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Now's Not the Time to Tinker

By Steve Rak II


An older, more experienced owner once half-jokingly told me that if he had his choice he would run his landscape business only from July through December. His reasoning was that pretty much all the really hard work occurs within the first six months of the year.

Yes, the second half of the season is less stressful for most of us even though every season has its own unique challenges and pace.

But I can honestly say that, for us anyway, life and work would be a whole lot easier without our crazy spring and early summer schedules. And, yes, we would also be missing out on the biggest revenue-producing time of our year, too. As insane as our lives become in mid-spring every year, most of us realize its importance to the profitability of our companies.

We're all going full-speed and all-out, and we don't need reminding where we should be spending our time and energy this time of year right now. It's really quite simple: production, production, production!

Recognizing that, obviously this isn't a good time to be deciding what color your new uniforms are going to be. Or rewriting your employee manuals. It's also a bad time to have to make a decision about that employee that's been with you for a long time, but sometimes doesn't show up for work. He's the one that gets sick a lot in the spring and then miraculously regains his health when July and August get here.

This guy really needs to be dealt with, right?

Well, maybe not right now. Give it some thought before making a decision. We can go two ways on this call, and we can justify either one being the right call.


Owners and employees usually have to put in extra hours when spring erupts to keep up with vigorously growing turfgrass on client's lawns.
PHOTO COURTESY SCHILLER GROUNDS CARE.

On one hand, now isn't a good time to be letting an experienced employee go, because, let's face it, we need all the help we can get. And yes, we know he's late a lot and calls in sick a lot, but he does know most of the customers and he's been working here for a long time. We'll deal with it in due time.

Hey, you reason, there's a time and place for everything. Things like uniforms, employee manuals and employee issues are very important, and we'll have to address them - but later. This is not the time to be disturbing or causing disruptions in production. This is the time of year to make money, secure new customers and set the tone for the season.

On the other hand, now that we're in mid-spring our businesses should be running like a well-oiled machine. Is this individual's recurring sick days causing problems for us? How is it affecting other employees?

So why am I bringing this up right now? As business owners, we're challenged with these types of situations every day. When things are less busy we have more time to deal with them. But right now, when we're in the thick of it and busy beyond belief, it's tough to look at these types of issues with proper perspective.

It boils down with asking ourselves some very pointed questions and going from there.

Are we really getting the results we want from our team? Are we at maximum production? Are we being held back because someone isn't showing up for work?

Keep a notepad and jot down the answers to these and any other questions that arise regarding your team's morale and performance. Don't become so busy that you don't see what's going on in your company and with your team right now, in the heat of the battle, so to speak.

Yes, this time of year is all about production, which I'm convinced it should be. But, you also have to carefully track how things run when the pedal is to the metal.

Making some of these observations and writing them down now will remind you of some of the issues you didn't have time to fully address and give you clearer perspective when things slow down. It's something you can refer to when you have some time to think. It's not a good time to make sweeping changes right now.

In considering your alternatives now, it might be best to use the resources you have and get through the busy season. There will be some time in the future where you can sit back and assess what has happened and then you can make some educated decisions about any changes you will need to make to be better prepared for next year.

As for the experienced employee that calls in a bit too many sick days when he's most needed for production? That's a tough call, admittedly. But, obviously, it's going to have to be dealt with either sooner or later, depending on your own particular situation.

Good luck this spring!

The author is the owner of Southwest Landscape Management, Columbia Station, Ohio, and a partner with his brother, Jeff, in Rak Consulting. Contact him at steve@sw-landscape.com.