There are a lot of things agencies need to get the best operators driving their buses. Starting with the right candidates, giving them the right skills through training and keeping up with the training are all key elements transit professionals point to for getting the best results.
Starting on the Right Foot
The data is clear when it comes to training; you can’t train a poor performer and make him or her exceptional. Instead of throwing your agency’s dollars at people thinking the training is what will make them successful, you have to start with the right person.
“You can’t take an average employee and make him exceptional with training,” says Select Advantage President Geoff Rodgers. “They have to bring something to the equation.”
What Rodgers recommends is looking at the behavioral mindset. “If you look at your top-performing bus drivers, they’re going to come in a variety of personalities, but the common denominator is going to be in the choices they make; how they look out for the public, how they look out for their riders, how they look out for other drivers on the road, and how they represent and support the organization’s goals and missions.
“They will be accountable for their actions and decisions. They’ll go the extra mile without having being asked to. It’s just, in a sense, how they are wired,” he says.
After meeting with peer-nominated top performers, Rodgers says he and his team were able to pick the brains of these top performers to “build,” as perfect as they could, an operator on paper.
“Rather than throwing training at people and seeing what sticks, there is a different method that we use,” he explains. “What we’ve done, we help screen people into the process by helping them identify, before they get into the training process, which is the best fit for the job from a behavioral standpoint.”
He continues, “There are some people that love working with the public and serving them and there are others that could care less.”
He quickly adds, “It doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, it just means it isn’t the best fit for them, and ultimately you are doing your agency and the applicant a service by helping match what is required for success in the job with what they are bringing to the job.”
With three different assessments, there is a lot of variation between bus operator, paratransit operator and transit supervisor. Rodgers mentions that many agencies cross train operators for regular fixed-route service and paratransit operations. “I promise you, that agency would rather have that individual on one side or the other because it is a better fit.”
When developing the paratransit operator assessment, he says he thought there would be about a 60 to 70 percent overlap due to the similarity in the jobs. However, there is only a 30 to 40 percent overlap. “Your clientele is different, there’s a different level of customer service and there’s a different level of responsibility and ownership for the ridership,” he states. “We thought it would be closer than it was. They proved us wrong.”
Implementing a behavioral-based hiring system can make a big impact. “These people absorb training better, they are willing to change, they are teachable.” And the people that are going to see the impacts more than anybody else at your agency are the trainers.
“If you don’t tell them what you’re doing and you implement a tool like this, they are the ones that are going to come to you saying, ‘that is the best group of people I ever had.’” He stresses, “They notice it right away.”
An important part of providing excellence in customer service is the ability to work together productively and communicate effectively. With different people having different perspectives, sometimes those differing views can get in the way.