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Pulling for Karen

I’m pulling for Karen.

I wasn’t at first.  But now I am hoping Karen succeeds.

Karen was our bus driver for a fifth-grade field trip to Gettysburg, PA, Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC.  And she was the worst tour bus driver I have ever encountered.

Missed turns?  Every. Time. We. Got. On. The. Bus.  We saw places in Washington and Baltimore that aren’t even on the maps.  And this was with a GPS device sitting next to her.  The big joke was that the GPS was programmed with an I-hate-bus-drivers mode.  On our way out of Washington, we made not one but two turn arounds where we got off the highway and went in the opposite directions.  We had to cancel one item on our itinerary because of all the lost time from getting lost.

Curb Jumping?  A few of us were ready to warn nearby pedestrians every time we got on the bus to watch their toes.  In her defense, there were a couple tight turns I would not have wanted to attempt.  But many of the curb hops were in bus lanes.  Someone in planning thought there was enough room for a bus there.

Whiplash? There was no problem with the Don’t-stand-while-the-bus-is-in-motion rule.  Standing while she drove was taking your life into your hands, or at least the part of your anatomy that was about to be lurched into the seat back nearby.

At one point we were all roasting because the air-conditioning was not turned on.  Our leaders did not want to distract her to ask about it because they had seen her inability to drive and turn on switches at the same time (assuming she knew which switch to turn on).

As we said goodbye (riddance?) to Karen for the last time, however, I learned something that changed my mind.  This was Karen’s very first trip behind the wheel.  She had her license, passed the tests, but never had actually taken a group out on tour.  Yet they sent her out with a group of fifth-graders on a tight schedule to three very busy areas, including one famous for its gridlock (both traffic and otherwise).

That is in direct violation of Step #6 in my process for creating strong, long-lasting employees.  Step #6 simply says… Give them a safe place to practice their new skills, a safe way to get on-the-job experience.  

Karen should have been making the simple drive through the night from Jackson, MI to Breezewood, PA and back again.  Get a few of those under your belt before you try to tackle a city like Washington, DC.

It would be akin to you training a brand new person on the staff and then handing her your most difficult customer under the most difficult circumstances right out of the chute.

Karen’s company did not do her any favors.  It will now be up to her own strength of character and how bad she wants this job, that will determine whether she decides to stay in this profession or moves on to something else.  She might end up being one of the best drivers ever.  She might walk away feeling like a failure. The worst is that she might walk away even though she could have been one of the best drivers ever, all because her company put her in a position to fail.

Don’t do that to your employees.  Set them up for success.  There is a simple, intuitive way to do it.  I’ve written it down for you here.

In the meantime, I’m pulling for Karen to succeed.  Wouldn’t you?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  Kudos to the adult chaperones and leaders on this trip.  The kids never fully knew what was going on (other than the constant lurching and curb-hopping).  And at the end of it all we had a safe and successful field trip.

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