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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 13, 2014 8 years ago

Call the Roll

Every morning at dawn, employees of a moving company gather for a meeting before climbing into their trucks. You may be surprised that they don't talk too much about business.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

It's 6:30 a.m. on a Thursday inside a cavernous warehouse in the industrial district off Alico Road in Fort Myers.

Four young men are lounging on couches and recliners, relaxing before they spend the day moving the belongings of customers of the College Hunks Hauling Junk franchise.

But first, a history lesson.

Manager Ryan Gambill whips out his iPad and starts reading aloud to the guys about what happened on this day in history. “Jimmy Carter reaffirms his commitments to human rights,” reads Gambill, 23, born 10 years after Carter finished his presidential term. Gambill explains to his crew that Carter pledged for human rights to be a cornerstone of his foreign policy during the Cold War.

A visitor may wonder if he's stumbled into a class at nearby Florida Gulf Coast University. So what kind of moving company is this?

Welcome to “role call,” a management tool that Stephen Bienko developed for employee self-improvement, purposefully using the play on words for roll call.

Bienko is president of 42 Holdings, the largest franchisee of College Hunks Hauling Junk and College Hunks Moving, which recently expanded to the Fort Myers-Naples area. Last year, the International Franchise Association bestowed on Bienko its Franchisee of the Year award.

Bienko reasons that educated and happy employees will lead to more satisfied customers. If movers can talk to customers confidently about history, current events, music and other topics, Bienko says customers will be more at ease in what is otherwise one of life's most stressful experiences. Plus, employees benefit too because they may be more likely to get a bigger tip at the end of the day.

The history lesson is just a small part of hour-long meeting. During the session, employees don't spend the majority of the time talking about the moving business. Besides music and current events, they discuss personal achievements and challenges.

In addition to stimulating employees' intellect, the discussions provide an opportunity for managers to pat an employee on the back or for them and other team members to be aware of a challenge an employee may be having outside of work. “Being a great company has nothing to do with the P&L,” Bienko says, referring to the profit-and-loss statement.

Our locker room
The first thing employees will hear when they come to role call meeting is some music. Each day, a different kind of music plays. It could be merengue one day, Indian music another day or classical music. “It settles their soul,” says Bienko, who is fond of quoting reggae star Bob Marley.

Employees will discuss unfamiliar music. Besides putting employees in a good mood, it may spark a conversation with a customer later in the day.

Then it's on to “this day in history” lesson. In Fort Myers recently, the crew discussed the Great Emigration by settlers to Oregon on this day in 1843. Gambill says 1,000 people moved 2,000 miles from Independence, Mo., by wagon train to settle that state. No moving trucks or even roads back then. That's like driving from Fort Myers to Tennessee and back, Gambill says. “Have you played that Oregon Trail video game?” he adds. Everyone nods.

The next part of role call hits closer to home as the crew discusses today's news. The main headline is about the poor treatment veterans get at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' clinics and hospitals.
Gambill is a U.S. Army veteran who feels he didn't get the disability benefits he believes he's entitled to, something he's still fighting the VA about. “I got run over by a Humvee,” he recalls. “I could barely walk for months. I have arthritis so bad.”

The discussion illustrates Bienko's point: Managers and co-workers learn something about themselves and each other through this process. Knowing Gambill served in the Army and was injured might make his colleagues more understanding and helpful when he's having a bad day. “This is our locker room,” Bienko says. “Life is bigger than the workday.”

Indeed, part of the discussions revolves around personal victories or challenges. Perhaps an employee's child won his baseball game or he learned a new skill or bought a new house. A manager might benefit by writing a congratulatory note or buying a small housewarming gift.

Personal challenges also provide opportunities for managers and teammates to help each other. Perhaps an employee has a sick relative for whom he provides care, for example. “Help him take the load off,” Bienko counsels.

Bienko says it's important to allow employees to discuss challenges without repercussion. “You have to allow that trust,” he says. “You're allowing personal growth,” he says, urging managers to lead by example. “You don't have to hide behind the iron curtain of executiveness.”

Education is all a part of it. During tax season, for instance, Bienko shows videos to employees explaining what they're paying in income taxes and why they should be concerned about government spending. The Job Creators Network, a group started by Home Depot Founder Bernie Marcus, produces the videos that help employees realize the impact of taxes and regulation on entrepreneurial organizations.

Business challenges
Eventually, at the end of the role call meeting, the discussion shifts to the workday. The conversation begins with the challenges employees faced the previous day.

For example, an employee might discuss a customer who balked at the company's price sheet. Or perhaps a co-worker left a mess in the break room.

Bienko encourages this frank discussion so everyone can be part of the solution. In addition, the manager can ask the employee to suggest a solution, too. “Now you have someone with a leadership opportunity,” Bienko says.

Having peers discuss ways to improve the work they do is inspirational. “Success breeds success,” Bienko says. Interestingly, Bienko says, the most difficult employees to persuade to hold role call meetings are vice presidents of the company, not the rank-and-file workers.

In Fort Myers recently, one recent victory included winning a $5,000 moving job to Arizona. But Gambill says that's a challenge too because he's going to have to fly back to Fort Myers after the job is done. “I'm terrified of heights,” he tells colleagues.

But for today, goals include being done by 3 p.m. Last-minute tips: Don't text and drive, wrap and lift furniture property and remember to drink plenty of fluids. “Hydrate,” he tells them before they head off. It's going to be a hot day.

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