December 1, 2011
By Brian Clegg
There are many challenges facing today’s landscape professionals, from keeping up with new design trends and technologies to the tried and true dilemmas of time management and weather-related issues. However, after more than 47 years in the landscape industry, the most common issue I hear about from landscape business owners is they can’t find good people to install their work.
Landscape shows abound with seminars on business-related topics, such as annual budgeting, estimating, computerizing and company profiling, to name just a few. These elements of the business are no doubt important and very necessary; in fact, one might consider them the ‘brains’ of the company, without which it could not function, let alone turn a profit. The key, however, to a truly successful landscape business is combining those brains with the ‘heart’ of the company—its employees, the people who turn the landscape design concept into reality and without whom work would never get done. Landscapers need to be as passionate about this element of their business as they are with the nuts and bolts or facts and figures.
Driving through communities across Canada, magnificent landscapes are not difficult to find. Mother Nature creates some of these impressive backdrops, but dedicated and creative landscapers create most of them.
When faced with evidence of skill and craftsmanship, it is clear the Canadian landscape industry is filled with good, hardworking, talented individuals. The questions then become how will the industry sustain and encourage the present generation of landscapers—and, just as importantly, how will it ensure new employees have the right skills to become the experts the industry will require going forward?
First and foremost, all employees of a landscape company must have at least basic training on the different elements of the business. There are obviously many great programs and courses available through Canadian colleges and provincial trade groups such as Landscape Ontario, which can teach the fundamentals of landscaping to young and old alike. However, education alone is not enough.
Mentorship and continuing education are the other side of this equation. When I was starting out in the business, I was very fortunate to have a mentor and phenomenal teacher to show me the ropes—Glen Curran of Curran’s Landscapes. While younger landscapers may not appreciate it at the time, passing along lessons learned can be the best possible gift for an employee. I often reflect on what Glen taught me; his training has definitely served me well throughout my career, both professionally and personally. Now, as experienced professionals, it is time for today’s landscapers to do the same for their teams.
Landscape business owners and managers must teach all their employees what it takes to be a great landscaper. Once the basic training has been established, the lessons one learns on the job can help the next generation chart their own career paths—and help grow the companies they work for at the same time. In addition to conducting business with integrity and honesty (a must both professionally and personally), the following principles can help landscape professionals build and improve their teams while strengthening their overall business.
Most managers have a certain motivational style. Some take a fear- or intimidation-based approach; however, screaming at employees to achieve production goals will surely backfire over time. Others choose short-term motivators, such as pay raises (above and beyond cost of living increases).
The key, however, to keeping employees inspired is to give them a reason to want to come to work every day. These motivational methods will work to encourage employees much longer than the promise of a big paycheque or the fear of being yelled at by the boss. A happy worker is a productive worker—and a productive worker is a profitable one.
Make each day fun for workers; this creates a great atmosphere on the job site and helps keep energy levels up, even on tough days. It is also important to challenge every member of the crew and, to some extent, involve them in all aspects of the project. This fosters a positive team dynamic, as everyone feels as though they are doing their part to achieve a common goal. If you get requests from employees to be moved to a particular crew, look closely at the communication style of the foreman they ask to work with. Odds are this individual demonstrates positive motivational skills. As a business owner, it is always encouraging to see leaders motivating crews. In fact, this can serve as inspiration for the business owner as well.
Some of the best people on a landscape crew are not the ones with the most technical skills; they are the ones who can best organize a job site and keep things running smoothly.
It is important for landscape business owners to identify these key individuals, as they can perform essential duties, such as determine project tasks and deadlines and motivate the rest of the work crew, even when the owner is not around.
Great leaders can come from unexpected sources. Look at, learn from and listen to your colleagues and employees. Often people hold back from demonstrating their leadership potential due to personality issues, such as insecurity or low self-esteem. With a little reassurance, encouragement and guidance, these employees can achieve their full potential.
Proper and professional communication is the key to success with both staff and clients. Sometimes owners get too busy and forget to listen, but everyone needs to feel important (because they are).
No matter who the employee is or what level he or she is working at, everyone needs—and deserves—a ‘pat on the back.’ From the labourer who is packing the truck to the lead hand who is learning and working at the same time, a simple ‘thank you’ from the boss can go a long way. It is all about relationship management and appreciating those who contribute to the final result, from the design concept to the realization of the client’s dream.
Conversely, the wrong word or attitude from a leader can demoralize the entire team. No matter how stressful or dire the situation, it is important to handle all situations professionally. Attitude is what we bring to work every morning and what we take home to our families at the end of every day—but it is also a choice we make. Ensuring the pressures of the day do not take over your mental state is extremely important to relationships and productivity.
Also remember that while the properties landscapers work on are jobsites, they are also the clients’ homes. It is the owner’s job to ensure all employees are aware of this. It is also important to communicate to the client how the job will impact their life. This will lead to better relationships with the client and demonstrates that the company truly cares.
Once a solid team is built, it is important to continue nurturing it. One of the primary ways this can be done is with ongoing training. Whether it is hands-on or classroom- or seminar-based, this must happen on a day-to-day basis if a company is to move forward. Every team member needs to be responsible for learning and applying new techniques. By making training a top priority, new skills can be developed by all—and new leaders can emerge.
Training must also extend to the company’s health and safety policies. The welfare and well-being of employees must be of utmost concern. In addition to the obvious goodwill health and safety protocols establish with employees, a comprehensive policy can also prevent negative impacts, such as local labour authorities stopping work on a job site in which unsafe practices are being used. This can result in a financial burden on both the employees and employer, as fines can and will be issued. Health and safety is not something to be taken lightly. Landscape business owners have an obligation to their staff, clients and themselves to follow regulations properly.
The team must also learn to stay focused on the job at hand—don’t overthink the project, just get it done. Processes and plans are a fundamental part of any successful landscape business, but ensuring the employees are working smartly and efficiently to get the job done is just as essential. Learn to trust your intuition and teach employees to do the same. Sometimes, even the best-laid plans can be trumped by a simple gut instinct.
By taking these lessons seriously, landscape professionals can build strong teams and great working relationships. This will not only translate into a healthier company, but also a happier personal life.
As an employee of Allweather Landscape Co. Ltd., for the past 24 years, Brian Clegg has mentored many landscapers on all elements of the business. For the last 14 years, he has worked as a project manager, where he has focused on developing leaders. Brian has been involved with Landscape Ontario for more than 15 years, where he has served on the board and conducted various seminars. He has also taught at Toronto’s Humber College for the past two years. Brian can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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