June 15, 2010

By Jacki Hart CLP
Prosperity Partners program manager

Jacki HartI am writing this article while I watch one of my landscape maintenance crews working outside of my office window. They are focused, smiling, working together and engaged with interest in what they are doing. They are demonstrating positive work energy. This makes me REALLY proud – and I know that the behind-the-scenes work it took to build this team has resulted in a more prosperous balance for everyone in my business.

By contrast, yesterday I was at the local municipal office, and watched a group of employees working on cleaning up the grounds. They were clearly not interested in what they were doing. They seemed unorganized, tossing tools around carelessly, moving on to a new area before completing their original job. They worked independently of each other, and in effect, made the work harder by not working together as a team. Their body language screamed, ‘I don’t like my job.’

At this frantically busy time of year, every business owner needs staff members engaged, energized, focused and productive. If every morning presents challenges in scheduling (i.e. staff not showing up), work flow and productivity, it wears the boss down dealing with many stressful situations. For example, one of my peers is struggling right now with staff problems: he has very few returning or experienced employees, several new ones who are untrained, and several new ones who quit within the first few weeks. Now he’s pulling his hair out wondering why he works so hard to sell work and then have staff bail on him. So here he is in May, short-staffed, and dealing with problems caused by poor service delivery, because the employees don’t understand the culture of client service in his business. Sound familiar?

In order to manage the balance between business, family and sanity, it’s important to step back in the flurry of staff issues and ask this fundamental question: Would you work for you? Without creating a clear sense of what’s in this job for me (i.e. opportunity, education, skills, pride) and what’s in this work for us (camaraderie, co-operation, friendship, accomplishment) – the boss will struggle with creating a productive, effective and collaborative team.

I can almost hear what you are thinking, “Oh sure Jacki, thanks for piling more on my plate!” Well, what I know for sure is that if you force yourself to slow down and ask your staff what energizes them, what they want to learn, and what they enjoy doing at work, it is well worth the effort. I am not suggesting that you take a poll, and then allow them to do whatever pleases their fancy. I am suggesting putting yourself in their boots. If you worked for you, what would demonstrate to you that the boss has an interest in you personally, and wants to see you succeed?

Engage your team

In order to engage your team, you have to engage yourself in their journey within your company. First, filter out the wrong-fit ones. These are the ones who no matter what you offer, they will grumble, bring personal baggage with them every day, and undermine the enthusiasm of others. Dump them. Fast.

If you don’t believe me, consider this: You can get far more work accomplished with two really enthusiastic, engaged people than with four who are indifferent, going-through-the-motions employees. This little gem of insight came from my staff. And I know this because I asked them. And I continue to ask them every time we (supervisors) collaborate to make a firing decision. The temptation is always to keep the warm body so that you won’t be short-staffed. Stop thinking that way! Without the wrong-fit troublemakers, your team will hold each other accountable for pace and productivity in a positive way. They want their day of work to run smoothly. They want to have fun and enjoy their job. They want to learn. They want to exceed targets. They don’t want unfocused, lazy, whining team destroyers in their midst. Who would?

Here’s how this approach can work for you: This morning I took a crew of four through a property, gave them details of the work for the day. I made a quick sketch of the property, numbered each work area, and then on a separate page, listed the tasks for each area. They were each given a copy of the instructions. I invited questions, as we went around the property reviewing the tasks for the day. It took me 20 minutes in advance to complete a quick sketch and list, and another 10 to walk them through it. They will work collectively for 40 hours – it took me 30 minutes total to set them up. They won’t disturb me throughout the day with questions, and they are working with engagement, collaboration and effective productivity.

This team has taken ownership of the project at hand, because I have given them the confidence of knowing what is required. They are trained to do the work, and together they have organized themselves for work flow and efficiency. I spelled out the whole day to them, and between them they chose a balance so that those who like working in gardens are doing that part, and those who prefer pruning and hard landscape tasks are focused there. For example, the first hour they worked to mulch a steep rockery area by using a bucket brigade technique to move mulch up through the gardens as a team. It was the most difficult part of the task list, so they chose to do it together and first, while energy was higher. They could have put one person on that task, and that one person would have spent four grueling hours to get the job done. Instead, they approached it as a team so that no one person would have to do the least desirable job alone.

When you create an opportunity for autonomy with safety, a sense of interest, pride and collaboration, your whole team — including you — will feel more prosperous and in balance with your work/life cycle. It’s not easy, but it’s also not rocket science. It’s simply, clear lines of communication, safety (knowing that they have all the info they need to get the job done properly), inspiration, team spirit and pride. It starts with the boss learning how to get the cultural foundation of your business clear and humming. Start with the Build Your Prosperity program.

If you haven’t yet taken the Prosperity Partners Build Your Prosperity seminar, the next dates are:
Ottawa, July 19, instructor, Tim Kearney CLP
London, July 27, instructor, Jacki Hart CLP
Milton, July 28, instructor, Jacki Hart CLP

Make the time to come in from the frantic pace of your business, and get a handle on your journey to prosperity. Go to www.horttrades.com/prosperity to learn more.

Jacki Hart may be reached at prosperity@landscapeontario.com.