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to make mistakes. He said he wants his employees to try different ideas and feel em- powered to share them. “If they were trying to do the


right thing and did the wrong thing, we can learn from this,” Watkins said. “And we move on to the next time, in which we try to do it better.” Another major aspect of his management philosophy is having fun. He said he believes people are more productive at their jobs if they enjoy what they are doing and are part of a favorable environment. He also shared that treating everybody the same isn’t the most appropriate approach, when dealing with a variety of different mindsets and work personalities. For example, if an employee is abusing the time clock, in- stead of micromanaging every single person in the operation, he said the more efficient and fair approach is having a one- on-one conversation with the individual who is causing the issue. He said having those tough conversations with employees, while it remains a challenge for him, is an import- ant part of being a leader. “If I’m thinking something


about an employee, and I know other people are thinking something about an employee that would impact them in a negative way … because the way they’re behaving or what they’re doing, I feel like that employee has a right to know,” he said. “Because they deserve to have an opportunity to fix it, if they want to.” He said sometimes when he has these conversations with employees, they’re shocked about how they are


Total miles traveled in a day:


106,000 (more than four times around the equator)


Students transported daily (pre-COVID-19): 104,000


Students transported daily during COVID-19 (special needs): 15


Total number of school buses: 1,378


Total number of service vehicles: 22


Total daily school bus routes: 1,200


(Most regular ed routes serve four schools each, while most special


education routes serve two schools each)


Total number of school bus drivers (including subs): 1,284


perceived in the workplace, and they want to fix things. He reminds them, however, that they didn’t build their reputation overnight, and the road to regaining trust will be a long one.


“Then the other conver-


sation I have with people a lot, and this is also part of my philosophy, is that everybody needs somebody trustworthy or a few trustworthy people to give them feedback, to point out the areas where they have blind spots,” Watkins added. While it’s not always easy hearing constructive criticism, he advised taking in the feed- back instead of blowing it off. “I mean, even me having this philosophy, it’s hard to hear when somebody criticizes me about something,” Wat- kins admitted. “I know my defensiveness flares up, and I remember I said I wanted this. Make sure you appreciate this feedback.” He added that the moment


you make someone regret giv- ing you feedback is when they will stop offering it. Besides focusing on internal


communications, Watkins also encourages customer sup- port. In 1998, the district was working on its strategic plan and came up with the term “customer delight.” He said the concept was built into a department program. “We broadly define who


your customer is. It’s every- body you come in contact with during the day, whether it’s your co-worker, your boss, your employee, the students on your bus, the parents, the school administration, the motoring public that you’re driving around,” Watkins ex-


www.stnonline.com 45


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