Back in the day, when I was a railroad operating officer, every so often I attended by choice or by command meetings regarding certain industry trends or certain major projects forthcoming on my, or other, railroads.
Lots of consultants attended lots of these meetings.
I'm no slouch on picking up cues, signals, mannerisms that distinguish the foul-tempered, foul-mouthed overtired, brusque, abrasive group of railroad officers from the smiling, upbeat, peppy, well-scrubbed, well-mannered, and well-dressed group known as consultants......
...not that I have anything against consultants....now that I am one.
Anyway back in the day the nearest and clearerst line/method of demarcation was........the railroad operating problem-- like capacity, headway, turn-times, braking distance, number of tracks required-- you know, all that stuff you're told you don't really need to know to be a good manager. .
When one of those problems arose... one of those hard problems, as opposed to the soft and fuzzy ones of human resources... the railroad officers, partial as they are, inculcated actually, with the old fashioned ways of doing things, would inevitably and invariably pull out of their pockets pencils and a pieces of paper, while the consultants would open up their laptops.
One group would scribble, think, bite the ends of the pencils, scribble some more while the other group tapped and pointed and clicked....and
...and I always liked our, the railroad groups', answers better... because when you get right down to it, no matter how complicated the problem, and how much processing power it takes to solve it, the solution really does depend on those who use pencil and paper.
We weren't virtual John Henry's in the digital age. We weren't facing displacement by machines or racism, or both. None of us were that big or that strong (except maybe for one of us, the strongest person I've ever met, anywhere). But we knew our business, and what we didn't know, we knew we had to figure out, on our own, with pencil and paper, so we could explain it, make it real, executable to others like us who used pencil and paper-- who had to write things down, repeat them back, note the time complete, and then fulfill, execute what was written down.
This isn't about nostalgia. This isn't a yearning for the good old days when men were men, and women weren't allowed; when steam provided the tractive effort and the telegraph provided the train control.
This is about accepting, and discharging, responsibility, as an officer of the railroad-- as the authority for, of, and by safe train operations.
This is about using pencil and paper; this is about speaking frankly.
This is about saying good-bye to all that stuff about "partnering," i.e. "our employees are our partners." No, they are not. They are the employees. They have to execute the commands, demands, and instructions that ensure safe railroading.
They aren't our partners. We aren't theirs. We need to explain the commands, detail the demands, and enforce compliance, the execution, of the instructions.
Inherent in that is the disciplining of employees who do not comply. There is simply no way to avoid that, nor should attempts be made to avoid, mitigate, or refrain from using discipline. It is not a dirty job and somebody has to do it.
Our employees are not our "partners,"-- or if they are in real life we need one of us to transer to a different department.
They are not our friends-- and if they are it makes no difference. We must make it make no difference.
They are not our family-- I don't know about you, but I hired out to get away from my family. If they are family, see above remarks.
We have an obligation to our employees, the same obligation we have to the railroad and to the public, and that is to evaluate, analyze, supervise, enforce. In so doing we, quite simply, save lives.
We are obligated to provide our customers, our business, our public our safest product, transportation. We cannot do that if we do not hold the employees providing that safe product to precise, and rigorous, standards.
Is there a possibility for error in our application of these requirements to our employees? No doubt, but we are obligated to error on the side of rigor, even to the point of inflexibility.
We do not, have not, and will not accomplish, achieve, execute, discharge our obligations, which are obligations to the railroad, to safe railroading, to the customers, to the business and public utility of the railroad if and when we do not command, demand, enforce, and discipline operating safety.
Speaking plainly, anybody who thinks enforcing the operating rules of the railroad "gets in the way of achieving safety" simply doesn't know what he or she is talking about. Anyone who thinks using, assessing discipline is obsolete, counterproductive, to safe employee behaviors, and to safe train operations, has most probably never been responsible for those behaviors, responsibile for those operations; has never had to put his or her name or initials on a piece of paper defining exactly the parameters of behavior and operations.
Anybody who thinks that "non-punitive, confidential, close-call reporting" is an effective, necessary tool, for opening "lines of communication" between supervisors and employees regarding safe train operations, is just kidding himself/herself because supervisors already know about the close calls. The problem isn't the lack of knowledge. It's the lack of follow through, and follow through on numerous levels.
Speaking frankly, we should all disregard the whimpering. We should disregard the whimpering of the employee who has failed to comply with safe train operating requirements and now faces discipline.
We should disregard the whimpering of the unions that must defend that employee to the fullest extent. That, that defense, is the unions' job.
We should disregard the whimpering of those who tell us how obsolete, old-fashioned, counter-productive the notions of enforcement and discipline are. That's their job. Hell, they've built careers, whole disciplines, funded university chairs, telling us how wrong we are.
And......we should be disregarded when we whimper to our regulator about "unfunded mandates" "excessive burdens" etc. etc. about mandatory safety directives, like PTC.
Speaking frankly, FRA should have told the AAR and all other parties complaining about the mandatory 2015 deadline for PTC: "Congress passed the law. Take it up with them."
No whimpering; no buzzwords. Get it done safely. Come back and do it again, only better, tomorrow.
Know your timetable; know the rules. And never be without pencil and paper.
It doesn't get any more simple, or more important, than that.
December 1, 2013
No Buzzwords Allowed