By Dayton Jagiela, Cultura Growth Analyst

I hear the train a comin’; it’s rollin’ ‘round the bend – Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues

I fondly remember this time of year during my tenure managing elevators.  The elevator is close to full, you are trying to make space for January deliveries, and the shuttle loading components are getting greased and checked.  It is time to start making some really good mix-and-blend income, by getting rid of moisture or leftover damaged corn from the year prior.  It is also a dangerous time, because surfaces are getting icy, snow storms are on the horizon, and people are tired.  It is a precarious position for the manager because money-making opportunities arise but they can greatly impact employee morale (e.g. a train on Christmas Eve).  It is very hard to stress the message to employees, “I know you have worked really hard getting us to this point, but now I really need you to stretch more than ever.”

I bring up this anecdote because I always had a hard time engaging all employees about the importance of loading good trains.  I would always receive feedback such as, “If we blend off all of the damage, you will just buy more!”  I know you probably got a chuckle out of the last quote. I know I did while writing it.  The truth is, the majority of income for a shuttle loader is made by doing exactly that, buying off grade and blending it out.

I tried everything to get all employees on the same page.  I would have meetings after each train, highlighting certain criteria that were met and how much value it created for the company.  The end result always seemed to be a majority of my employees with glazed over eyes.  It was frustrating.  I was empathetic to a certain point, because it’s tough to see how the person flipping lids could feel he had a direct impact on the mix-and-blend income.

All he really cared about was, “Am I going to have to flip all of these lids by myself, or will I have help?”

I know what you’re thinking. “Are you going somewhere with this, or did you just want to tell your life story?”  My point is that we scrutinize financial statements and analyze safety metrics, but a system is not in place to capture analytics that make up the perfect train.  We do not have a system that shows the picture in a clear way that our employees will truly be engaged in knowing.  Maybe one of the metrics shown on the screen is missed lids, or unclosed hopper bottoms.  Perhaps we need a program that captures all of the different types of information that appeals to all job functions.  Then we can use the metrics and create historical databases, rather than keeping the information in a train jacket, collecting dust in a filing cabinet sitting in the basement.  We can use technology to create benchmarks from one train loader to another and really understand which statistics need to change in order to increase profitability before the train comes rollin’ round the bend.