February 15, 2017
By Jacki Hart CLM
Prosperity Partners Program Manager

Jacki HartAt this time of year we look at options to improve our profitability, teams and market share. Many in our profession wade deep into newly-found resources; adapting to new software and apps and generally improving knowledge for the season ahead. Even our peers in the snow and ice management sector are busy tweaking their systems of tracking, predicting and responding to snow and ice events.

The true challenge lies in making changes stick through our peak season. I believe one of the key reasons for failed change is that we often let others tell us what we need to fix and how to fix it. In my experience, the impetus for change should come from the leadership team within your company, not from a marketing campaign or unexpected piece of advice.

I’ve lost count of how many business owners I know who have paid for and started to implement new systems, processes, policies or service lines that were quickly abandoned or left to smolder in the wings without closure. I’ll start with myself. Each year, I would return to Muskoka from Congress and other events, full of new ideas and armed with a palette of new plants to use, new tools, new policies and new systems. Most of the ones that come to mind involved changes that were made because someone from outside my company recommended what to change, how to change it, or when. None of it worked for very long.

From the school of hard knocks, I know for certain that unless you first decide what needs improving, THEN research and seek options, changes that you implement will likely fail at a rate directly proportionate to the number of people involved in sustaining them. Sustainable change takes work. It needs to be set properly right from the start in order to succeed, not fail.

If you’re going to invest in making change, remember it will impact your available time for other tasks and that of your staff (to learn, implement and sustain). Step back and evaluate the associated up-front and lingering (training or maintenance) costs to ensure that the ROI will be positive. Also, look closely at the true outcome: your customers’ impression and experience. Whether making changes either behind the scenes or upfront, be very intentional about it. Consider your answer to these questions:
  • What is changing?
  • Why is it changing?
  • Who will be involved/affected?
  • How will change be implemented and sustained?
  • When will change be implemented and complete?

Change has to make sense to everyone and all factors involved in the value chain, not just to you.

My best advice? Select two or three critical ‘must improve’ issues to focus on each year, rather than trying to make little tweaks across the board that will most likely fail when the going gets tough. Be intentional about making change in advance and create a plan. Here’s an example:

Step 1: What specifically is the gap between what really needs to happen and what is currently happening? Example: “I don’t have enough time to stay on top of special requests from customers during peak months. Thus, our customers are sometimes disappointed (or worse).”

Step 2: Why do we need to implement a new process or resource? Example: Last year we had four high paying, long-time customers who didn’t return and many others for whom we made accommodation because we had dropped the ball on their request. We need to lower our follow-through failure rate.

Step 3: Who on our team is most likely to benefit from having a solution available that prevents relying on memory alone in peak months? Example: All staff who directly communicate with customers either by phone, email, text or face-to-face.

Step 4: How can we change our process to consistently get the desired result? Example: We will create steps and policies which better leverage our smart phones, tablets, shared calendars, live documents, etc. to capture verbal promises, or paste emailed ones into a shared space. We could source a customer relations management app (there are so many to choose from).

Step 5: When will we implement, communicate and train everyone involved so that they are clear on what steps they need to follow in the event of an unexpected customer request? Example: We will create a scheduled sign-off training for introducing the steps/forms/apps, etc. that will be required. We will define incremental milestones to measure success and sustainability. This change will be ongoing and all staff will be invited to participate in improvements and celebrating success.

Be prepared to adapt on-the-fly. Be patient. Recognize early wins. Reward consistent efforts. Involve the team in developing the process and celebrate success.
Jacki Hart may be contacted at peertopeer@landscapeontario.com.