10 takeaways from young managers

Sunday 23rd October 2022

I had the pleasure of jointly hosting another Young Bus Managers’ Conference last week with Martijn Gilbert. Held in Sheffield it was another inspirational event over brimming with energy and enthusiasm emanating from around 60 keen young people from whom I’m sure senior industry leaders will emerge in the future, bringing vital industry knowledge and ‘hands on’ bus company experience to key roles.

Here are 10 takeaways from the event.

1. We visited First Bus’s huge Olive Grove garage on Tuesday afternoon being shown around by Operations Manager Darryl and Engineering Manager Liam. I’ve been to many large bus garages in my time and this was definitely one to impress. First Bus has recently introduced cuts to services in the city to better match the daily requirement for drivers with the number available, which has brought service reliability back to an acceptable level as well as palpably reducing stress levels for all staff.

Olive Grove’s engineering and stores management and facilities are impressively well organised, clean and tidy and convey a very professional approach.

2. Improving profitability through just stripping out costs and ignoring revenue will ultimately undermine that revenue and profitability. (Thomas Ableman observing Travel West Midlands during the period when he was a trainee at that company) and…….

…. the one differentiator between coach companies scoring high or low in customers’ feedback satisfaction ratings who’d travelled with Snap was the crucial role played by middle managers in those companies. The ones who engaged positively with and motivated their drivers compared to those that were disengaged made all the difference. (Thomas Ableman observing lessons learnt during his ownership of Snap)

3. The bus industry should never under estimate the importance of advocacy and work hard to enlist support from stakeholders and passengers. (Thanks Matt Kitchin, managing director, Stagecoach Yorkshire)

4. Covid forced bus company managers to take a proper look at what services they were running and question whether everything should be done just because it’s always been done. (Thanks Ben Gilligan, managing director, East Yorkshire)

5. Monitoring battery performance in electric buses is important including avoiding deep discharging as well as fast charging; watching degradation curves; rotating the fleet around different operating conditions; and watching driver performance (avoid harsh braking). (Thanks Mungo Fawcett at Zenobe) …. electric bus operation brings with it a whole new world of management.

6. Design matters; challenge the status quo; be seen at the coal face; be your own customer; earn trust and empower; bias for action; think differently and think big; ownership. (Thanks Matt King, Arriva Midlands and a Young Bus Manager)

7. Shout about what youre doing; experience the front line; learn from the best and your mistakes. (Thanks Scott Cooper, Coatham Coaches and a Young Bus Manager)

8. Work at building relationships with stakeholders over a long period; don’t expect responses from a few briefing email communications from time to time. Partnership working is not easy, it involves building relationships built on trust. (Thanks John Dowie, Executive Director Infrastructure and Place at South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority)

9. FlixBus at its core is a tech company which is building a ‘World Class Team’ aiming to employ individuals with ambition; strive for excellence; enjoy extreme ownership of challenges; have urgency, hard work and transparency and partners coach operators who share those attributes. (Thanks Andreas Schörling, managing director UK, FlixBus)

10. Many suggestions came from young managers in the Group session looking for good ideas for improving retention and recruitment of staff ….

…. including …..

….. management style: be highly visible with an open door policy; get to know staff and make sure they know who you are; share positive feedback as proactively as possible; avoid undue formality unless it’s essential; have courageous conversations ….

…. internal communications: be approachable and visible; ensure tone of communications is right for the audience; communicate to your team as you would wish to be communicated to; hold engagement events – eg a driver barbecue, a walking event, community football; recognise service anniversaries; encourage drivers to be brand ambassadors ….

…. recognition and reward: make sure drivers aren’t jut a number; recognise good customer service; look at childcare arrangements; have a hairdresser on site; have a ‘slush fund’ to help in hardship cases; encourage a culture of ‘being part of a winning team’; encourage a ‘family feel’ to the workplace; ….

…. recruitment: promote pay more widely to potential recruits; use digital marketing for recruitment eg TikTok; hold recruitment/community events; encourage diversity; ensure interviewers are properly trained in interviewing; have flexible shift patterns; hold open days; show a career progression.

The next Young Bus Managers Network’s conference will be in the West Midlands in Spring 2023. Any young managers involved in the bus industry are most welcome to attend. Click this link for details.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

15 thoughts on “10 takeaways from young managers

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  1. Flixbus need to look at their product. I looked at their offering of Heathrow to Plymouth to compare with National Express. One leaves Heathrow at 19.35 arriving in Plymouth at 06.00 with a 5 hour wait in Bristol during the night. Do they seriously consider this to be an attractive travel option. I also note, that like N E, they have the cheek to add a £1 booking fee for doing their work for them. Hopefully, attending the conference will shake up their ideas

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    1. They then cancel the service once you’re booked on it and don’t refund the booking fee. Luckily I could dispute the transaction I had made with Paypal. Flixbus didn’t reply so got a full refund. Very odd way to run a company!

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      1. As the post says “Flixbus at its core is a tech company”, just like Uber and other ride hailing apps (like Via Van), all the senior managers and the best paid staff will be in the back office. I wonder how many come from the bus or taxi industries respectively?

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  2. Loving the blog and this is a really good one with some very, very salient points raised by some excellent speakers. Let’s hope the wider industry takes notice and also continues to support this useful group.

    My only criticism is that in my mind, ‘takeaways’ are fish & chips, kebabs , fala etc rather than ideas on how to improve bus services. That said, it’s still better than the awful ‘learnings’.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wondering if any of the young managers were supportive of keeping old-fashioned things like paper timetables and maps, or were they all about smartphones and Twitter etc?
    Also wonder how many use their product to get to work day in day out.
    If the numbers of both the above are low, I fear for the future of the industry.

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  4. There seemed to be almost no focus on the Customers (Passengers)
    If you have no customer’s, you have no business

    Almost no focus on marketing of services and publicity of services. It does not look as anything will change

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  5. I don’t think we can assume anything from a report, whoever the writer. But that said, I’d endorse all the reported statements from the conference.

    However with that note of caution about meaningless generalities I’ll add one of my own, for the sake of it. Passengers beget buses, not the other way around. The quote that sticks in my mind this year is what seems to be becoming a popular driver twitterati “an empty bus is a happy bus”. Sadly.

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  6. I am sure it’s at least partially pre-determination, but reports like this conference, don’t necessarily help to dispel the long established general view that the whole transport industry is very insular and pre-occupied with looking after its own. Necessarily, perhaps; but good? I’m not so sure.

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  7. How can anyone in Arriva say ‘design matters’? Ever tried using the website? Such vagueries suggest a business more obsessed with the art of management than the reality of what passengers ahve to face.

    Graham

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    1. I can see what Arriva mean. There was a photo on the local twitter feed, of the grinning local depot manager in a cartoon-character outfit, sitting at his desk, scattered with bits of paper with snazzy backgrounds. Perhaps it was hoped to keep the customers (passengers) amused whilst waiting for their bus?

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  8. Reading “10 Takeaways”, I had a sense of deja-vu…
    Those ideas for “how to improve things” are identical to what we, as Civil Service Managers, were earnestly writing on white-boards during “Away-Days” some 30 years ago.
    Of course, nothing improved (but we had a nice break from the office)!
    Plus ca change…

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  9. From a lifetime of passenger experience, my takeaways are:

    1. If we have a well-used service almost nothing, however bad, can damage it, since the passengers probably have little option. With luck, it can even be a fantastic opportunity for good management, though.
    2. Almost nothing will improve a little-used service. “Take it or leave it” is as good a management strategy as anything.
    On balance I can see the obvious sense in doing as little as we can get away with. Of course, though, never admit it and say something else.

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