employee in their department.  I had to watch all 60 of my staff get on the lift, one at a time go up one flight, get off and then come back down one flight.  Documented it for all and then had myself recertified.  A fun evening was had by all.  Here lies the problem.  When you don’t take care of business the right way the first time, by proper training, proper documentation, you wind up spending and wasting time documenting while trying to keep production going full speed just to cover the company’s ass.

However, this will not be a problem at your facility and you will be in full control if you follow these guidelines:

  1. This is your facility, your rules, you are in charge!  As the supreme leader responsible for what goes on, it’s your rules of the road that are followed to protect everyone from employees to outside visitors.
  2. Any individual from the outside contractor must complete your in-house safety orientation. This is important especially if your facility has man lifts, elevators, confined spaces, danger areas, and flammables.
  3. Constant sustained communication between the contractor and you, the hiring company is critical to everyone’s safety.  What equipment will they be using that day, noise level, dust level and so on?
  4. To achieve #3 designate a point person at your company for the contractor to communicate with, answering any questions at any time while the contractors are physically on-site.
  5. Check-in and check out daily with the contractor.  Greet them upon arrival, go over any new details and see them when they leave.
  6. Stop by periodically to touch base and see how the work is progressing and that the contractor’s workers are not wondering anywhere they shouldn’t be.
  7. Don’t hesitate to ban any outside worker not following the rules or committing an unsafe act.
  8. It’s your facility, you are in charge, be in charge.

 

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The TopTen OSHA Violations Before Christmas.

santaworkshopsantaSanta received an OSHA violation and pending inspection notice.

Right now, as you are reading this, Santa’s elves are hard at work putting the finishing touches on the toys and other gifts made for girls and boys around the world.  But friends, I’m here to tell you that those kids may never see those gifts.  Santa’s secret workshop is in danger from the dastardly efforts of a whistleblower (we suspect the Grinch) up at the North Pole and now the workshop is going to be inspected and in danger of being shut down by OSHA!

WE NEED YOUR HELP to prevent this from happening.  Help Santa find all the violations in his workshop and how we can clean them up.  Each workday until Christmas eve we will solve another violation and each time we find and solve the issue the Grinch fades away.  If we fix all 10, the Grinch will be gone and Santa will be able to do his thing.

TOMORROW – On the first day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Company Civil War

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Everyone wants to think they’re in charge.  Some sales and marketing departments think they’re in charge.  Some think manufacturing is in charge and some think purchasing and supply chain is in charge.

In the vast city known as Candy-Land (protecting the real company name) there existed but only three gangs who had divvy-up the city and totally controlled it.  All three not only ruled their territories with tyrannical deceit and ruthlessness but were often at war with each other at one time or another.  If only the feuds were about something constructive but always more personal between the gang leaders then anything else.  There was one gang known as Creations and they were ruthless but more civilized of the three in their approach.  Their mission was to make the “product” and dry it before transporting the product to the bins.

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The other two gangs were constantly at each other’s throats with skirmishes popping up a few times a week not so much from the gang members hating each other, they did but the leaders despised each other.  The leader of the gang called the Wrappers was Pete the sweet a very ugly, short and vulgar man.  Across town, where the gang the DC ruled their leader, Raoul who was tall, muscular and good looking spoke softly since he was a former boxer and often let his fists carry the conversation.  As I said, the two didn’t get along at all and were constantly in full-blown shouting matches right in full view of everyone mano y mano.

The Wrappers were an interesting bunch.  They would take the dried product from the bins and get it ready for transport to the buyers by packaging it in nice colorful paper of all sizes from one pound boxes to 100 pounds bags to attract as many buyers as possible.  Pete the sweet had illusions of grandeur as he believed he could tell people in the other gangs what to do or how to do it so it wouldn’t affect his gang in their quest to meet packaging goals and his bonus.  This interference enraged the other leaders but really angered Raoul no end who may have taken a punch to many as he believed he should be in charge of all the territories.

The games afoot:

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When the DC was having problems with the ASRS (read The Company Hostage) and stopped the putaway of pallets of packaged product into storage this enraged Pete the sweet as having people standing around drove him crazy.  So he decided to go to the DC and tell them how to fix the problem and get it going.  He huffed and he puffed, he threatened and he intimidated, but it all fell on deaf ears since we were already busy doing what we needed to do.  It was easy to ignore him since Raoul had told us earlier to ignore Pete and then call to update him but what really made it easy was our gang really didn’t like the Wrappers so when he went directly to the workers they took pleasure in ignoring him as well and made Pete even angrier when he heard, you’re not my boss.

On the off shifts, when Pete wasn’t around had instructed his lieutenants to climb out of their trees and confront us on what was happening in the DC every time the packaging lines stopped.  We ignored them too or just outright lied on how long it would be down just to really send them into a frenzy as they then had to call and wake Pete at home to update him and he wasn’t so sweet.  He would call the ASRS room where of course they also ignored him but more because they were busy working to get the system back up and running.

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There was no team building going on here unless you want to call telling your gang to ignore the leaders of other gangs team building.  I watched as lots of walls were erected between departments as each was surrounded in its own secrecy and not daring to allow anyone else to know their plans for that day, week or month all within the same plant.  The current owners, an investment company, still searching for a buyer had no idea how to handle the situation and didn’t want to invest let alone lose any more money and sent out this one and only in edict in early October as production numbers took a dive, “work things out”.

As with a lot of other companies, the holidays, Thanksgiving thru Christmas were our biggest season for sales, so much so to keep up with the orders we had to begin to produce and stockpile inventory right after labor day in September or we’d never meet the demand and lose sales.  For some reason, each gang leader interrupted the edict from the owner as giving them the authority to be in charge to get things done which turned ugly later in the month.

The day started like any other day.  A quick huddle with my crew and we laid out several scenarios that could happen and how we would respond.  We had spent the weekend clearing out a large storage area in the back of the facility where we could stack pallets of product in the event of the ASRS going down.  The holidays were on the horizon and sales and marketing people were loudly crying about not enough product out in the stores.  We were all trying.  The Creations were having issues cooking up the product, The Wrappers had packaging machine issues and the DC had the ASRS.  We were literally holding things together with chewing gum, baling wire, and duct tape.

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As fate would have it our luck and the duct tape didn’t hold out.  Something fell from a pallet jamming the conveyor in the ASRS and snapping the drive chain and taking out a license plate reader.  The DC gang began moving the product by forklift as fast as we could but the hallway that led to the makeshift storage area was narrow and we couldn’t go very fast but we were keeping the factory going.  Raoul came to assess the situation and told the palletizers to slow down so we could keep up with the product coming out and take it to storage.  Emergency repairs to the ASRS were beginning but we knew it’d be down for the day if not longer.  Raoul also knew it was going to be a long day and as he had done before and one of the reasons I liked him had pizza delivered to feed his gang as we were in constant motion to keep the other gangs happy and busy as well.

Pete the sweet was having none of it.  He didn’t care what was happening in the DC and that we were making every effort to keep the factory going.  He didn’t like the palletizers were slowed and even though the packaging was able to continue it wasn’t at the pace Pete wanted.  Pete only cared about Pete and how all this was personally directed at him.  He believed what happened was only intended to hurt him and him alone.  He didn’t care whether the company made the goal or not, he didn’t care for training or safety either and was known to order others to cut corners on safety.  If they got away with it he applauded them for their ingenuity but if they got caught he’d throw them under the bus.  Yet his gang knew in order to survive in the Wrappers you had to do what he wanted or suffer the consequences with abuse and bullying.

The showdown finally came, right there in the middle of the facility.  Pete and Raoul face to face yelling, screaming, cursing and threatening each other.  Pete loudly criticized Raoul for buying pizza, not a time to eat!  Raoul disagreed and told Pete he didn’t have to defend his actions to anyone let alone a little dictator.  The louder they got the more people from all the gangs lined the floor, the mezzanine, and the rafters until it looked and sounded like a sell-out crowd at a Golden State Warriors game with various shouts of encouragement from the crowd.  Hit him!  Don’t take that crap, Pete!  Punch him out, Raoul.  The cheers, the chants, the calls for blood, if I didn’t know better I could have been at the Colosseum in Rome watching gladiators.  We could see that Raoul was getting ready to end the conversation and let his fists speak.  There was no production going on at all.

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Finally, another lieutenant from the DC and myself decided to end this and jumped between the two combatants and while Carl began trying to calm down Pete while he backed him up I was pleading with our leader, Raoul to take this discussion to an office, in private.  The adrenalin was surging through my body and my heart racing as I started to think of things to say and babbled, You’re better than this. You don’t want to hit him here there are too many witnesses.  At one point in desperation, I supposedly said to him, the pizza is getting cold, I don’t remember this with all the excitement going on but it actually made him stop, look at me and brought a smile to his face as he caught his composure.  He chuckled and said, You’re right Phil, the pizza is getting cold and we walked to his office.

It took a day and a half before the ASRS was fully operational and even then still continued with the usual ups and downs.  With the efforts and hard work of staff, we were able to meet most of the demand with some late shipments going out at discounted rates as make it up to the customers for previous short shipments.  Raoul and Pete continued their feud and that alone was more of a disruption to the plant than any equipment failures.  It even became more difficult for the Superintendents and forepeople to manage the day to day activities not knowing what would break down next.  Sick calls increased and people just didn’t want to come to work and I can’t say I blame them but now, that all didn’t matter as rumors of a new buyer for the plant began to swirl and we could all feel the change in the air.

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The Company Hostage

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The company had a very old ASRS, Automated Storage and Retrieval System to store the majority of it’s finished product inventory.  We were in transition as the company had gone into receivership and was run by an investment corporation that was trying to keep overall costs as low as possible while they prayed and searched for a buyer.  The system was so old that in the era of CD drives it still used floppy disc to operate the system that was, to say the least, fragile.  It could freeze up due to trouble reading a dirty license plate or from a loud sneeze or other inexplicable reason and have to be rebooted.

The cost to upgrade was enough that our benevolent keepers felt hiding their heads in the sand and ignoring the problem would magically make it stop hurting the bottom line but it was every time the ASRS was down.  It interfered with production in that when you can’t put the product into storage you can’t keep packaging it and when you can’t retrieve product to ship you can’t invoice.  In addition, a lot of overtime was spent on having workers move and stack product anywhere they could in the facility so the packaging of the product could continue but that also led to inventory issues of lost and misplaced product which became a nightmare for our production scheduler. 

Our keepers also didn’t see how over time the leadership on-site had surrendered its authority and through attrition and neglect, there was only a handful of employees left who not only knew how to operate the ASRS but how to keep it going and no one in management noticed the pending issue or thought to make plans for rectifying the situation because they were too busy putting out fires or pointing fingers at one another. 

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Things had actually been moving along pretty well during the last few weeks with only a few minor hiccups of the ASRS and word the company may have found a new owner but on this particular warm sunny afternoon, a few employees were caught smoking a joint in the back of the shipping building.  Marijuana was not yet legal in any form in any state and in accordance with the company zero tolerance policy, they were terminated on the spot. The problem was of the five caught smoking, three were ASRS operators which was more than half the staff as well half the only people who could operate the system.  

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The “IT” really hit the fan, of course, during the graveyard shift after they had forced swing shift for four hours, allowable by contract no one else showed up to operate the ASRS.  Management hadn’t realized that there was no one else available that had been trained to operate the system.  They had screwed-up royally and were behind the eight ball.  No communication or verification nothing but an all night long battle of survival as pallets of product were stacked five high down corridors, hallways any open space was fair game as production had to pack out the product already produced within a specific time frame.  The company in a word had been taken, hostage.

The ASRS operators still available were refusing over time even the forced four hours and the union was standing up for them pointing out the safety issues of working all the extra hours and demanding the return of the fired workers while not allowing the training of any additional ASRS personnel keeping the company hostage.  After a few days of keeping on their game face, and saying everything was all right the company quietly began to negotiate an end to the hostage situation along with dealing with the backlog of the finished product all over the facility.  The deal eventually worked out after hours of negotiating brought back all the terminated employees, they all had to attend drug and alcohol rehabilitation, were on a one-year probation for drug use, had to train additional employees and management as well as document procedures on the ASRS while the company promised and began the painful process of upgrading the system to twenty-first century technology.

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This is a lesson that was not cheap.  The overtime alone to count inventory and to get all the finished product into the ASRS system was ridiculous and it took weeks to get shipping and invoicing back to normal.  A binder was created with all the information needed so that even a caveman could operate the ASRS and the cost of the upgrade was hovering at $One Million.  This all could have been avoided and not an issue if upper management kept their eye on the big picture and allowed their supervisors and managers to do their job of training and documenting training but they had no experience in manufacturing and were lost in all the complexities of an aging system and ancient techniques while trying to meet the demands of today.

As I’ve said many times you reap what you sow.  You don’t have to be a boss hogs taskmaster but you must hold people accountable for their actions after a thorough explanation of the rules, expectations, and consequences.  You are in charge of your realm of the kingdom that makes up the company so RUN IT!  Be proactive, do a yearly hazard inspection, check emergency gear, create a safety committee, do your walk and be on the floor 80% of the time so you know what’s going on and what your workers are dealing with.  For more tips and ideas on leadership or if you have questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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The Hawaiian Shirt Rebellion

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Some times the best way to improve morale in a company is with a subversive action especially if it just ever so slightly breaks a rule and has been coordinated with the entire staff.

Our family-owned company had recently been bought by a large corporation.  We were their new shining addition to the family and after a long grueling process of upgrading our systems and intercommunications, we learned the new rules of the road.  New training, new reports, new programs, new ways of doing things and new dress code.  Morale was very low and our new corporate masters were not seeing it at all and just kept pushing without stopping even for a second so we could catch our breath. 

The leaders of the resistance were all young professionals in their late 20’s to early ’30s. Even though we each worked in a different department, (engineering, maintenance, production, quality control, and facilities) we had become pretty tight over the years not only because we were close in age but our eclectic mix of personalities worked so well and our positions naturally had us working together to resolve production issues.  We also went to ballgames after work together, Oakland A’s were only a few BART stations away and we shared drinks on Fridays to celebrate our victories and console our loses that week.  

Even though the statute of limitations has long expired I still will not reveal the other members of the resistance but admit that I was one of the members.  On one particular Friday, while drinking and complaining, it came up that July 1st was around the corner and the beginning of the new fiscal year.  What could we do to celebrate the occasion and help break up the funk at work and get morale back to where it needed to be.  There was a definite correlation between the number of drinks consumed and the innovation and creativity of ideas put forward by the group.  Silliness turned to anger and then anger back again to silliness.  The drinks and hours went by until we broke for the night and our weekend.

Monday morning seemingly came around too fast and at our morning break, we again went over our plan to make sure this is the statement we wanted to make.  The six of us talking just above whispers and constantly looking over our shoulders so no one else could hear us or most importantly know we were behind what was about to happen.  We thought a strategic strike against the new dress code would get a smile out of almost everyone.  Previously there was no dress code except the unwritten rule of, when we had visitors at the plant we had to wear slacks and a button shirt and now we had to dress that way every day.  They wouldn’t even listen to having a dress down Friday.  We swore our allegiance to each other after the break and each put their part of the plan into play.

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The fake memo was completed by one member and the copies made late at night by another and I came in extremely early to place memos directly on the employees desk.  The company leadership such as the President, VP’s and Plant Manager were left off the distribution list.  The memo on the usual company letterhead was plain and simple.  A picture of a Hawaiian shirt and the following,  “To Celebrate the new fiscal year, Friday has been declared as Hawaiian shirt day!  Wear your best Hawaiian shirt and be ready to party.”

The rest of the week we monitored all gossip and conversations to make sure this was still a secret, really going to happen and be a pleasant surprise for all.  Friday came and we met in the employee lot, donning our Hawaiian shirts and to no surprise, all of us had brought a backup outfit just in case it really went south as we had no idea what kind of participation we would get from the rest of the staff.  People sounded excited about the idea but would it carry all week?  We huddled, put our hands in and shouted, “GO HAWAII”!  

The six of us walked in together to meet our destiny, but were stopped in our tracks by our dropped jaws and were totally blown away!  Not only did most of the staff arrive wearing Hawaiian shirts, but the rest had brought them and changed into them here.  Some really embraced the spirit of the day and were wearing leis or playing ukeleles and a few had plastic blow-up palm trees and one surfboard.  Then there was a sound coming from the lunchroom that we hadn’t heard in a while.  Laughter.  People were laughing, talking, smiling and enjoying themselves. WE did it! 

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Then the inquisition came. Our VP of Human Resources was a particularly special stick in the mud.  No sense of humor, no jokes, no laughs and extremely pompous.  If you had the misfortune of a meeting with him they always took twice as long as with anyone else since he constantly took phone calls during the meeting so you can add rude to the list as well.  Our VP of HR began his investigation into Hawaiigate and seek out the culprit or culprits responsible!  First, the usual suspects’ were interrogated and then other people were summoned to the office and asked, “Where did this memo come from?”  They all answered as we hoped, it was on my desk when I arrived.  Each member of the resistance was also called into his office, one at a time and asked if we knew or heard anything?  We all responded in kind, as shocked as he was that this could happen but had no clue as to who.

Mr. VP of HR eventually gave up his witch hunt and no one was ever punished for the crime but a flurry of new policies followed along with the consequences for future infractions of HR law. The President of the company actually loved the Hawaiian shirt idea so much,  every Friday was now a dress-down day and the second Friday of each month was a different themed employee day. 

Sometimes the only way to shake a culture up is with a little internal rebellion.   

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A Tale of Two Ships

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During a recent vacation, I was unexpectedly presented with a unique opportunity to observe first hand how a company benefits from a solid hiring/recruiting strategy that’s reinforced by a thorough training program and tied together with strong leadership.  I have not been paid to write this article for or to endorse Viking River Cruises.  This is the second river cruise my wife and I have taken with Viking and have enjoyed them immensely and wanted to give the fantastic crews of the Bragi and the Skadi a shout out!   You are all amazing!

The chance came up quickly but not unexpected as we were warned well before the trip that due to the lack of rain during the summer the river water levels in a few spots were low and may not allow for safe passage so there existed a possibility of exchanging ships.  Exchanging ships!?  Really?  Sure enough, halfway through we couldn’t continue but Viking had their plan in place and ready to go.  The day we left Budapest up the Danube on Ship A, Ship B was leaving Amsterdam and traveling Southeast.  The ships were exactly the same so at the designated point we packed and left Room 233 on Ship A, took a three an a half hour bus ride got on board Ship B to Room 233.  Meanwhile like an alternate universe, the folks on Ship B were doing the exact same thing.  It was seamless as we gained a new captain, new waiters, new bartenders, new housekeepers, and new crew with only one exception and the one constant in our experiment, we kept the same social director.  All said and done I spent one week with Ship A’s team and one week with Ship B’s team and two weeks with Joey.

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My first thought was this was going to be more difficult for the service crew on both ships to adjust and handle as they had already established relationships with the various passengers and cliques which had formed over the first 3 nights during a speed dating like process aboard ship, which is considered a sacred ritual on all cruise ships. It’s interesting to watch the groups slowly develop like cultures in a Petrie dish as the open auditions have now ended and the “who they want to spend the rest of the cruise hanging with” is decided and the crew now quickly re-learns all the new preferences and idiosyncrasies.  The selection of folks to choose from on this cruise was tantalizing as just about every state was represented including California, Washington, Oregon, Michigan, Alaska, Virginia, Texas, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut, Tennessee, and Florida as well as a few Canadians and Australians tossed in for good measure. 

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Now, before we continue, let’s get this out of the way right now.  The rooms were not “identical” as we were lead to believe.  We noticed almost immediately one glaring difference between Ship A room #233 (on the right) and Ship B room #233 (on the left). The paintings were not the same!  So now we know the truth, the rooms are just very similar.

When you look at the overall operation of both ships, which was equal, you see the benefits of the recruiting and screening process of applicants, (finding the talent) and a great training program (sharpening skills) to ensure consistent uniform perfection in service, actually, it’s more what you don’t see as they all work seamlessly.  The level of thoughtfulness, professionalism, attention to detail and passenger safety provided by both ships crews was second to none as every wish one could have, was immediately handled with grace and flair, all accomplished by a diverse workforce of Hungarians, Slovakians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Filipinos, Serbs, Germans, Dutch, Italians, French all working together as one team. No issues of borders or politics, just one focus, one goal in mind, service extraordinaire. 

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As uniform, as the two ships were in performance, there were also lovely expressions of individuality by the staff in their flair and presentation. The way they greeted you, the way they poured, the way they took orders, the way they joked and the way they smiled and the longer you spend time with them they open up more as who they are.  However, there were some glaring differences in individual performances.  The breakfast omelet maker on one ship was the best of them all.  His technique was absolutely entertaining and fun to watch.  As he listened to your request he placed butter in the pan and as it melted he then placed the ingredients you ordered in as well.  He knew exactly when to flip and fold it which he did with one quick jerk of the pan and it came out perfect every time.  You can tell he really enjoyed what he was doing as he was always upbeat and had an infectious smile which was awesome to begin the day.  On the other ship, the breakfast omelet maker was nowhere near as good.  He always looked like he was having a bad day and unceremoniously tossed the ingredients into the pan, letting it get too hot and always over browning the bottom of the omelet and he had absolutely no zip in his flip.  The experience was such a put off I had cereal.

While in the lounge/bar area on one ship, we never had anyone in our group or overheard anyone complain about their drinks but on the other ship, we not only heard someone at the bar complain about how their old fashion tasted but later one in our group was having the same issue with their old fashion.  By all accounts, it seems someone was leaving out an ingredient.  I’m sure in both instances through the feedback received from guests, steps were taken in the manner of a refresher training for those individuals.  I did mention that the operation and service of both ships were equal but in my opinion, the food overall, especially the dinners were much better on one ship than the other.  It was more flavorful, seasoned well and better prepared.

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There was some outstanding service as well.  A server on one of the ships was very bright and caught on right away that I always had coffee after dinner, every night without skipping a beat.  As soon as the dessert orders began rolling out he was ready with coffee in hand and a smile on his face.  Then there is the “my phone” story that is a great tale of Going That Extra Mile.  I had left my phone on one of the tour buses.  In my defense, I was dazed and confused having just woken up after nodding out during the bus ride from a tour of the town.  When we arrived back at the ship I totally ditzed and forgot to check the seat pocket.  As soon as I stepped back on to the ship I realized I didn’t have it!  What must have looked like a crazy man on the lam I ran off the boat but the tour bus had just left.  I went to the concierge desk and Joey was there so I explained what had happened.  Joey told me he understood and would reach out to the bus company but the ship had to leave on schedule and couldn’t wait for the bus to return.  I told him I understood and thanked him on whatever they could do and went back to my room.  Having given up on ever seeing my phone again and enjoyed an extra drink to help ease the pain. After the evening presentation for the next day’s tours, we were walking from the bar area to the dining room when the concierge called to me.  As I turned around he stopped, smiled and handed me my phone.  I wanted to kiss the entire bus company and everybody on board.

But the glue that bound it all together, the training, screening, and service was Joey.  He was our social director who had established a rapport with everyone even before we boarded the ship as he introduced himself as we checked in.  He was the voice we would come to trust through his nightly presentations that were not to be missed as they were always delivered stand-up comedic style, upbeat and full of energy with a dry sense of humor.  After we had a cocktail or two he’d make his entrance into the lounge and quickly review and critique that days highlights followed by the weather report for tomorrow and then the introduction of the chef who’d give us the menu rundown followed up with Joey covering the next day’s cities and tours and other planned activities.  Joey became the voice of the ship, he was the voice of Viking as he was the one who had to deliver the bad news that we had to switch ships but did it so it sounded more positive than negative.  He was always around making sure everything went like clockwork.  He was there as the tour groups formed and boarded buses, boarded bicycles or walked to town.  He checked in and up on the guides, always interested in feedback.  In addition to our entertainment, he was just as responsible for the safety of all the guests on their land tours as the captain is aboard ship.  What I admired most was no matter how many fires he was putting out, finding passengers lost in the local town, listening to unhappy guests, answering questions about local stores, reuniting lost belongings including phones to guests you never saw it in his face, you never heard it in his voice, there was always a smile and he always had time to listen.  The last day aboard ship as we were waiting for our transportation, I got to watch Joey in action as he was in constant motion, saying goodbye to his leaving flock while simultaneously welcoming new busloads of guests to their journey.  Still full of positive energy.  

My high school football coach used to tell us to give 110 percent or you weren’t committed.  I used to think that was a ridiculous statement since you can’t really give more than 100% but if anyone could give 110% that would be Viking river cruises.  What I have learned from this experience is more a confirmation of what I have always believed that when talent gets the proper consistent training and nurturing leadership you can accomplish any goal. 

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