One morning when we cranked our engines, one of our Mercedes Benz trucks threw a rod. This catastrophic event was not covered by the warranty even though our truck had low mileage and was less than two years old. According to the dealer, we voided the warranty because we started the engine with very low oil pressure. $12,000 later, I discovered what caused the problem—a breakfast from McDonalds.
I learned early on that some of our drivers would start their engines before examining the fluid levels. To solve this problem, I gave “ownership” of the problem to my operations manager. I required him to come in one hour earlier each morning (with full pay for the extra hour) and check each truck’s oil and antifreeze, and then bang all four rear tires of each truck with a pipe to make sure they were not flat. To ensure that this procedure was followed, he filled out a form after completing each inspection. This method worked well for several months until we had the engine rod incident, so needless to say, I was baffled.
After I confronted the operations manager with the dealer’s explanation, he tearfully explained that several weeks earlier he overslept and got to work too late to check the trucks. He still filled out the truck inspection forms (and got paid for the extra hour that he didn’t work) but knew it didn’t matter because the fluid levels were never down significantly on any one day. A week later when he got to work on time, it was pouring down rain. Knowing it didn’t matter, he again filled out the forms but didn’t inspect the trucks.
Eventually, his routine settled into arriving one hour early each morning but instead of checking the trucks, he merely filled out the forms while he ate his McDonalds’ breakfast at his desk. Depending upon the weather, he said he checked the trucks on average once a week. Sometime between the last time he checked the oil and the morning of the incident, the oil was at a dangerously low level, causing the engine to throw the rod.
Not only did he cause the ruined engine, but he fraudulently cheated us for all the pay for the hours he didn’t work. I fired him.
In hindsight, it was my fault, too, because I should have measured him so that I could have managed him. In other words, on an irregular but consistent basis, I should have checked the trucks myself after he filled out the forms. If I had found any discrepancies between his forms and my inspections, I could have held him accountable and probably prevented the mishap. It was just another very expensive lesson I learned from my school of hard knocks.
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