Posts Tagged 'productivity'

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!


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!

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

Wake up call for Gen Y workforce

Achtung! Wake up kids, it’s a new ball game!  Listen closely now, I’ve got a new word to add to your vocabulary….layoff.

Making my rounds as a small business consultant, in the past 90 days, I’ve noticed a perceptible change in the younger, less experienced workforce…the Gen Y folks in their early 20s. Now, I don’t want to make too much of this observation but…the new generation of workers is getting a rude awakening. No reason to repeat what you all know…times are tough. In some industries, real tough. And, compared to a just one year ago, layoffs are far more common.

Around the water cooler, staff members in the slowing home services business wonder…”Will I be next?”  As I said, to me, this newfound concern for job security is clear.

What does it mean? More importantly, what does it matter?  I believe those of us whose concern it is to manage and lead in tough times, have a real opportunity!  An older member of the management profession, I’ve seen it, lived it all before…backin the late 80s.  Recession then led to job cuts and more work for those who were kept on the team.  And, I must say, we learned alot about productivity, as delivered on a daily basis by concerned workers.

I suppose all I’m saying is….Maslow had it right! His well known “hierarchy of needs” theory is proven to be fact over and over again. Human beings react to the most urgent, most threatening situations in ways that preserve their lives and lifestyles. Nothing new here.  The point is, when people are worried about thier jobs, they tend to listen more closely to those who have the power to end their careers.  “What”, they wonder, “must I do to keep this job?” 

Smart leaders understand that, if only for a fleeting moment in time, Gen Y workers, self-possessed and focused on balance, flexibility and lots of control and immediate gratification in their lives, are going to pay more attention to how they can add value to the company.  This is a good thing!

Smart leaders will sieze the moment!  I’m not talking about grinding an extra 10 percent out of each frightened worker…I’m talking about teaching the new generation of workers how good they can be! Why? Because most have no idea how productive a person can be when focused on the task at hand vs. a consuming belief that life must be fun 24/7!

So, go for it boss! Crank up the training…have more team meetings. Let your best people know that, together, you will weather the recession and emerge a better, more productive team than ever before.

Teach your people to multi-task. Cross train everyone. Show people how good they can be and recognize the positive growth when you see it!

Let’s go America…time to turn off MSNBC and CNN…time to cut out the negative thinking….time to pull you team up by the boot straps! You can do it…your workers can do it….if you understand that it really does take an energized team approach to leading.

Go for it! After all…what is your next best option?

A Leader’s Secret Weapon

  “Can’t talk…gotta go”. 

 “Hey, boss, hang on…I got a question”.

 “I said I gotta go…upset customer”.

Humm….sound familiar?  Boss can’t talk to employee, has customer issue to resolve. And, of course, as we’ve all been taught, THE CUSTOMER COMES FIRST!  Or does he/she?

Take a closer look at how you really outght to run your business.  I have a slogan; I use it in all my triaining/consulting sessions. It goes like this: “CRM [Customer Relations Management] begins with ERM [Employee Relations Management].  Get my point?

I don’t care what business you are in, if you have customers, you need to focus on serving them in a special way.  If you don’t, in this economy, with choices galore, they will disapprear like the morning fog.

So, how do we successfully serve, retain and profit from our customer base? Through our people.

If you want happy customers, start by building a culture that includes and is based on happy people. “Can’t be done these days”, you say.  Wrong. It can is is being done…today.

Without a long explanation, suffice to say that a primary cause of business failure, is a preceding failure to focus on your key resouce, the human resource.  We work real hard on planning, figuring out how to execute, etc. But, when it comes to the people on whom we depend to make it happen, we spend little time and attention to ensure success. Period.

A moment on something I learned as a young, know-nothing econ student; The Pareto Principle. All who sell, or have ever sold anything, have heard of it.  Still, if the PP is unfamiliar, let me lay it out as concisely as possible.

In 1906, an Italian eonomist named Vilfredo Pareto, while studying the laws of distribution [how things are naturally spread out], discovered something important. Simply, that a majority [he figured about 80%] of the value of time spent and effort expended, came from a minority [he fiuured about 20%] of the things we do.  We get most of the return on our time and effort from a very few things we do during a typical day, week, month or year. Lately, this distribution principle has been termed, The Pareto Principle.

The lesson, to a young sales rep is, figure out who your highest potential customers are and spend you time with them. Don’t waste time on the masses that return little in payback for time invested.

The PP can be applied to management time in any business, as well. Ask do you spend your day….on things or on people?  Because people are tougher to deal with and control than things or tasks, we tend to gravitate to things we can control. Even familiar problems precede dealing with our people in terms of the percieved degree of difficulty and discomfort. So, for most managers/leaders, people come second.  The team comes second.

Now, that would be fine…except for one’s our people who enable us to succeed, to reach management and company objectives.  No doubt about it…as good old Vilfredo learned, you will get more bang from your time use and focus buck when you spend it on high payback activities that involve people!

What kind of activities? Oh, let’s start with recruiting, attracting the best in your business segment. Then, how about training them; ensuring they succeed, which, of course is hugely motivating to the worker, leading to greater productivity and lower staff turnover. And how about follow up coaching; reinforcing learning to form strong productive habits? Am I getting through?

Stop focusing on things, spend your time with your people and the investment will be returned 10 fold.

Smart managers and leaders know the secret to success…the secret weapon; the Pareto Principle.

Training On The Job

The busier you are, the tougher to schedule pure ‘training time’.  For years, I’ve encouraged the use of ‘small bite’ training in the form of Monday morning meetings or, as they are known in landscaping, ‘tail gate’ sessions. 


To really change behavior, your training technique must be more than effective in the classroom; it must easy to use on the job.  Recently, working in the field with a new hire, I was reminded of the necessity to ‘teach not tell’.  As I attempted to explain what seemed like a simple task, I recognized the unmistakable stare of a new employee who had no experience and didn’t really get my message.  In a hurry, I repeated the message… “Just do it the way I told you to,” I repeated.  For the second time, the new person failed to properly perform the task.  While it might seem obvious, I realized that I had forgotten a cardinal training rule… “Teach don’t tell”.  I had not taken time to DEMONSTRATE the expected performance and relied on words to communicate.


Every now and again, I have to remind myself that we are visual learners.  Experts have shown that as much as 85% of our knowledge is gained visually, while only about seven or eight percent comes through the spoken word.  In sales training sessions, I have often taught learners that “words create pictures” and that communicating on the phone requires the effective use of language and speaking skills.  But there is no question that SHOWING BEATS TELLING every time.


Here is a simple process you can use to train effectively; I call it the “AC/DC” process. 

  1. ACTIVITY performed.  Assuming the trainee has received proper advance instruction, have the trainee perform the task or “activity”.
  1. CRITIQUE.  Observe the action, reinforce proper procedure, identify any changes needed.
  2. DEMONSTRATE.  Perform the proper procedure for the trainee.  Show, don’t just tell!
  1. CRITIQUE.  Again, observe and critique.  Be sure you reinforce proper procedures…explain and demonstrate any corrections indicated.


That’s it…AC/DC!  A training/coaching process that’s easy to remember, easy to use.


Just a note about the critique: It’s important to let the trainee know what he/she is doing right!  If you are talking only about what it wrong, the message is “you are a loser”.  Complimenting satisfactory performance is important to keep the message positive.  Remember, when a trainee feels they are making steady progress, they will be motivated to continue learning.  That, of course, is the objective.


Finally, readers may know by now that my view of the trainer’s responsibility is that we trainer’s are responsible to not only teach job skills but to help ensure that employees are willing and able to execute what they have learned…and do so consistently. In a later post, we’ll explore training techniques that will help get your crew through the busiest months of your business season.  But why wait?  Start thinking now about the need to plan and show your concern for the physical and emotional condition of your team members.









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.