Case Study

Waste Management Company Improves Community Reputation and Turns Driver’s Good Intentions into Lasting Partnerships

Situation: Waste Management (WM) was at risk of losing multi-million-dollar contracts with major municipalities in the United States. This was due in large part to being perceived as a “commodity provider” who was priced higher than competitors. Within Waste Management operations, some garbage truck drivers often took it upon themselves to intervene if they encountered an emergency situation (such as fires, accidents, or fights) as they traveled streets and alleys, especially in the early morning hours. To many stakeholders, the drivers’ behavior was seen as a high-risk, operational disruption and legal liability. Zack Lowe, the company’s Chief Security Officer, was initially asked to help local management better maintain more cost-efficient schedules by stopping good Samaritan activities by these drivers.

The Catch: Despite the requested action, Zack, and some city law enforcement officials, saw the potential for value in the drivers’ behavior, if it could be adapted to safer, more time efficient interventions. Zack also saw the opportunity for his company to transform how it was perceived by municipal leaders. WM could transition from being seen as a commodity provider to a value-add community partner - so long as these interventions were handled more wisely and provided wins for the multiple parties involved.

Innovative Actions: Zack conducted personalized market research inside and outside the company to learn what it would take for the drivers’ behavior to be considered safe, time efficient, effective, and minimized liability.

A program called “Waste Watch” was created.  The program included training for the drivers in each region during their usual morning safety briefings. Local law enforcement conducted the training which included phoning for assistance (much like a 911 call) rather than direct, physical interventions into fights, fires, and other dangers. The participation was left as voluntary so as not to extinguish the original intrinsically motivated driver. Training, liability release signatures, graduation certificates, and accolades from company VP’s and city officials, such as mayors and city managers, became part of the program and it routinely generated local media coverage.

Growth & Value: With Waste Watch in place, the drivers were able to continue their heart-felt service while also maintaining a system to support and protect themselves and the community. Additionally, the cities they covered gained additional eyes and ears on the ground to help keep their streets safer. WM gained a positive reputation as a community partner, and their contracts, which were previously in jeopardy, were renewed.  Zack gained a reputation and support as an internal entrepreneur and was given license to start a new company within Waste Management which utilized their capabilities around forensics and investigations.

Mini-Lessons: Often, the things which appear as problems on the surface offer growth opportunities if looked at from new angles.

Starting anything new in a company, especially if it is starting with some resistance, requires an excellent ground game. It requires deeply understanding what your external customers truly value, as well as understanding what your internal market members (operations, legal, finance, etc.) really require. If you are able to shape a solution which can help solve both internal and external market challenges, while making it easy and simple for both to participate, you are likely to see success which lasts, even long after the entrepreneur who started it has moved on to other opportunities.