With any transit software implementation, gaining the necessary buy-in and support from strategic leadership is critical to executing a seamless implementation. However, from an operational standpoint, ‘boots on the ground’ employees, like drivers, are often greatly impacted by the adoption of new software, but are rarely included in the decision-making process; this is where unions come into play.
Used as a platform for workers to voice opinions and impact wages, work hours, benefits, workplace health and safety, job training and other work-related issues, unions are formed for a sole purpose; to protect and further the rights and interest of workers.
Within the public transit sector specifically, unions often act as a gatekeeper when it comes to the introduction and adoption of new technologies, such as paratransit or scheduling software, in an effort to safeguard its workers from any form of maltreatment or inequality. And although an obvious benefit for transit employees, heavy involvement from labor unions can make the software implementation process for transit agencies a bit trickier than your average implementation; which already requires expert navigation.
How to Approach Union Transit Software Implementations
Union environments possess a clearly-defined leadership structure made up of stewards, or union representatives, that typically play the dual role of transit employee and labor union official tasked with representing and defending the interests of his or her fellow employees. With a fairly extensive procurement process in place, transit agencies seeking to adopt new systems or technologies must take a more coordinated and linear approach to gaining buy-in and implementing new transit software. With that said, there are three things that are important in all software implementations, but are particularly so when working with a labor union; over-communicate, driver buy-in and support, and a risk mitigation strategy.
As discussed, due to the shared interest of its representatives, unions are structured in a way that makes gaining the necessary buy-in and support much more thorough and in-depth than most. Meaning, agencies looking to implement new transit software must win over more than just the executive team. They must sell the union officials on the benefits it can provide both to the agency itself, as well as its employees.
In the public transportation industry, operational changes are typically only made once per quarter in the hopes of minimizing disruption and providing a degree of consistency to employees. However, in the case of a software implementation, this may be adjusted. That being said, drivers who have fallen into a favorable routine may be opposed and resistant to sudden changes that are made to their schedule. Being transparent, upfront, and over-communicating key organizational and operational changes that will occur throughout the implementation, and doing so early on, is the only way to truly minimize any pushback or resistance to such adjustments.
- Driver Buy-In and Support
Gaining buy-in and support from drivers is arguably the greatest challenge faced by organizations attempting to implement new systems. In fact, many drivers still have the perception that transit software is used solely as a micromanagement tool, rather than a performance enhancement tool used to make their job easier. This misconception, in turn, can make gaining the support of the union that much harder because if union members don’t feel that it is in their best interest, neither will the union officials.
Referring back to our previous point of over-communicating key changes, in order to get the driver-support necessary for a successful implementation, drivers must feel as though they were involved in the decision-making process. Communicating key changes and the rationale behind those changes early on, effectively managing expectations, and highlighting the direct benefits to the driver community is essential to executing a successful implementation.
In addition, looking past the initial implementation, drivers play a major role in the adoption rates and overall success of a software implementation. Supervisors and managers will undoubtedly insert policies and procedures to ensure that the software is being used and that the greatest ROI is achieved. But, at the end of the day, drivers are the ones using the software on a day-to-day basis so it is likely that they will have greater control over how many benefits and efficiencies are actually realized.
- Risk Mitigation Strategy
Working closely with union officials to develop a risk mitigation strategy is a great way to balance expectations, communications, and any grievances that occur during a software implementation. With a well mapped-out plan for how these items will be addressed, all parties are able to effectively manage the implementation process to reduce the risks associated with such a large scale project and ensure a smooth transition.
Software implementations of all kinds require a high level of change management and involvement from strategic leadership. However, in the case of a transit software implementation that involves a labor union, it only increases. There will undoubtedly be bumps along the way and hurdles to overcome, but keeping the end in mind and remembering to over-communicate with union officials, proactively engage with drivers to gain the necessary buy-in and support, and develop a sound risk mitigation strategy to minimize the resistance and risk associated with operational transformations will aide in the seamless execution of a transit software implementation.