Right about now most Green Industry professionals are burnt out. They can’t wait for the end of the busy season and are looking forward to enjoying a break. But the upcoming winter months are the most important time for you to plan and prepare for your future success. The old adage, “hindsight is 20/20” is true, but it requires that you turn around and look back at the year with your glasses on!
At the end of the season, off-season planning for landscaping businesses includes asking questions and evaluating your past year.
The off-season is the best time to assess what’s working and what’s not with your business, while your impressions of the year are still fresh. Taking time to review the year now will help you make important changes, plan ahead, and set new goals. But don’t do this in a vacuum. Build your goals with your team and communicate your vision for the upcoming season so that your entire team is committed to your company’s future success.
Your Leadership Insights
Your first task is to do some soul searching on your own. Take a few days as the season winds down to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. What comes up when you think of the past year? Be sure to write down your memories and impressions. Then review your company’s information and data looking for the pros and cons. Following are examples of questions to ask yourself.
Questions about You
- Are you pursuing your passion and goals?
- Are you doing what you want to do to make a difference in your company, profession, or the world?
- Do you have a balanced work/personal life? You decide if you run your business or it runs you. Are you having fun? Life is short.
Questions about Your Company
- Do we have a crystal clear mission statement and a set of core values?
- Does our staff really know them?
- Are we focused on what we do best?
- Are we efficient in operations and office procedures?
- Review this year’s data, including financial reports to budget (do we have a budget?), sales and upsells per client, job cost by each customer, customer complaints/accolades, personnel’s performance (including sick/late days, etc.). Look for areas in need of improvement and acknowledge what you did very well.
Questions about Your Staff
- It’s all about the people. Do you have the right people on your team?
- More important than experience, does everyone on your team show initiative and have a positive attitude?
- Have you committed to making the necessary changes in staffing, whether it is to promote, demote, hire, or fire? One bad apple can spoil the barrel, as you know.
Questions about Your Clients
- Are we focused on the right customer base?
- Are there customers we need to fire, because they aren’t profitable or suck up all our time?
- Who are our best clients? Do we spend enough time with them?
Questions about Your Leadership Abilities
- Do you have the leadership strength to make difficult decisions and then facilitate the needed changes? Change is hard. If you keep doing the same, you keep getting the same results.
- Have you avoided taking action to make changes in the past? Are you too comfortable or stuck? Maybe you don’t know what to do or don’t want to do what it takes to make change happen. Making significant and difficult changes sometimes requires you to stretch your team and yourself to try something new.
- Is it hard for you to ask for help? Learn to ask for help or support if you need it. Get help from consultants, your accountant, or a business associate.
Team Meeting Is Team Building
Once you have made your own assessment, then I suggest you have a team meeting the week after field production ends. You could meet with your entire staff or Managers only depending on the size of your company. This is a team building exercise that also gives you important insight into your operation.
Everyone wants to be recognized, included, and be part of the team process. Your team has ideas and you need to listen to them. Schedule the meeting for first thing in the morning in a relaxed, casual setting with nothing else scheduled. Turn cell phones off. In my company, we sometimes started the meeting off with a pancake breakfast to celebrate the end of the season and everyone’s efforts.
Review the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Begin a discussion of this past season by asking for everyone’s assessment. Be positive and thankful for their input. This gives them encouragement to share. You are facilitating, not talking; you are actively listening with an open mind and sometimes reading between the lines of what is being said. Make notes on a flip chart for all to see. If no one has any ideas, ask some open-ended questions drawing on items from your own assessment.
Quantify the Year. Have your team create a list of at least 10 things that the company did well and 10 things that need improvement or were challenges they confronted this past season. These could be big or small items. Remove hurdles in your operation if they don’t add value. Prioritize each list and focus on the top five (or more) in each category. Work on each individual item and detail how to improve it. Don’t be afraid to step on toes. You are working to improve your team, your performance, and client satisfaction.
Set Goals and Decide on Changes for the Upcoming Season. Build team consensus for each item discussed on the list and the changes needed in your new season. Clearly document the new goal/procedure and assign (be sure to delegate here) who is responsible for driving these changes? Set clear deadlines for changes to be implemented.
Be Sure to Follow Up. Keep it simple to start. Have regularly scheduled follow up meeting to be sure you are striving to meet the goals that were set and that you are looking for new goals. Try having review meetings at least once per quarter. By no means are these meetings a substitute for a strategic or business plan, but you can begin to include your team in developing these as well. Two (or more!) heads are better than one.
Your efforts spent on an off-season review will be well rewarded. You’ll foster an inspired team that understands that you value its input and that you are committed to continuous improvement. And, a supportive team is important no matter the size of your operation.
About the Author
Laurence Coronis is a business consultant and leadership coach focusing on profitability, and bringing sustainability and organic practices into the Green Industry. He received a B.S. in Plant Science from U.N.H. before founding Coronis Landscaping Inc. In over 30 years of operation, Coronis Landscaping won numerous state and national awards, including a “Grand Prize for Landscape Excellence” from A.L.C.A. (now PLANET) and was named one of the top 100 landscape companies in the U.S. in 1999 by Landscape Management Magazine. Laurence has served on the Board of Directors and as President of N.H. Landscape Association and is on the Advisory Board for NOFA-Organic Land Care (OLC). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website, coronisconsulting.com.