Chris Ellison, transportation manager, Eugene School District 4J, was able to accomplish his goal of getting to know all of the approximately 130 employees when he first started at Eugene by walking around the facility, sitting in the driver’s room and riding bus routes.
Starting a new job can be exciting and overwhelming. In addition to adjusting to a new place and people, there is the task of adapting to a different workplace culture and procedures. This can present challenges to transportation directors when they seek to make improvements. SBF spoke with several transportation directors who have moved to new districts about these challenges and how they overcame them. They shared these tips on how they sought research, support from longtime staff members and clear communication with employers, and how they started building relationships with employees and their peers.
1. Ask for an operation study for a roadmap
One difference a director who is starting in a new operation has to assess and adjust to is the workplace culture. What helps, says Michael Dallessandro, shared transportation director for New York’s Geneseo and Livonia central school districts and previously the transportation director at Niagara Wheatfield Central School District in Niagara Falls, N.Y., is a commissioned study of or report on the operation to use as a roadmap.
There are times when a supervisor begins work at a district with deep-seated cultural issues that he or she needs to identify and change. However, the staff may perceive a new person coming in as not knowing what he or she is doing, and suggestions for improvements may not be well-received.
If the district hires a consultant to conduct a study of the district, it will provide the incoming director with a roadmap for suggested changes or adjustments. Getting the study or report just before starting the job can prevent the new director from having to take the lumps for any changes, because the suggestions are coming from a third party.
“The last thing you want [after making] changes is your employees or colleagues saying, ‘What did you bring in this new guy for? He’s changing everything. We don’t like this,’” Dallesandro says. “If the consultants were [behind] the changes that the incoming director is making, it takes a lot of the pressure off.”
2. Give everyone a clean slate
A new director shouldn’t make up his or her mind about an employee because the director was told that person is “a problem.” Dallessandro advises starting out by giving every staff member a clean slate, even those whose personnel files indicate disciplinary issues or underperforming.
“Every new [director] needs to make their own assessment of all the employees in the department and try to build bridges with people right from the start,” he says. “Problem employees will show their colors every time. If someone is a poor performer, they’re going to do it on your watch, too, and you can make your own decision about the individual.”
Given a chance, hopefully the employee will correct the problem behavior, even if it is often difficult for adult employees to make changes, he adds.
Chris Ellison, transportation manager, Eugene (Ore.) School District 4J, who previously worked at Greater Albany (Ore.) Public Schools as director of transportation, agrees.