“My hope is people will be able to understand the larger management points that we’re making and that the stories are just illustrative about transit.”
Whether reading the book or talking directly to Aesch, you quickly find he has an expressive way of communicating his ideas in an engaging narrative. He says he wanted a business book with a novelistic flair and that same energy and passion comes through when talking to him one-on-one.
Changing the Game
There were three parts that made this success happen, Aesch says of the evolution of RGRTA. “We had a crisis, we had a board with a business mindset and a management team that said we’re not about surviving, we’re about succeeding.
“We were broke, and when you have a crisis, you have to change,” he explains. “We had a crisis which was obviously helpful to get everyone to realize, ‘Holy smokes, the building’s on fire.’
“The second thing is we had a board which very much has a business mindset, they define success very clearly. They don’t get in our way to manage the company; that’s our job.”
The third piece he says is the management team’s thought process. “We all come to work and we’ve made a lot of decisions over the years where we realize making the decisions, we might get fired, but we made the decisions because we felt they were the right things to do for the organization.” He adds, “We put our own personal survival at risk in order to make smart business decisions.”
Aesch says he thinks a lot of people make decisions about whether or not they will survive or succeed but if you’re cutting just to save money, you’re in a survivor mindset.
“Some people would say we’ve cut service. No, we were looking to drive productivity,” he says. “We were strategically trying to become more efficient in our delivery to the community.”
He continues, “They look at other people and they say, ‘We’re going to cut service on some route.’ Well, there are two people riding it.
“You’re going to jeopardize 60,000 people a day over two people that you’re running a bus one way 30 miles for? I’m not sure that’s cutting service, I think that’s silly.” He stresses, “It’s all very strategically driven.”
There were two changes that were critical to this process. One was changing the thinking from customers to passengers and the other was becoming less reliant on tax dollars.
“We wanted to get us to no longer pick up passengers but to pick up customers,” Aesch says. “You can easily get people to just parrot that. ‘Fine, if the boss wants us to call them customers instead of passengers, that’s what we’ll call them.’
“But it’s getting people to culturally think of it differently.”
As Aesch explains, a passenger is a passive term for someone that has no choice; take it or leave it.
“When you walk into a Wal-mart store and there’s a Wal-mart greeter there, you expect them to have a smile on their face. You expect the store to be open on time. You expect the store to be clean,” he says. “It’s not a service; it’s a product that they sell.
“We have stores. We have 450 stores; our bus is our store.
“It needs to open on time; you would expect that at Wal-mart. You expect it to be clean; you expect that at Wal-mart. It needs to be a product worth buying; you would expect that at Wal-mart.”
In “Driving Excellence,” he says he tells the story of one of their employees that he had an encounter with. “He essentially said, who cares if we get the buses cleaner, they were riding before, what difference does it make if we make them cleaner?”
He talks about bumper sticker mentality, where it’s easy to make a statement and get everyone on your team to parrot it. But achieving that shift in the way employees think and having that impact on the process in how they work as an agency is moving beyond bumper sticker mentality.
It went from employees thinking it’s not that big of a deal as to how clean the buses are because they will still have passengers, to employees wanting to present customers with a clean product.