This year, my company started a new initiative — a clean truck competition — that has since then evolved into so much more.
It started with a simple idea: how to get everybody involved in the process of us having cleaner trucks. We had tried a few things before — scheduling time in the calendar once every two weeks to clean vans, simply reminding guys to clean it, or pointing out when someone really had a dirty van. Only the calendar idea worked and only for a short period of time, because it is always a battle over whether the guys should do the cleaning on their time or on the company time, in the morning or after hours.
I’d been reading books on leadership and culture, and they all suggested (figuratively speaking) not to give the broom to the dirtiest truck. So this year, I came up with an idea of the cleanest truck competition.
To motivate the guys, I knew that the prize should be big enough to get them all interested. So, along with a cash prize of $200, I decided to give out a trophy that stays with the winner or winning crew for a month. With the help of our in-house designer, we designed the image of our van and inscribed on it “Cleanest Truck of the Month.” I sent the file to the 3-D printing company, and they made a tall cube that weighs probably 20 pounds and put that 3-D image inside. Then, I bought a stand that lights up the trophy from the bottom. It looked glorious. I also ordered small 3-D key chains — they have all been lost since then, but by design, they were supposed to travel to the new winner each month.
To make the voting process as democratic as possible, everybody in the company got to vote, which consisted of simply inspecting the vans on a set date and casting their votes for the winner. We said you shouldn’t vote for yourself, but who knows if that really happened.
The very first competition was during our company birthday party celebration. My 11-year-old son Daniel was with me as we were walking around doing inspections. Everyone noticed that Joes’s van was simply not clean, and people were commenting on that. Daniel said out loud, “Joe, I will give you my vote,” and he did — it was the only vote that Joe got that day. I was super proud of my son for doing that. It came from the heart.
After a few competitions, the magic started to happen. We started to see changes in respect to the vans and to the competition itself, and most importantly, there was feedback about voting. We decided to rate vans based on exterior, interior, and dashboard. Each category gets one point for a total of three points per voting person. You can give half a point in each category to a different van as well.
This was the kick-start to something entirely new. Guys started to stay late to clean their vans. Joe was coming on Sundays to clean his (we keep our vans parked overnight at our location). I found it interesting that the guys I thought would win majority of the competitions did win, but only at the beginning. Then the rest of the crew really upped their game — to the point that on the day of the competition, Oleksiy was splashing water in the cabin to make it look brand new! Everything was important to get the win; even where you park your van in the morning matters.
A couple cool finales in our competitions:
One time our warehouse manager, Tim, came in late, right as our office manager Cindy was about to count the votes, so we offered to let him vote while she continued to tally. When he walked out to check the vans, Van 5 was ahead of our plumbing truck by two points. I said, “Imagine if Tim comes back and votes all three points to the plumbers” — and that is almost exactly what happened! The audience erupted. The Van 5 crew leader, Kirill, flipped out and left the room because he thought he lost. In the meantime, Cindy recounted the votes — only to realize that she had counted wrong the first time and it was a tie! What a relief that was.
July was super competitive. Everybody wanted to win, so it was really hard to choose the winner because all the vans were super clean. It is always such a pleasure to see and thank all of the guys — not only the winner — for getting it done.
In September, Joe — who came second twice — really wanted to win, so he stayed next to his van and simply advertised everything that he did to the van. His main phrase was, “Look at those rims!” He must have shouted it a hundred times during the voting, which was entertaining on its own. By the end of the voting, Joe won with the margin of one point. Breaking in tears, he gave a speech; he said, “Guys, I always had the dirtiest truck and was embarrassed by it. I really wanted to win and came second a few times, and today I am happy — very happy!”
We are now thinking of introducing a prize for the second place, since the guys have mentioned it a few times and there have been so many very close votes. I’ve even been approached by our COO Chris, who runs our other brand of companies, with the idea to bring his vans for voting too so that whoever wins the competition takes another company trophy and (of course) the cash prize, basically doubling the stakes. I am excited to see what will happen. But the biggest compliment I received was from my wife. She said, “Listen, I never thought that this would evolve into what it is today — great job!”