Archive for November, 2009

Building a training culture…worth the effort!

I direct this article toward small businesses that want to develop a training culture, create or access and deliver programs that maximize productivity and profit.

 Two facts are important.  First, untrained people typically fail or, at best, under-perform.  Their mistakes and omissions lower your service level, damage your image in the marketplace and eventually, cost you money.  Second, if you don’t devote significant time and resources to building and administering a serious teaching program, building staff skills isn’t easy.  So, we have a need to train and a challenge in making it happen.

 Below are some practical suggestions that will enable the smallest business to train more effectively.

 Designate someone who cares.  Training is a management responsibility.  Still, managers may not always be available to deliver training.  Rather than try and fail because you are too busy, delegate. Use training as a development tool for your most quality oriented team member.  Choose someone who shares you beliefs about doing the job right.  While this is the person who will build your training program, he/she need not be an expert.  Most of the info you’ll need is readily available.  Your ‘trainer’ must focus equally on task completion and on the people who make it happen. Effective and enthusiastic communication is mandatory.  Select the trainer accordingly.

  • Organize topics in ‘need to know’ sequence.  Limit initial training objectives.  Begin with the job description.  What is it the employee must know or be able to do first?  Begin your training there.  Teaching in a logical need-to-know sequence, according to job requirements, will improve retention of the information and make more sense on the job.  Information I’ll call “nice to know”, while often more interesting to the trainer, tends to reduce clarity for new people and can be confusing.  Trainees must understand what is important now.   
  • Plan training in ‘small bites’.  Spend some initial development time re-formatting important but often boring information.  Emphasize most important points and critical knowledge in concise, easy to understand ‘bites’ or learning modules.  New hires cannot and will not absorb extensive information.  Initial training should allow the new hire to begin successfully, accomplishing small tasks, one at a time. Do not attempt to create a subject matter expert in a week or two.  Not only is limited ‘small bite’ training easier to absorb and translate to behavior on the job, it is easier for a new trainer to create and deliver.   
  • Use available and inexpensive resources.  In today’s “green industry”, whether your business is focused on design and build, maintenance, landscape or lawn care, the information you need is out there.  One of the first tasks for your new ‘trainer’ should be to network with established and respected companies and trainers in the industry.  Take advantage of the work others have done to pull together necessary information.  You will find most of us are ready to help.  Here are other great resources:

*Pesticide safety/use topics – OSHA website and state extension services.

*Environmental stewardshop – EPA websites [federal and state]

*Driver safety – National safety council, local/state police and for profit training producers [“Google” the topic, you’ll be amazed at the choices available]. 

*Equipment and product use – Manufacturers provide this info in video and written form.

*Plant/pest relationships – Your state extension service is a great resource and all information is free!

*Sales/customer service – “Train the Trainer” seminars can equip your trainer to deliver these topics. Programs are available and can be customized to your needs.

 Finally, remain active in your national and local associations. Take advantage of the resources provided. 

 Many operators just like you have used training to help build a culture of quality

and professionalism.  Why not join the club!


Celebrate Winners, Dump Losers…NOW!

As the year winds down, I want to remind everyone that the customer, while vital, is only half our management audience.  After a long, tiring season full of challenges and hard work, we all need to think about the players on our teams.  If you’re honest, you’ll face the fact that, in every company, on every team, there are winners and losers.

 Oh, I understand that you appreciate your good performers, the ones who show up each day, follow training procedures and meet expectations.  You are surely grateful for every helpful customer communication at the door, on the landscape or via a hand-written note.  And we all love those who hit goals consistently.  But gratitude and appreciation will not amount to much unless you communicate those positive feelings in a meaningful way to your winners.  Take it from me; you CAN make a difference in the way you are perceived by your staff.

 So, now is the time to let your staff know how you feel about their work.  After the Thanksgiving holiday, front line workers in our business begin to assess the year and wonder….was it worth it? Should I stick around after I get my year end bonus?

 If people feel appreciated and understand that you consider them to be important contributors to overall company results, they will be more motivated to stay on and become smarter, more productive veterans next season.  Make that happen now.

 Do the following to maximize positive motivation now:

  • Have a private, one-on-one discussion with each individual on your team.  Review their contribution and verbally acknowledge their personal importance on your team.  Give examples of positive performance that made a difference.  When people feel important their self image and confidence is enhanced.  Do this in private, maybe over lunch or a beer.
  • Look for ways to help people grow.  All of us are motivated as we feel more knowledgeable and useful.  Now is the time to determine which people you can grow with next year.  Who has the skill to grow?  Which people have expressed an interest in learning more, taking on greater responsibility?  When you decide, your next step is to provide additional training.  That can be accomplished through cross-training with other team members or attending educational seminars and events.  Pick topics you know will help and follow up to be sure the learning was taken seriously.
  • Ask each team member how you can be a better leader.  The very fact that you show an open willingness to hear feedback, positive or negative, is important to employee motivation.  If people with ‘issues’ feel you are attempting to make improvements, it makes a big difference in attitude.

What about the ‘others’?

 As you embrace your winners, this is also the time to get rid of those who are either unwilling to meet your expectations and/or are simply negative players.  DO NOT go into the new-year with them aboard!

 If you have provided appropriate job skill training, followed up with coaching on the job and allowed a fair amount of time for the employee to meet reasonable expectations, you have met your management leadership obligation.  Everyone doesn’t succeed. Your obligation is now to the overall success of your team.

 This I know, if you’ve done your best to train and provide inspirational leadership…and still have a loser on your hands, it’s time to cut bait. Hoping and praying for an attitudinal ‘turn around’ is a lot like buying a lottery ticket and expecting to win.  Get the ‘losers’ off your team now. 



Increased productivity delivers greater profit…every time!

Read the post title. Are you surprised? Didn’t think so. Question: If increasing productivity is a cinch to boost the bottom line, why don’t we spend more time doing it? Simple answer; most managers are so wrapped up in getting from the beginning to the end of each mulit-tasked day, they will tell you they “just don’t have the time to stop and make changes.” Besides, if you push the conversation, what you’ll hear is…. “people hate to change…it’s always negative.”

So, here we are. Companies that had great 2009 performance did it one way..they became more productive. And you can too! Inertia can be a real negative. Doing what we’ve always done because…well, because we’ve always done it…is silly. Personally, I really enjoyed 2009! That is true because I spent it working with positive owners and managers who chose not to participate in the “hard times”. One point of view explains, nine out of 10 consumers was really not significantly impacted by the recession. If true, we focus on selling what they will buy…value. And we target those with the ability and desire to move forward, heads way, way out of the sand!

And, to a person, my clients found ways to be more productive; often taking a lower top line revenue performance into a stronger than every bottom line! So, skip the push back folks, it can and is being done.

In early December, I will be presenting at the Ohio Turfgrass Foundation’s conference, in Columbus, Ohio. One of my topics will be “How to Increase Productivity through Effective Front Line Supervision.” In the presentation, I’ll drive home four principles; principles learned not from some egg head’s  or psychological survey but from my 25 years of working out in the field, where the action is, with front line supervisors and their senior management.

This is really not the place for excessive details so, I’ll hope to whet your appetite by just listing four principles I have observed, participate in executing and learned to be valid:

1. Individual productivity [leading to team productivity] begins with the hiring process. We don’t spend enough time or energy on recruiting people with whom we can win.

2. Reasonable expectations and procedures must be set, understood and accepted by all. We are task managers. We set the same goals for everyone, regardless of what tools are in their tool kit. We treat people as clones of a job description…a straw man who never really exists. And people struggle, fail, burn out and quit or are terminated.

3. Initial socialization, training and transition to routine [real world] activity will impact results…100% of the time. Why do we believe training is optional? Da! Smart, trained people are more engaged and productive, always.

4. Individual activity and performance [to the smallest detail] must be tracked with appropriate supervisory reaction on a daily basis [using the common sense coaching process]. I know, we don’t have time. Wrong!

So, these are the principles I’ll discuss. Will it matter? If I’m lucky, maybe one in 10 will react. Not very productive, is it!