THE READERS SPEAK

THE READERS SPEAK

Two recent Surface Reflections by Lawrence H Kaufman dealing with the need for culture change and a different type of executive in the railroad industry brought many responses from readers. Their names have been withheld by request.

From a Class 1 railroad officer:'The culture that has been created by the cost-cutters is wearing out it's welcome. Companies have been able to survive fairly well on the inherent pride railroaders take in being able to do a good job in spite of job cuts, etc. The old saying goes, 'They have done so much with so little for so long, they are now fully qualified to do anything with nothing.' But this pride has its limit also. CSX may have found how close it is to running out after the Federal Railway Administration inspections which found so many track defects. NS is getting a lot of heat from the ranks about how people are treated while trying to digest Conrail.

The people who need to be the leaders of the railroads may come from outside. But don't overlook the talent that is already there. Will they continue to work for such a change in spite of the pressures from the risk-averse set now in charge? Or, will they give up and leave for jobs where their style of thinking is appreciated? The clock is running.'

From a railroad consultant:

'Recently, a friend of mine who left a high level military position said, 'After a brief stay at this railroad, I had the need to write an uninvited white paper. It covered what I saw as the problems of the organization, from an outsider's perspective.

The biggest issue I brought up was the silo mentality of this organization. In the military, yes there are silos, but people at all levels are expected to communicate. And if they do not they will be will be held accountable. In this organization, if you communicate outside your silo you are condemned.'

This is too bad, because I believe he is correct and it needs to change.'

A rail shipper:

'I guess the analogy is that inefficiencies are tolerated as long as they can be. If the economy had a major downturn and everyone was looking for work, railroad executives (and everyone else) would start acting like they were spending their own hard earned money instead of just allowing inefficiencies, waste and poor management to be tolerated.'

A rail shipper:

'There are lots of smart people in the industry. But the culture compels them to be, as you put it, 'risk adverse' with respect to when, to whom, and through which channel new concepts or potential improvements get advanced except by virtue of some catalytic event's causing an edict to be advanced from on high. That circumspection does two things; it creates a hesitation factor on the part of the employee which all too often produces inaction and, over time, turns to cynicism. That, in turn, means that LOTS of intellectual energy and dollars are spent on introspection and studies.'

A retired rail union officer: ' Rose and Harrison understand the importance of being customer-focused. Both understand, or seem to understand, the importance of utilizing non-human assets efficiently. Where both seem to fall down is understanding the importance of investing in the human resources of their companies which either allow a company to 'run' or, if appropriately incentivized, will contribute significantly to its growth and success.

I have seen both go through the motions and pay lip service to the important role employees play in customer satisfaction but when it comes time to put-up or shut-up, they are off somewhere (micro)managing non-human assets.

To focus on the customer, be efficient and deliver the goods when promised, management must focus on both employee and customer satisfaction. With this much opportunity, only the truly inept will fail.'

A Class 1 executive:

'If we can just get around to conducting our operations based on the needs of our customers, instead of the desires of the operating department, we might make it into the 20th (that's right) Century.'

A former railroad marketing executive, now an industry consultant:

'The new leaders will need some real power and support from their CEOs to make the cultural changes. Resistance, especially at the top operating level, will frequently have to be dealt with by management changes. In some cases things might get worse before they get better but it has to be done long-term.'

An Gen-X e-business executive:

'the reality of working railroad operations isn't as desirable when I compare it to career opportunities with better pay, time schedules and environment. So where will talented workers go? Will they stay at a big corporation that pretends to listen, but changes nothing, or to a company in tune with the market place, technology and it's workers, where the person's ideas and influences have an affect? No wonder big railroad corporations find it difficult to get good people at the top.

A consultant:

'I have seen the rail industry from both the inside and outside. It finally is starting to change. There is a tremendous opportunity for the rail industry to recapture lost business and develop new markets. Unfortunately, rail management is too focused on employees reading a newspaper at work instead of working to develop new profitable business opportunities.'

A consultant:

'Railroad management is like an abused child growing up to be an abusive parent. It never ends until the cycle is broken.'