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It's All About People

It's All About People
Rx for winning or losing in the service industry

Every day, experts analyze the factors that impact business success. And every day, managers in our lawn care industry and in many others develop business strategies with the same basic resource list.

It doesn't seem all that difficult, until they encounter the most critical resource of all, the human resource.

Example: Manager's Checklist for Success

  • Business/personal objectives clarified-check!
  • Market niche (need) identified-check!
  • Mission statement on paper-check!
  • Business plan complete-check!
  • Marketing strategy set-check!
  • Capital-check!
  • Physical plant/equipment-check!
  • Vendors/suppliers-check!

Human resources necessary to execute

This planning sequence is very typical. Most landscape and lawn care managers can work out a logical plan and have the best intentions. But the trouble is, it all seems to unravel when we get to the people part.

Is there an answer, a strategy that will help managers succeed through people in the world of the 21st century? In a word, yes.

Is it quick, easy, manageable, and will it fit into my already overloaded day? In a word, no.

Managers have two choices: Adapt to the realities of the 21st century labor market or continue suffering more frustrating failures.

Effective people wanted

First, let me state the obvious-no service business can realistically expect to reach objectives or maximize results without an EFFECTIVE people strategy, period. Operative word: EFFECTIVE. Service is demanded by, designed by and delivered by people.

Again and again we see the failed efforts of good people. And, again and again we are forced to conclude that, if the people plan flops, the business plan flops.

But hold on-is it really that critical, that big a deal? After all, everyone knows at least one business manager who has survived some sort of horrific staff problem and gone on to succeed. True, some do make it in spite of human resource problems. But believe this-they never, ever maximize results. Fact; you cannot execute (or grow) nominally, without a trained, effective staff. No team can.

So, what's the answer? Give me the quick answer, you say. This is America, the information age-business is booming-give it to me fast so I can get back to work!

I've learned several things for sure:

  • Developing a core of effective team players doesn't happen overnight.
  • Staffing must be an ongoing process. It takes time and effort- lots of personal, hands-on effort and a little luck to boot.
  • This people problem didn't develop quickly and it won't be solved that quickly.
  • In some cases, management's perspective on what it takes to develop and maintain a long-term, productive staff in the service industry must be rethought.

Example: Recently I spoke with a struggling manager, working hard to make spring a success and finding his only real problem to be people. The marketing worked, the weather was as predicted, trucks, equipment and product ready and waiting. Then, as the work increased, so did turnover. His response, "Run the ad." Sadly, his ad had lots of company in the classifieds. "You must do more," I advised. "No time now," he shot back, "we're getting behind, gotta put the fires out!"

Can you guess what happened next? He spread the same workload over fewer people and more people quit. And so it goes. Year after year, managers repeat to themselves "I’m all staffed up…" and cross their fingers, hoping their worst fears won't come true.

The problem: they're staffed up with the wrong people. Warm bodies, while appearing to be adequate, only do one thing predictably—drain your labor budget!

Like I said, you have to do more than run-the-ad.

Recruitment doesn't come easy

Let's talk more about the difficulty in attracting the best people. I have to admit, football players once lined up for Woody Hayes, Bear Bryant, Joe Paterno and yes, even John Madden! Lots of people wanted to be on their teams. These days, it seems nobody wants to be on our team. Recruiting the right stuff is tougher.

Still, I've observed that for every prize (especially a prize considered worth having), there is a contender in pursuit. In that respect, the game is the same. What has changed is the public's perception of our industry. For me, that perception is part reality and part fiction. For a job candidate, the vision of a career in the service industry is cloudy at best and that is precisely where we need to go to work.

Let me restate a fundamental belief: The people problems in the service industry have nothing to do with an absence of good or adequate people. Fact is, there are just as many good people around today as at any time in this country's labor history —maybe more.

THEY DON'T WANT OUR JOBS! That is the single most distressing problem we face.

It's also our greatest opportunity.

In the past few years, why has the 18–25 year-old labor segment been turned off to our industry? Are you sure it's as simple as nobody wants to work anymore? I'm not sure of that, and I've seen enough to know I'm right about this.

Take a minute to review some of the reasons younger workers don't want our jobs, especially landscape and lawn care jobs, or why they take those jobs, then quit.

A couple of key reasons include:

Our industry has changed and our jobs have changed with it. In the glory days of lawn care service:

  • four applications per year (not six to eight) were the norm;
  • little or no aeration or seeding;
  • few bothersome customer calls;
  • not having to sell more and more, with very little telemarketing; practically anyone could hold a job in our business and do the work at a reasonable pace (in a reasonably pleasant work environment with business enough for all who wanted it).

We've evolved

Landscape and lawn care firms, once operating in a simpler world (less stressful for employees and managers alike) now face more irritating and confusing regulations, some of which relate directly to our ability to be productive through people.

One example comes to mind. In some states, even if you are able to hire effectively, veteran employees are routinely given excessively high daily production goals (creating instant alienation), while the new hire proceeds through what can be weeks of required "training" before qualifying for the certification test. Fail the test and they face still another month of waiting. While all this is going on, your best person quits. "It's just not worth it," he says, on his way out the door. So regulations needed or not, have impacted our workplace.

There is fierce competition at both ends of the competitive spectrum.

New business entrants (sometimes former employees), offer extreme personal service at one end, while large conglomerates at the other end deal out lower prices, made possible through economies of scale. The result: Everyone is squeezed to work harder, offer better service and charge less! We are forced to push productivity harder than we ever have before, while insisting that our employees take time to do a better job.

And in many cases, we are failing to do anything more than manufacture turnover. While the few really large companies do realize increased productivity through customer route density using the latest equipment and technology, most jobs in our industry have evolved into a succession of endless, pressure-packed days with few Saturdays off and an atmosphere completely different than the one some actually enjoyed 20 years ago. Today, job candidates that give us a close look now push the reject button and go elsewhere.

With the unprecedented 20+ year economic expansion we are enjoying, high school, tech school and four-year degreed graduates now have the largest variety of career options in history. Candidates we were once able to attract and keep (when our industry was in its initial period of growth and expansion) see what most now feel is a limited opportunity with a lot more work and less leisure time than before, and they simply opt out, partly just because they can.

Let's attack the people problem

First, we are going to attack what I call our mistakes along the way. We can make great strides in improving our human relations status if we work to correct four basic mistakes or shortcomings. In today's labor market, these problem areas are at the root of our troubles:

#1 Unclear messages

I implied above that the public's perception of the service industry as a career destination has become negative. Changing that starts with individual managers and business operators. Sadly, I've observed too many managers have no clear self image as a person or a manager. Start there. If you are not totally clear about and comfortable with who you are and what you and you business stand for, how can you expect to communicate it to a job candidate surveying the field of opportunities for the perfect fit? If you are one of those who still thinks people work for money alone, guess again. These days, much more is required to attract and keep people and it all begins with a clear, communicable picture of what you are all about.

#2 Poor recruiting efforts

For many reasons partly related to the image problem, we may be ineffective recruiters, and that must change.

#3 Weak priorities

Too often, we are consumed by putting out fires - failing to correctly prioritize our time and efforts. We can do better and spend our time better.

#4 Poor environment

Finally, we don't maintain a positive workplace environment for our people, and we must do that if we want to improve our lot.


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