July 15, 2011

Systems-based management works, now keep the momentum going

Invest in new habits


A flip through the Landscape Trades archives shows how the magazine's focus has changed over the years from a plant- and research-based publication, to one that offers ideas for better business management.

It has never before been so important to focus on the fundamentals of business operations. Uncertain weather, regulation-heavy governments and web-savvy customers, combined with a hesitant economy, have forced many companies to take a good hard look at all facets of their businesses, to remain competitive and profitable. Knowing your numbers is critical in this new environment, yet mathematics and business skills were low on the radar when many of us we were choosing careers in horticulture. We were drawn to the hands-on, creative aspects of the job.

To help us right-brain thinkers, business coaches and management consultants have created systems for the landscape industry that streamline everything from estimating, scheduling, selling, loading trucks and human resources management through to web analytics and marketing. In the off-season, the industry's trade shows and associations offer many courses that teach systems-based management, and show how to benefit from them. There's undeniable proof that systems work. Many of the articles in Landscape Trades are written by those who have turned their operation around using them. Those stories are still there to help, posted on www.landscapetrades.com.

But how do you make the change from operating intuitively to systematically? Even though it's absolutely the right thing to do, sometimes in the heat of the moment, crews or managers can slip back into the old problem-causing habits. How do you train yourself to stick to the new system? How do you create new habits for your entire staff?

Scott Young as recently featured on the blog, the99percent.com, and is obsessed with changing habits. He's devoted much of his adult life to studying habit-forming behaviour. Rather than drastically overhauling your company's entire behaviour in one fell swoop, he suggests a less daunting approach to forming new habits. Young argues that it's more important to first create and nurture a new habit, rather than looking for a big change with instant results. He advises people to set a conditioning period of at least 30 days to form the new habit; getting results is much easier once you already have the habit, whether it's a follow-up sales technique, new protocol for loading trucks or training staff. With good habits, results will just happen.

I've given up trying to explain to outsiders how the landscape industry works. It's a crazy pace of life that no one else can comprehend. When a crew is going full-tilt to complete a job, remembering to follow a new system can be a challenge.

If you've successfully implemented change, and kept the new system's momentum going throughout the year, I'd love to hear from you. Contact me at sarahw@landscapeontario.com.