Small segment of managers, employees, customers cause big problems

September 8, 2011 By    

The old 80/20 rule applies across the board with everything we do. I believe that 80 percent of your problems come from 20 percent of your managers, employees and customers.

Let’s start with managers. I bet 80 percent of your managers do a good job of handling the tasks involved with managing a propane plant. In addition to marketing coordination, managers must manage both employee productivity and their efforts to do it safely. That’s a big task.

Somewhere in that mix would be the challenging management goal of achieving 100 percent gas system and leak checks for all residential and commercial customers. I can hear the moaning from here about feasibility, cost and return on value. The problem is that many propane marketers are not up to 80 percent.

That leaves at least 20 percent of customers who may have outdated, damaged or inefficient equipment, code concerns or a possible system leak. I write “may” because even though such problems are unlikely, when asked a question about the integrity of these systems after an accident, you may have to say, “I don’t know.”

If a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it, did it make a noise? Such apathetic assumptions are difficult to prove. What will make a noise is a propane explosion. Then you’ll hear other noises from the media, authorities having jurisdiction, investigators and attorneys. The problem is that, like a falling tree, propane explosions rarely happen.

I’m willing to bet that 20 percent of your managers have safety exposures that may expose your company every day. I also believe that 20 percent of your employees create 80 percent of your safety problems.

Old Hank may have been delivering propane since Sam McTier was a pup, but if he is not doing leak checks on out-of-gas situations, returning systems to service or using the tank gauge to fill, without using the maximum fixed liquid level gauge, he creates potential safety liabilities every day. How many Hanks are in your company?

I believe that 80 percent of your customers are profitable and you have documentation that their systems are safe. Have you taken the time to identify and target those 20 percent for a future gas system check? One deterrent to such activity is that most system checks are performed on new customers. When it comes to your old customers, the ones with possible outdated, damaged or inefficient equipment, it has become a longtime dance of first customer in, last to get a gas system check.

Heart of the matter
Let’s get to the heart of the problem. Such system checks are expensive to perform. Many of those 20 percent customers don’t want to pay for it and do not want you inside their house.

When your driver loses such arguments with the customer about returning the system to service on an out-of-gas situation, or management is unsuccessful in getting the customer to agree to a gas system check, it puts your company in a defenseless position.

It is probable that these outstanding 20 percent or more are slow pay, limited users or used seasonally. Their lack of financial wherewithal may create a liability exposure for your company. These customer characteristics are indicative of problems best found sooner rather than later. It makes sense that you make a decision about these customers, as they can impact your profitability, especially after an accident.

Ask yourself
Why not open those old files today? Why not target those 20 percent of your customers to try to secure confirmation of system integrity or make the choice to stop delivering gas due to internal safety concerns?

Why not target managers and employees who fall into that 20 percent of non-compliers? When you have the courage to inspect what you expect, you can solve problems, reeducate non-compliers, eliminate exposures and protect the bottom line. These are not easy tasks, and it always comes down to the money, but this money is well spent.

Take a few minutes today to identify the 20 percent that represents 80 percent of the potential problems for your company. Make a list of managers, employees and customers who may need your attention. Call the project the “20 percent safety solution.”

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