Management Lessons from the Haul Road

In my experience, students are engaged and learn more easily when they are able to discuss case studies and explore real examples of the art and science of management. Although students seem to enjoy examining cases from my work as an administrator, illustrations of sound—and often unsound—management practice can be found in many interesting places.

One of my current sources of case material is the television show “Ice Road Truckers” (IRT), which airs on the History Channel. Filmed in the arctic regions of Alaska and Canada, IRT depicts extraordinary men and women driving trucks that carry fuel, food, equipment and buildings over frozen lake and ocean water, snow and ice packed hills, and slick curves seemingly too narrow to pass. A glimpse into this raw environment enables us to observe supervisory, disciplinary and administrative decisions made under extreme conditions.

One IRT case chronicled the journey of a new employee. He’d made his way to Alaska for the opportunity to earn substantial money for his family. He also wanted to prove he had the skill needed to master the dangerous terrain. Although he was an experienced driver in the southern States, he was a rookie on the haul road. Unfortunately, he ran into trouble from the moment he arrived and was fired just weeks before the ice road season ended. If his reaction was genuine, we can conclude his termination came as a surprise to him. Issues discussed in case analysis included:

  • The impact of organizational culture in employee engagement.
  • The role of orientation and training in job retention.
  • The effect of discipline versus plans of corrective action on employee morale and productivity.

Developing cases from pop culture, the movies, television shows and music our students recognize fosters interest. It also facilitates active learning and creates an innovative and enjoyable classroom environment.

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