A High Level of Success

Getting the most out of your combination unit is as much about the people as the equipment
A High Level of Success
Mark Chamberlin, center, wastewater collection manager at the Eastern Municipal Water District, discusses the day’s cleaning schedule with Rocky Howard, left, and Ron Jubera, assistant wastewater collection manager. (Photos courtesy of Jim Aanderud)

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You may have the newest, biggest and brightest combination unit in the world, but if you don’t have someone capable of operating it at a high level, then you are falling way short of its potential.

We tend to think that we can achieve superior performance by simply putting a top-of-the-line unit into the field, but that is not the case. Sure today’s technology makes it a lot easier, but the truth is that it takes a quality operator to make the equipment function properly. Neither a pipeline cleaning program nor a CCTV inspection program will attain its full potential without a sharp operator.

A lot of thought and analysis goes into purchasing a combo unit. There is typically an exhaustive study and evaluation process that narrows down the search. Other brands are compared for their strengths and weaknesses and the equipment is tested under live conditions in order to prove its worthiness. All of this effort goes into making sure that we select the right equipment for our needs.

If we are to raise the level of our work performance, then we must make the same effort in the selection of our employees, and in particular, our equipment operators. Whether it is a combination unit operator or a CCTV inspection operator, we must make sure we do our due diligence and select people that are willing and able to operate our equipment at the highest level possible.


Achieving consistent performance

What are some of the things that we can do in order to promote an elevated level of performance in our employees? What details must we look at in order to maximize their commitment and performance?

To begin with, no employee will meet high standards without proper training. Training must be meticulously planned and measured to make sure that set goals are reached and milestones are achieved. Training must be thorough and take place over a lengthy period of time. Remember that preparing an operator properly can take at least a year. The key is to make sure the training is carried out by an experienced and capable trainer. Whatever shortcomings the trainer has will be passed on to the student.

A trained and competent operator cannot attain top-of-the-line performance without properly maintained vehicles. Equipment must be carefully cared for in order to assure peak performance. Anything short of this will prevent operators from achieving their goals.

Employees must also be provided with the proper tools. If they are given a shovel where a backhoe is needed, they will never reach their maximum capabilities. Agencies and contractors alike must stay abreast of available technology in order to be assured that their operators are maximizing effort.

An operator must be given correct information. Employees can’t be expected to perform their jobs properly without knowing exactly what is needed. Information must be clear, precise and understandable. Maps must be accurate and up to date, and instructions simple, detailed and comprehensive. An operator’s performance can only be as good as the information he or she is given.

Employees must also recognize the importance of their work. They need to be aware of its significance to our society and understand the positive and negative consequences of their effort.

There are many things that can affect an employee’s performance, but none more than the lack of rest. Employees with insufficient sleep are unable to perform adequately and could actually become a liability, or even a danger to those around them. Getting enough sleep is the key to maintaining clarity and focus throughout the day.

We may not think about this often enough, but a combination unit, in particular, is a very dangerous piece of equipment to work around. There are numerous hazards throughout the truck to be aware of. If an operator is not on his game, these risks will be magnified and will place them and their crews in danger. A lack of sleep slows down reaction time and could wind up being the difference between avoiding a hazard and becoming a victim.

Keeping an eye on an employee’s eating habits can be a good idea, too. If they are eating a lot of candy bars and drinking a lot of soda, then they may be overloading on sugar. Sugar can have unintended consequences and can wind up affecting job performance. A sugar-high may result in a short-term spike in their energy output, but eventually they will experience a crash that can be a drag on their drive and job performance. Energy drinks can also have similar affects, and like everything else, should be consumed in moderation.

Employees must drink sufficient water throughout the day and eat at scheduled intervals. It is easy for them to become so focused on work that they lose track of these essentials. As the day progresses, the lack of water and food will seriously hinder their job performance.

Combination unit and CCTV inspection operators need to keep their heads in the game at all times. Bringing problems from home can be very distracting. Supervisors must stay vigilant and take quick action when an employee is being affected by outside circumstances.

Excessive overtime can also have a serious impact on the quality of an employee’s work. When workloads are heavy, we must be mindful of the effects that long hours can have. If employees are consistently subjected to extended work hours and few days off, fatigue will prevent them from performing at a high level. We must resist the temptation to over-schedule and ensure that employees are given sufficient time to rest and recuperate.


Hiring is the key

The most effective way to guarantee that we have employees performing at a high level each day is by hiring the right employees from the onset. This is a pivotal point in the building of capable crews. If the wrong selection is made, no amount of training or preparation will matter. A tremendous amount of resources and energy can be expended trying to get an ill-equipped employee to perform properly. We must be able to clearly define the type of individuals we are seeking before the selection process begins. Attributes such as intelligence, aptitude and attitude must be closely evaluated along with their experience and backgrounds. Every effort must be made to find the most teachable and capable candidates possible. When the selection pool is lacking and none of the candidates meet our standards, we must resist the temptation to settle.

The last thing we want to do is to invest time and money into an employee that isn’t cutting the mustard. This problem can be easily avoided by taking the time to thoroughly screen prospective employees before they are hired.

Mark Chamberlin, wastewater collections manager at Eastern Municipal Water District in Perris, Calif., thinks that the probationary period can also be an important part of the screening process.

“A new employee’s behavior is always at its best during their probationary period,” Chamberlin says. “Even so, their pride and dedication will become evident at this time. Dismissing inadequate probationary employees before they have established full-time employment will save a significant amount of money in the long run.”

If we expect our employees to perform at a high level, then we must find individuals who are capable and committed to being exceptional employees. Maturity is an important factor, but not necessarily applicable to a specific age. Individuals who are career-minded and family-oriented often make the best employees. These individuals tend to focus on the long-term potential of their jobs and are apt to be less impulsive to change because of their family responsibilities.

A common misconception is that we can improve employees’ work behavior by offering them more money. We figure that everyone is motivated by money and if we just offer them more of it, they will automatically raise their level of performance and do a better job.

Sure, we may see a measurable rise in their work effort, but it will only be temporary. Money is only short term. It doesn’t change someone’s core character. It may be momentarily exciting to the employee and actually motivate them to try harder, but it will only last for a short time. It won’t be long before the money is taken for granted and the individual reverts back to his core character. If they weren’t motivated before the money, they won’t be motivated after the money. If they were lazy before, they will be lazy afterward.



Raising the level of our work performance starts with employing qualified individuals with traits and abilities to become quality operators. Once we have identified worthy individuals, we must set them up for success by providing the best training possible. And then, we must give them sufficient time to absorb and practice their new skills.

Supervisors are the key to ensuring that ongoing quality performance is being met. By staying consistently engaged, they will be able to provide the accountability and motivation necessary to ensure that employees consistently operate at a high level.


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