Pushing your employees to work smarter, not just harder

Photos Courtesy of JP Horizons.
Creative meetings, such as this one in the park, are a great way to get a company’s™culture of changeš rolling.

One of the common reasons that landscapers and lawn care professionals fail is because their expertise doesn’t always extend to business or organization management, which often means they’re not good at managing people.

Jim Paluch specializes in teaching a company’s employees to work smarter, and he comes from the landscape industry. A former landscape architect in northern Ohio, Paluch is the founder and president of JP Horizons, Inc. in Cleveland, a management training group.

JP Horizons ( has taught hundreds of companies—in the landscape and other service industries—how to be more efficient, productive and energized in a business culture that focuses on positive elements.

“The number one thing they’re needing is to retain, connect with and grow people,” Paluch says. He has been traveling the country—and the world—for over 20 years teaching good people management, principles he initially learned by working with the Ariens Company, and learning the lean principles developed by the Toyota Motor Company.

Good employees don’t just come from textbook business training, Paluch says. They come from the owner building a culture of trust. Once employees see the vision of the company and come to trust management, they come to have confidence in themselves in the workplace, and a belief in the company. Only then will companies achieve the efficiencies that can be reached when every employee develops the positive energy that leads to the changes needed for a dynamic organization.

Jim Paluch’s advice for green industrycompanies comes from his years ofexperience as a landscape architectand corporate trainer.

Landscapers are known for fixing issues, Paluch says, however, poor company management isn’t an element that can be fixed in the same way that a turf disease or broken mower can be fixed. People management is a complex issue that requires a deeper approach and greater commitment.

Thus, setting a company vision is one of the fundamentals of change. Paluch recommends that a company owner answer the question: “What do you want to accomplish?”

Using interviews and other techniques, Paluch helps discover what a company’s true mission is, distilled down to a few words, which he finds usually has to do with how an organization treats its customers.

The company can then use that direction to transform goals, develop corporate branding and guide the training of employees.

“That becomes the culture,” Paluch says. It takes work on the part of management to get there, however.

The next step is to lead employees in the direction of that vision. Often, this is as simple as setting up a consistent communications link. Meetings are the accepted method of doing this.

Once employees buy into the company’s mission, they want to know what is next and see some positive results from it. They want ideas that can lead to concrete results, and these can often be obtained by working toward what Paluch calls “simple wins,” small ideas that can be implemented to create efficiency.

One example of this is a company that wanted to save money. An employee observed that the company was spending a lot of money on Styrofoam coffee cups, so the owner asked everybody to bring their own cup to work. By continuing with many simple ideas as this throughout the operation, the company ended up saving over $800,000 in a year.

Paluch’s mantra is, “Drive the waste out of the process,” which means that once the focus is on improving value to the company’s customers and employees begin to come up with simple ideas for change, they can enact behaviors that result in larger positive changes. First, he says, have a creative meeting in a nice location.

Then, he says, identify what the wasteful processes are, without assigning blame. For example, a small landscape company asked what could be done to speed up jobs. It was discovered that when a crew arrived at the job site, the equipment they needed first was often packed in the front of the trailer and everything else had to be unloaded first. Making sure the trailer was loaded properly and in the correct order saved time.

Paluch recommends drawing up a “process map” outlining how each activity should progress to improve efficiency. In the above example, the steps in loading the trailer would be listed in order. This can be a simple step, and he uses a simple exercise to illustrate how to achieve it: he asks employees to draw up a process map of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Paluch lists seven kinds of waste that a landscape company can be experiencing:

  1. motion waste, such as inefficient activities;
  2. transportation waste, such as poor truck routing;
  3. inventory waste, like poor stocking;
  4. waiting to do something waste, which crews experience when waiting for equipment;
  5. overproduction, which occurs when people are doing something that doesn’t need to be done;
  6. overprocessing, such as two people doing a job that one could do; and
  7. effects waste, which means people are doing a job improperly and having to do it over again.

“Now they start to make changes,” Paluch says. This is an important step for the owner or manager, because it isn’t enough to just talk about it. The meetings now can be superseded by crews actually enacting changes. He emphasizes that these don’t have to be perfect solutions, either. Doing a job a little better is enough to get started, and more changes will come later.

Once the momentum of change takes hold, employees become “engaged,” as Paluch puts it, and become confident that their positive input can contribute to the company’s increased success.

Not everybody is willing to participate in this kind of positive change, and, in fact, may have incentive to resist it. “The builders in an organization rise to the occasion,” Paluch says, but the destroyers may not. In that case, owners need to ask the destroyers to move on to another organization.

There are many other aspects to JP Horizons’ training sessions, called The Working Smarter Training Challenge.

Paluch recommends that once employees have become part of the company’s culture of change, the owner should find ways to celebrate their progress, which can be as simple as clapping to congratulate a worker’s success at a meeting or as involved as sending a crew to a baseball game, paid for by the company. The important thing is that employees be recognized for being part of a “working smarter” program. It’s all part of the improvement in quality of life that he says results from positive change.

Don Dale resides in Altadena, Calif., and is a frequent contributor to Turf. He has covered the green industry for more than 10 years.