Posts Tagged 'economy'

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!


2010 Starts Now!

This may come as a shock to my friends and clients in the home services industry but…next year is here, now!

Sure, I know, we are just finishing this year…and we deserve a break. Sorry, no break..not now; not when only the best prepared will grow in this economy. So, you just gotta ask yourself, will I or won’t I be on the winner list this time next year?

If you are committed to growing, you have your work cut out for you. Sure, it can be done…I have numerous clients and contacts who have grown significantly this year. But it wasn’t an accident or quirk of fate. It was the result of planning, training, lots of hands-on follow up, tracking and reacting on a daily basis. Nothing short of that works.

But you can grow.

Next, if you are one of those sad soles who feels you’ve paid your dues, suffered through this recession and are celebrating Ben Bernanke’s decision that “the recession is largely over”, guess again. Ben deals with banks. You deal with homeowners and small businesses. And, flash! The recession is NOT “largely over”. Only a politican or economist would say a thing like that. So, together, we wil l face another tough selling season. You have to be ready..that is, unless you are content to backslide…something I find unacceptable.

If you know my history, you know I helped a small, growing service company grow in the recession of the late 1980’s. We learned that it can be done. But it doesn’t just happen. To succeed in 2010, you will need to be 10% better at everything you do. You will need to hire 10% better, train a tad more effectively, lead, track, react and coach 10% more effectively. So, take my advice…strart next year now! Don’t get lazy. Forget about the flush years past…this is a business war we are in and not all will make it. Be on the winner’s list.

My schedule is filling faster than ever…and that is becsause smart managers are preparing now for tomorrow.

Food for thought.

Get off the doom and gloom kick!

Flash! People are sick and tired of this recession. Over 90% of all Americans, those who want jobs, have them! And, despite what you hear, most have medical benefits too!

So, why are we hanging our heads? I’ll tell you; because the media is making hay, driving ratings scaring people to death! I don’t know about you but I’msick of it!

Don’t want to sound successful or anything not PC but…I bought a new 09 general motors car this year. And, low and behold…it’ still running! In fact, it’s a great car! So, life as we know it has not ended and, unless we let the sobbing, politically motivated pundits control our emotions, we can survive!

Let’s all decide to be positive for a change. We’ve been through tougher times….much tougher..and we’ve survived. And we can now. I’ve never Americans so down in the dumps without reason in my life. Don’t misunderstand…out of work is out of work. But, we can work through it if we go forward and get our heads out of the sand.

If you run a company, you’d better be showing a postive face 24/7. If you are an employee, representing a company, you’d better push back against consumers who are being sold the doom and gloom story. If we kick consumer spending in the rear, if we begin, again, to invest in the future, we’ll actually have one.

I know my positve view is not exactly typical but, I was part of a home serivce business during the 1987 recession..a tough time for the service business. I saw people pull in their horns and expect to fail. No surprise, they did! Self-fulfilling prophecy, I suppose. But my company did not! And my clients this time around are growing! Why, becasuse the refuse to buy into the media dribble which, in my view is mainly responsible for the malaise that has overtaken our country.

Good news! Our attitudes are ours! We can choose to be up…or down. Stay in the dumper if you must but, as for me..I’m not taking part in the negative recessionary doom and gloom any longer.

Gee, I feel better already!! How about you?

Marathon Thinking Develops People

I don’t know about you, but if I had $10 for each time I’ve heard “nobody wants to work anymore” or “there just aren’t any good people in this business anymore,” I’d be rich.

Let’s set the record straight. First, neither statement is true! There are hard workers out there and there are lots of good people. The negative perception about workers is driven by two main factors: first, in today’s Green Industry, we tend to ask more of our people than in the past. Second, we fail to adequately prepare our people to multi-task at desired levels.

Why has this happened? The basic cause is that we have been forced to stretch as never before to make a decent profit.

Costs are higher; profits are shrinking. How does one recoup the deteriorating bottom line? Simple: Get more for each labor dollar.

The thought process has gone like this: “Gee, I can’t make a bag of fertilizer go any farther, and I can’t get nursery stock any cheaper. My fuel costs are stable now, but still way up and equipment costs are still growing. But labor, my people — that’s got to be the answer. No, I can’t lower their pay, but I can increase my expectations, set goals higher and get more out of them.”

It has happened gradually, sort of a creeping escalation of goals and added activities. At first, we told ourselves that if we eased it on them — the higher goals, the more and different tasks — people might grumble. But since they don’t want to lose their jobs, they’d adapt.

For a while that strategy seemed to work. But there is a breaking point beyond which people just won’t go. In many companies, that point was reached and surpassed years ago. The result was predictable: higher turnover and, as word spread about the changing work environment, inability to recruit effectively. Over time, many of our best players left the industry. Hence, “there just aren’t any good people anymore.”

The question to be answered is this: How do we rebuild quality teams, filling chairs with motivated, productive workers at all levels — management included?

I believe in people-centered “Marathon Thinking.” The strategy is to build a true people culture in the business. The focus is on developing the people who deliver our services consistently, not on maximizing short term productivity. The term Marathon Thinking refers to a mind set and development process that begins with well-planned recruiting and training, goals based on individual skills and daily management aimed at achieving small, reachable daily goals followed by consistent recognition. It’s a matter of behavioral conditioning — and it works! You develop people, not in a week or two but over time, one controlled step at a time.

Sign up for the marathon
The premise is that a person who wants the job and understands how to perform tasks successfully, in a supportive world where recognition and appreciation are ongoing, will succeed. That early success will drive the motivation, then to do even more and better work.

Below are plan requirements that will allow you to win with your employees using this strategy:

  • Commit to re-focusing your business model on achieving goals through people. People must become your key resource and drive results. Without this commitment, you’ll waste your time.
  • Plan human requirements farther ahead. Evaluate current staff twice annually and be ready to upgrade in the fall, before winter hiring. Do not keep non-performers or negative people.
  • Establish an effective recruiting plan that communicates the good things about your business. Over time, build your company reputation locally by participating and supporting local events and letting people know your jobs are good jobs.
  • Build your training program to focus on just what the employee needs to know first. Do not try to teach more than the new hire can learn easily. Appoint a trainer who wants the job.
  • Follow initial training with repetitive on-the-job coaching, enhancing gradual learning.
  • Recognize and reward consistently.

For more information, contact me at

Look not to Obama for success in 09!

Expectations are way, way too high for a quick fix in 2009. We [our economy/our country] are in new and unchartered economic waters. Few alive today, very few,  have experienced, as adults,  the sort of distress. And it’s only just begun.

I’m old enough to recall my dad telling me over and over how Roosevelt and his “New Deal” in the 1930s, the government programs that were supposed to end the “great depression”, failed.  Sure, roads, bridges, lakes and damns were constructed. Sure, thousands went to work for their country.  Still, look at the facts…the economy DID NOT come back.

What brought us out of the depression was the second world war; the worst war in American history!  Sad…but undeniably true.

So, we can sit and dream, we can listen to politicians preach at us about the need for and sensibility of deficit funded  bail outs but…in the end, it’s not going to be enough.

I almost feel sorry for Obama.  This current economic crisis is not of his making. Leading us out of it, however, is now his responsiblity.  Problem is, he has so little significant control. That’s right, so little control.  About the most important thing he or any leader can do when faced with problems of this magnitude, is to act like a leader!

What he can do:

First, try doing what John Kennedy did in 1961…set an aspirational goal around which we can rally. Kennedy dazzled us with the space program. He made us believe we were good enough, smart enough to send a man to the moon and bring him back alive…”not because it’s easy but because it’s hard”.  So, Obama, Mr. almost President, do the same. Set an aspirational goal. And if you, my readers, are small business operators, you do the same. To be motivated, people need a cause.

Leaders unerstand that, when we focus on the big, overarching goal, the one that is a game changer, small problems and roadblocks fade away; they are handled as simply challenges to eliminate.

Next, find the best, most talented people to lead in focused, functinal areas. I believe Obama is doing this. But…politics have to be kept out of the staffing process. Great leaders understand that they only direct and inspire…and that it’s their people who make things happen. We must have the right people in the right jobs…and, in politics, that is not typical. So, Mr. Obama, buck the trend.

Now, give your “go team” the tools they need to make things happen. Playing with monetary and fiscal policy is a place to start but…you’ll have to go far beyond these overly complicated and slow to be effective government processes. You’ll need to get down in the weeds. Find out what the leaders need, give it to them..and do it quickly.

Then, Mr. President, we’ll need a a positive working environment. See to it that our smartest people interact , that they work together and share the best ideas, in an atmosphere that is all positive.

Most government programs are soon bogged down in red tape. Mr. Obama, you must cut it.  As he led the space program in the 60s, Kennedy cut the red tape, made the process efficient. It was essential to reaching the goal then and is now. So, facilitate the process, Mr. President.

And last…be a “hands-on” coach. Stay close to the action. Get out of Washington, DC! Get out there on the playing field with those on whom you depend to make change happen. Don’t let the status quo tie your hands. Great leaders, those who solve tough problems NEVER LOSE TOUCH WITH THE PEOPLE ON THE FRONT LINES!

If all this sounds a bit trite, that’s only because blog readers are impatient. I have to lay it out concisely or nobody will take the time, I fear, to read my thoughts.  But I know this, the process works.

So, will Obama save us? No. Can Obama quickly but carefully put in place a process of leadership that minimizes our time and national pain in the “recession”? You bet. Will he? My bet is…he’ll try.

Who will make the difference? You will; the American people. You always have and you will again. A positive belief and commitment the principles on which this country were built will be the base, the foundation of our movement out of this economic crisis.  Do we need strong, committed leaders? Sure. But who will do the heavy lifting? You and I.

Are you ready? I am. Let’s learn a lession from those brave souls on 9-11. Let’s roll!

In Tough Times, Smart Businesses Focus on Differentiation

I do lots of presentations on serving the customer.  And each time I begin, I see the faces up front, doubting, hoping, wondering “What is there about customer service that hasn’t been said, and said, and said again?”  “Please, don’t tell me to do what we all know I cannot do…make them love me!”

So, I ease into the topic.  “Why” I ask, “do you suppose customers fire us?” I get blank stares.  Savvy managers know it’s typically not anything we’ve done to the customer…it’s the total impact of the customer experience that deals the death blow.  I forge ahead.

“To understand why we are fired by our valued customers, we must look at how they became customers in the first place!”  I talk about how customers are sold; how we set expectations.  And I do that because that is the starting point for developing a serious reputation for service excellence.

Now, I’m a consultant working mostly in the home services industry…landscaping, lawn care, pest control, etc.  So, my clients typically don’t interact with customers face to face that often…unless of course, there is trouble. Then, half of them cancel service without ever letting us know of their dissatisfaction! Wow! What’s a service company to do? Is there a process that will translate into customer loyalty?  Briefly…sure.

This is a big topic.  For purposes of this post, I simply want to expose the topic and see what interest there is in exploring the process for building what I refer to as E-Service or, defined my way, E for excellence in service.

What is E-Service? My defininition is ‘doing whatever it takes to make each customer feel special.’  That’s it.  Not complicated but not easy either.

Is it possible? Yep, I work with businesses doing it every day.  How do they make it happen? Again, not complicated…but not easy either.  They go about the work of creating a true CULTURE OF EXCELLENCE.  It can and does happen. I see it, so, I know it’s real.
What are the requirements? First, and most vital to success, is a top down recognition that, without a reputation for service excellence in today’s service industry, you have one and only one thing to offer….price. And, as we all know, when you sell with price, you lose customers the same way…to the first ‘low baller’ who comes along and undercuts you.

It is possible to differentiate with service. This sort of differentiation is not new. Nordstroms and Southwest Airlines, each a representative of the high and low end products in their respective industries, have done it for decades.  So, it can be done.

In hard economic times…like the ones we face today and will in 2009, I believe it’s worth looking at creating added value through E-Service.  As I said, it involves and requires a paradigm shift for most organizations. Still, it can and is being done.  Some of initial moves are bullet pointed below.

  • Recognition that selling price leads to low quality sales and no customer loyalty.
  • Setting reasonable expectations is a must in the marketing-sales message.
  • The sales process must provide continuity with the marketing message and brand reputation.
  • Service delivery must mirror expectations set.
  • The E-Service company will subscribe to the philosophy that “If you see a problem, you own the problem.”
  • Service delivery and satisfaction levels are closely monitored. Results drive business tactics.
  • Employees are trained and cross trained to appreciate all team functions.
  • Communications skills are an absolute….and using them is NOT an option.
  • Customer ‘touch points’ are maximize and a personal, almost intimate relationship developed.
  • E-Service companies establish customer focused lines of authority and a reasonable escalation policy for problem-complaint resolution.
  • E-Service companies have a well thought out ‘service recovery’ process, ensuring that quick problem resolution resulting in complete customer satisfaction and brand strengthening.

These are a few of the skeletal fundamentals that are basic to the E-Service philosophy.  If you are interested, let me know it with a comment below.

Eliminating Team Busters – Landscaping business example

It’s a mid-summer Monday morning in Grassville.  You have just completed your regular team meeting, making assignments, recognizing top performers….steering the ship through another week in the green industry.


At this week’s meeting, you tried to emphasize your strong belief that if your small company does not deliver better, more personalized customer service than the competition, your business will suffer.  You talked about knocking on the door of each customer’s home, checking with homeowners every chance you get to identify any questions or problems that may need attention.  You talked about ‘doing the job right the first time’, to avoid unnecessary service calls. 


A quick survey of the crew’s faces signaled that they got the message.  Heads nodded agreement at every point.  You ended the meeting satisfied.


After the session, you watch over the day’s ‘start-up’, making sure the crew is organized and on the road, then turn your attention toward repairing the breakdown of an important spray rig.  In the middle of the job, missing some parts, it’s clear you’ll have to pick up some supplies to finish the job. 


Since another employee is using your pick-up, you borrow the Office Manager’s car and head for the store.  About a mile from the shop, you notice two of your vehicles at a Mickey D’s.  Strange…you provided all the necessary coffee and doughnuts the guys could eat only 20 minutes earlier…why Mickey D’s?  Why now?


Unable to arrive at a logical reason for their presence, you pull in.  Parking the unfamiliar car in the rear, you go in through the side door.


In the middle of the room, sitting behind a row of plants, are two of your people.  Interestingly, one is a new employee, on the job only a few weeks.  The other person is a long time veteran.  The two are absorbed in their conversation and don’t notice your arrival.


Like a stealth fighter, you slide undetected into a hidden seat opposite the row of interior plants.  Only five or six feet away and completely unaware, your two employees provide an easy-to-hear conversation.


What happens next should happen to all managers at least once in their careers.


Listening with growing interest, you become the uncomfortable witness to an all too common employee ‘mind set’ or attitude you’ve come to know as ‘The Team Buster’.  The ‘TB’, as you now refer to these insidious negative employees, can, if a very short time, eliminate positive thinking.  They create divisiveness and negative attitudes that can destroy a team’s morale, productivity and loyalty, leading to increased turnover.


As the conversation progresses, you find it hard to stay cool.  Tom, your six-year veteran is lecturing Anthony, your new employee.  In his monologue, he goes into great detail about his extensive experience working with customers.  He tells Anthony that ‘what you heard in the meeting is the typical bosses ‘take’ on customer service’.  With a superior sneer, Tom carefully outlines what he calls ‘the real world’, and lets Anthony know in plain terms that ‘what ‘he’ told us to do is what all ‘bosses’ try to get employees to do’.  Continuing, ‘these owners don’t do what we do kid…in fact, most of them haven’t touched a spreader or spray rig for so long, they wouldn’t know what to do with one’.  The lecture went on, ‘if you want to know how to get the job done…I mean hit your production goal and still have a life…I mean, you know, get out of here at a decent hour, here’s what you do’.  Then, Tom proceeded to undo all the instructions and training you have provided the new person.


By the time the bottom of the coffee cup was visible through the last drops of Mickey’s great brew, you new employee had been indoctrinated by ‘The Destroyer’.  He now understood that ‘knocking on the door wastes your time’, that ‘nobody’s home anyhow’.  He learned how to write little comments on invoices in advance because ‘doing it on the lawn takes too much time’.  Anthony had also been carefully instructed on how to answer the typical question ‘those stupid customer’s ask’, and why ‘all you really need to do is blow a little smoke at them and get outa there’.  Good old Tom didn’t miss a thing.  He even told the new man when, where and how to relieve himself in the bushes.  That part of the story he told with great pleasure, emphasizing that ‘if you are good enough, you’ll never get caught’.


Tough as it was, you controlled yourself in order to take it all in, until…until Tom began to describe his technique for observing specific female ‘sunbathers’ in his territory that ‘really make the job fun in the summer’.


That’s when the game ended.


You’ve had it.  You get up, approach the startled workers and say, _________________


This is where I am going to stop.


What do you say?  What would you say to a veteran like Tom?  What action would you take?  What damage was done?  Can the damage be repaired?  How long had this been going on?


Ask yourself, ‘has this happened in my operation’?  Could it happen to me?  How should I eliminate the threat posed by ‘The Team Buster?


Sooner or later, in every operation, you encounter a negative ‘Team Buster’


‘TB’s’ are negative people.  ‘Destroyers’, left in existence will poison your team. Eventually, ‘TB’s’ will lead to negative thinking followed by negative feelings and resulting in negative behavior.  These negative people will tear down your team’s morale and your business will suffer.


How to deal with ‘The Team Buster’


Set positive standards.  You have a clear right to run your business any way you choose.  That privilege includes establishing customer service attitudes as well as procedures.  And, your staff has a responsibility to meet your standards.


Your actions, in response to learning you have a destroyer on the squad, should be as follows:

·         REACT…AND REACT IMMEDIATELY!  Failure to react, hoping a negative person will ‘see the light’ and change ‘once things get less hectic’ never happens.  React now.

·         First, be certain you have clearly and effectively communicated exactly what your standards and expectations are.  Make 100% sure everyone understands what you expect.  Often, we assume our thoughts are clearly understood.  At times, the best of us may send mixed signals.  Under difficult circumstances, even the most committed of us may fail to live up to our own standards.  So, before you blame and take action, check out your training and communications effectiveness.

·         Next, convinced the employee knew how the job was to be done, conduct an immediate personal and private performance intervention interview.  Take the employee off the premises for a private meeting.  Do not discuss the details with other employees, do not draw conclusions in advance of your interview.

·         In the interview, review the training and communication you have provided, the instructions you have given.  Get the employee to acknowledge that he/she understood the ‘rules of the road’, the job performance standards.

·         Now, communicate the specific performance problem in detail.  Be specific, detailed and unemotional.  Confine comments to specific performance.  Do not attempt to analyze why the performance was unacceptable, just describe what actually happened. 

·         Ask the employee to explain his/her performance and give input.  Listen with an open mind.  Do not jump to conclusions and do not ‘bait’ the employee in order to prove your point.  In other words, stick to the facts.

·         Based on what you learn and assuming the performance was unacceptable, most managers believe the employee deserves at least one verbal and one written warning.  Depending on the severity of the unacceptable performance and it’s impact on your business, you may decide to terminate the employee on the spot.  If you decide to warn the employee, give the employee specific and detailed instructions on the type and level of performance you expect in the future, beginning immediately.  Do not argue, do not negotiate.  At this time, you are giving clear and non-negotiable instructions. 

·         Establish follow up performance ‘benchmarks’ and a time table for improvement.  Always follow up quickly.  As performance improves, performance checks can be made at increasingly longer intervals.


The worst thing any manager can do is NOTHING.  If you don’t like what you see or hear, only you, the manager in charge can bring about change.


Keeping ‘Team Busters’ off the team


Once stung, most managers react one of two ways.  They either develop the general opinion that ‘people just don’t want to follow directions’ and ‘they don’t make em’ the way they used to’, or they learn to keep a closer ‘ear to the ground’.  I prefer the second alternative.


Here are two specific things you can do to minimize the chance that a ‘TB’ will invade your staff through:

·         Require staff input as a part of the planning, problem solving process.  People are positively motivated and will work harder to succeed when they feel ownership in the process and objective.  You do not have to turn over the decision making or procedure establishment process to employees, but getting their ideas and input while you are developing your own thoughts will take advantage of the power of synergy. People working together with a common goal, will almost always make better decisions than even the smartest individual working alone.  Not only will group input in the process improve the quality of your planning, it will motivate employees, building ownership and loyalty.

·         Hold regular ‘one-on-one’ meetings with your staff.  Make them frequent, private and personal.  Ask questions that probe the employee’s mind.  Learn as much as possible about their overall level of satisfaction, their frustrations.  Be bold enough to ask your employees straight out, ‘how can I make your job a little bit easier’?  You do this to show you care about your people.   Once they know you genuinely care about them, they’ll care too.  People respond in their own way to work and stress.  The more you know about each individual, the better able you’ll be to deal with his/her issues and needs.