They now have a dozen or more employees that are involved in the bus cleanliness process. “It’s a whole new process for bus cleanliness; it’s completely different, ground up,” Aesch says.
“That moves it from bumper sticker talk to real destination-driven management where you’re saying bus cleanliness is important to customers and we’re going to drive this.”
Setting a Path
Sunday-afternoon-drive management is what he describes as a common management style that many places adopt. “They don’t adopt a plan, they adopt a budget and a budget is just how you’re going to spend how much money you have this year.”
“It’s where we’ve all been out on a Sunday afternoon drive with our parents when we were little and dad sort of paternalistically drives the car wherever he might feel like going, but it’s difficult to keep everybody engaged if dad’s just very ego-driven, driving the car wherever he feels like going.”
What changed it at RGRTA was putting together a plan with a vision, strategies, operating tactics and a measurement system so that everybody can follow where the agency is headed.
And in six years Aesch says they haven’t adopted a budget, they adopt a plan.
The plan is the vision statement that he says tells them what they are trying to be “when they grow up.” The plan also outlines the strategies needed to implement to achieve that vision.
The last piece, he says, is aligning the money to realize those operating tactics and then building a measurement system to outline whether they are successful.
“One thing I just love about the plan more than anything, this is very transparent, we put this out in front of everybody so for each one of our four strategies … we say 14 months ahead of time on March 31, 2011, ‘The authority is successful if,’ and there are numbers with each one of these things.
“We’re putting a stake in the ground and we’re saying this is destination-driven management. This is where the stake is. This is how you’ll be able to tell if you’ve had a successful year or not.”
He relates it to sports management. “They evaluate the manager not based on how much does he pay the assistant manager or did they procure the left tackle the right way when they hired him; they measure the Major League Baseball manager on how many wins did you get?
“Pretty clear what success is,” he says.
“Most public agencies have a rolling definition of success. It’s whatever a reporter wants to say success is, it’s what ever an elected official wants to say success is, it’s what ever a board member says; the definition changes every day as to what success is.”
He stresses, “There’s nothing unique about what we did here. We’re not smarter than anybody else; we didn’t necessarily make better decisions than anybody else.”
Going the Distance
Aesch describes the moment that he knew RGRTA was going to succeed. It was at its pep rally, the defining moment.
“We saved ourselves so we’re having the big pep-style rally,” he shares. “Typically when we develop a plan for the board, the CEO signs a letter to the board saying here’s the plan for the company.
“What I said to the employees was, if you felt like you helped this year, to dig us out of this massive hole to succeed, you can come up now and we’re all going to sign the letter submitting the plan to the board for the coming year. “
He explains how they ended the pep rally, with U2’s “Beautiful Day” playing in the background, the high energy and excitement in the garage and employees coming up and signing their plan.
One of the drivers that had challenged policies when Aesch came on board, came up at the rally and said he wasn’t going to sign the letter.
“He’s looking down — tall guy — and I said, ‘That’s OK, Caesar, don’t sign the letter.’” And Aesch says he was thinking at the time, “Don’t bring me down on a day that’s exciting.”
The driver said he couldn’t sign the letter. “I kind of hesitated for a minute thinking if he can’t read or write, that’s not why he’s going to sign?