April 16, 2017
By Jacki Hart CLM
Prosperity Partners Program Manager

Jacki HartIt’s counter intuitive, especially at this time of the year, to listen to someone tell you to slow down. And believe it or not, it’s the best possible advice you can get.

When spring hits, most of us get pulled in so many different directions, often in the roles of fire extinguisher, ball juggler and averter of disastrous profitability threats. When the pressure is on (and it will be in the weeks to come), it is very hard to force yourself to change old habits and stick to new processes and routines. Old habits die hard.

I remember the feeling I had every year in early April when I ran my landscaping business — an odd blend of excitement and impending stress. Every spring, I started off with the best intentions. I would pack a lunch every day, take a thermos of nice tea, and promised to force myself to actually take breaks with my staff whenever I was on site with them and on my own when I wasn’t. By May 1, I was always out the door with no food and no thermos, and never stopped until I was late for dinner. Endless voicemails, dispatch issues, site visits, plants to sort and dozens of other tasks always got in the way. Add in a sprinkle of truant employees, equipment breakdowns and ‘what were they thinking?’ disconnects — and those best intentions of a well-paced day quickly went south… until it snowed.

During my lengthy masters degree from the Contractors’ School of Hard Knocks, I eventually learned the faster I went, the faster things unravelled around me. Keeping myself pinned down by that fever pitch of ‘doing,’ I had denied myself access to my best possible business advantage: my ability to be proactive, rather than reactive.

For many years, I worked hard each winter developing new systems and policies for my staff to follow. Did they work? Inconsistently, and unsustainably, for the most part. Why? Because I hadn’t yet learned the important steps to manage change and create parameters for accountability. I was in too much of a hurry to actually train, manage and tweak the systems I had created. There was no accountability to stick to the new ways, because I didn’t create any.

I am too busy!
Accountability conjures up a wide range of images in our minds, usually ones with punitive measures attached for non-compliance. Accountability actually works better when it is inspired, rather than directed, and it’s something I work on constantly with business owners looking to improve their business systems. The most common problem I see is business owners struggling with what happens when they are too busy wearing multiple hats, and micromanaging people wearing others, to be able to manage rather than ‘do.’ They leave themselves no time or ‘brain space’ to communicate, train, monitor, assess and adapt new initiatives. Without mapping out what will be different when a new process or system is working well — and communicating that to everyone involved, it’s going to fall by the wayside in fairly short order. And when it does, that’s when I see many business owners start to unravel.

If you’re too busy to manage your people, then your priorities are mixed up just a tad. Just when we feel like we have the least amount of time to assess and train staff, that’s when we need to do it the most. Taking 10 minutes to clearly explain an hour or days’ work to someone else is well worth it in the long run.

In order to be proactive, we need to have the presence of mind to take a bird’s-eye-view of all the moving parts in our business, and anticipate. When you’re running flat out, that’s pretty tough to do. So, no matter what you’ve worked on improving for this season, here’s something to help you pause and take stock of what’s going on around you, and to nudge yourself back to being on top of your game this spring: Just breathe.

Here’s a simple technique I can suggest to help you dial it back a notch on those intense days; take what I call a Manager’s Minute.

Force yourself to sit quietly for one minute. Close your eyes and breathe. That’s it. Break the frenetic cycle and slow everything down. Breathe in through your nose as deeply and as slowly as you can. Then exhale through your mouth, forcefully, quickly, and completely. Repeat this three times. That takes up to half of the minute. For the other half of the minute, breathe in just as deeply, then breathe out more slowly, through your nose. Calm down, slow down.

When your Manager’s Minute is up, notice if you feel a bit calmer and if your next steps seem clearer. I can pretty much guarantee that before long, you’ll see the benefit in this short exercise and repeat it often, every day. It doesn’t matter where you are for your Manager’s Minute: In your truck, in your office, at home, on a skid of brick, it doesn’t matter where. What matters is that you take the time to connect with your own brilliance as often as possible and move forward through each busy day ahead just a little bit more in control of your best potential.

Jacki Hart may be contacted at info.peertopeer@landscapeontario.com.