business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

We've long argued here that that insights and business lessons can be found almost anywhere, if you look around, pay attention and ask questions.  And today, I'm going to prove the point, by citing as a metaphor the business residential trash removal.

The trash hauler in my neighborhood just made a somewhat dramatic change and one that I know didn’t begin here. But it seems important all the same.

A few weeks back we were notified of some key trash hauling changes, primarily that our pickup schedule was being cut in half (from twice to once weekly) and that the trash company was giving everyone in the neighborhood new trash cans. The first part of the change didn’t bother us since as empty nesters my wife and I really don’t generate much garbage, but the second puzzled us at least briefly.

The new trash bins have two distinct features. First they have a pink lid (kind of a branding thing with our hauler, go figure) and second, halfway down the front, they have a small metal bar embedded in the bin. That, I learned was the key.

The bar allows the trash crews to simply hook my bin to a mechanism on the back of the truck that then automatically lifts the bin and tilts the contents into the truck.

Obviously, that’s only part of the story. Thanks to the new larger bins, the company can reduce our pickups by half and thanks to the machinery, the crews on the truck are now smaller and, hopefully, way more efficient.

That’s what got me thinking.

Most of the current conversation around labor focuses on the current shortage and the difficulty of finding and retaining workers. But even before the current crisis there was considerable discussion about how to integrate technology and human staffers to make the latter more efficient and certainly more cost effective, especially in a time of rising wages.

The answer, as I heard repeatedly, would involve finding those places where the personal touch was necessary and making certain that people were trained and in those jobs. In other spots - think scanning shelves for out of stocks - robots or technology could, and in some cases already, do the job.

Of course, the downside is that a large number of entry-level jobs disappear, unless companies figure out profitable ways to re-deploy and properly train people for new roles.

Now clearly that’s not the case with my trash hauler as there isn’t a lot of customer service or interaction involved with the job or expected by the consumer, yet I give the trash hauler credit for clearly explaining the change and what it would and would not impact. That’s a lesson right there.

And let’s be honest, this trash hauling changes is no harbinger of great changes to come as we live in a world of ATMs at banks, self-checkouts in supermarkets, automated room vacuums and self-driving cars. We’re not yet up to Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics, but you get the drift: it’s one more change in the world of work and in the relationship between technology, human workers and customers. And it certainly won’t be the last such move … though it is the last one I'll be writing about this year.

See you in 2022.  Happy Holidays.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@mnb.grocerywebsite.com.

His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.