Helping to Save the Company
October 1, 1991 -
Many Canadian trucking companies are desperately fighting for survival in a highly competitive industry. Some have gone bankrupt.
CP Express and Transport, a Canadian Pacific Ltd. group company operating 1,050 road vehicles and 2,700 trailers from 65 terminals, saw the handwriting on the wall. Drastic changes were needed for the sake of survival. Its operational manager, Maurice Thibeault, began a company-wide campaign to instill in his management staff an appreciation for the employees' ideas and know-how. He explained:
We didn't want a boss-servant relationship where the boss knows everything. The boss doesn't know everything. In fact, the boss knows little. We are asking the boss to act in a supportive role and stop judging the individual employee.
Employees are now involved in making many decisions that previously were made by management alone. When eight million dollars of new equipment had to be purchased, the truck drivers were asked for their advice. The result was that a group of drivers made the final decision about the purchase of the new equipment. They even travelled to France to visit the plant where the vehicles were produced. Another group of employees made a careful study of the cost of equipment, which led to an improvement in efficiency.
Thirty-four of the companies 65 terminals in Canada are now employee-operated. All these changes did not happen by themselves. The company spent more than three million dollars in 1989 and 1990 to train the employees in improving quality and eliminating waste.
The company's efforts met with an enthusiastic response of the employees. They have begun to take a keen interest in their own work and in doing the best possible job. As one employee put it: "It's my livelihood. I don't want CP to be one of the companies that goes down the tube because of waste."
Another employee claims that before the change in management style, he was just another employee whose opinion did not count. "I punched the clock, did my eight hours, and then went home. Now, I feel it's my company, our company. The changeover has given us pride. We feel we're owner-operators rather than merely employees."
The new labour relations style at CP Express has been accomplished with the full support of the employees' union, the Transportation and Communications Union. Jack Boyce, president of the 14,500 member union, reports that confrontation has made way for cooperation and trust. The employees "have more pride in their jobs when they are given a say in their work," Boyce said.
CP Express and its employees managed to make everyone realize that the welfare of workers is intimately tied to the success of the company and that customer service is everyone's responsibility. As one of the employees put it, "We are now aware that our customers are our bread and butter."
This story is another reminder that good economic performance and treating employees with respect go hand in hand. Canada desperately needs more of this kind of success story. (See Wilfred List, "On the Road to Profit," The Globe and Mail, July 10, 1991, p.Bl.)