Regardless of what happens to Assistant Fire Chief Frank Odermann, I have a feeling that the “bad bus” employed by Fire Chief Paul Dextras will live on for years.
News of the bad bus was made public recently when the city released an outside investigator’s report on Odermann, prompted by a formal complaint that Dextras filed against him.
The report is a hair-curling compendium of rants, gossip, accusations, nasty name-calling and more down-and-dirty skinny on the Fire Department than you were likely to have wanted to know.
I think it’s safe to say that the portion of the 12-page report that has generated the most comment is the one dealing with the bad bus.
The bus reportedly was a management tool that Dextras used to signify his displeasure with contrary or underachieving employees. Apparently he would figuratively “place” such employees on the bus and keep them there until he was satisfied with them.
The city’s human resources manager told me that the bus was a toy-sized ceramic thing. I had been picturing a Playskool bus packed with those little round-faced figurines, but no matter.
Why a bus?
I was surprised that Dextras used a bus at all. Wouldn’t a “bad fire engine” have made more sense? In that case, though, I suppose the bad characters would have been removed from the fire engine, not put in it.
Now that I think of it, wouldn’t it also be better, if you’re going to have a bad bus, to throw lousy employees under it? I think the metaphor would have been much stronger that way.
Some people interviewed as part of the Odermann investigation said they considered the bad bus to be “stupid,” “silly” and “petty,” among other things.
That may be, but I’m not sure Dextras is entirely to blame here.
I’m guessing he read about the bad bus in one of the countless number of management books that printing presses have been vomiting forth for the past 30 or 40 years.
These are the kinds of books that talk about “key outcomes,” mentors and “mentees,” “action items” and “core competencies.” These are the kinds of books that call the guy sitting in the next cubicle an “internal stakeholder.”
The bad bus idea seems too, well, bad to have been conceived of by a mere fire chief, as opposed to a professional management consultant.
Hold the cheese
I hate to judge a book by its cover, much less its name, but unless someone puts a gun to my head and commands that I do so, I can’t imagine that I’ll ever read “Who Moved My Cheese?”
And yet that book was so popular that it spawned versions for teens and children, not to mention knock-offs like “Nobody Moved Your Cheese,” “I Moved Your Cheese,” “Who Stole My Cheese?” and, perhaps inevitably, “Who Cut the Cheese?”
In “1001 Ways to Reward Employees” by Bob Nelson, we are informed that Blue Cross-Blue Shield gave out “People Are Tops Awards” which included “balloons tied to the person’s desk, belly dancers, and a song or message delivered by a person in a gorilla suit.”
I think I’d rather be thrown under the bus.
On the dust jacket of “Thank God It’s Monday!” we are told that author and management expert Roxanne Emmerich “uses her ‘Kick-Butt Kick-Off’ strategy to create immediate culture shifts.”
We’ll know a real culture shift has occurred when people are genuinely glad it’s Monday.
Management and business leadership books come in all flavors. One could have been written by Mr. Rogers: “The Back of the Napkin” by Dan Roam, subtitled “Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures.”
Another might have been written by Mike Ditka: “The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork” by John C. Maxwell, subtitled “Embrace Them and Empower Your Team.”
On the outside chance that Dextras did come up with the bad bus himself, I would suggest he get cracking on a book right now. It could make him (and a ghostwriter, if he’s interested) a pile of money.
Here’s a working title: “Riding the Bad Bus: Sit Down, Buckle Up and Don’t Talk to the Driver.”