Issue Resolution: Transform Your Worst Hour Into Your Finest

What if your most important moment of integrity is right after you lose it?

Every business will face growth and attrition, and a certain amount of near-unavoidable attrition – natural attrition – is part of operation; decision makers come and go, politics happen, properties are bought and sold. What we can control, however, is attrition due to our own efforts – lackluster responsiveness, disappointing product quality, staff behavior.

Despite sincere efforts to “put our best foot forward”, both the first time and every time, every team will face the test of Issue Resolution. Things instantly leap from everyday operation to urgent situation, and we find ourselves on trial in two simultaneous ways: the test of our competence at the craft, and the test of our character as a company.

Whether this is our first moment of crisis management in a young business or our biggest trauma to-date, lets take a deep breath and focus ourselves on a proven strategy for successfully passing both tests and emerging stronger:

  1. Personal Peace: Much like how various people handle change differently – fear, anger, neutrality, or leaning in – people handle crisis differently. Resolve to be the presence of calm and poise at the table; allow everyone else to have their own emotions, but this is our test; we set our own tone. We can do this.
  2. Define The Issue: Our character test is the more important of the two here; fixing the client issue but losing client trust means the relationship is over. Start with character. Admit the problem. Examine it thoroughly. Define it bluntly. Probe how we got here with open-ended questions. Let our team, and our client, see we are not messing around, influencing each toward an appropriate response.
  3. Reiterate Who You Are: By first allowing others’ emotions and displaying our calm and character big enough to carry the moment, we hope to find just enough earned influence to shift the client’s emotions back to the larger context of our sustained excellence – very humbly, and very carefully. Example: “I’ll admit I’m emotionally torn right now. Two hours ago I was at a snow property six times as big where everyone is 5-out-of-5 stars happy, so I know we’re the right partner to pull this off; but, we need to get this fixed and to make a plan moving forward so it doesn’t happen again.” Pay close attention to body language; either people are calming, remembering why they picked us, or… move on quickly.
  4. Make A Commitment: Imagine for a quick moment being the client contact. They likely have a boss to whom they are responsible for our performance, and that boss either knows about the issue or has a finite amount of time until they will. Thus – back to us – serving the client today is just as much about resolving the issue as it is about protecting their reputation, so we need to empower them to look like they are in the driver seat of momentum towards a good resolution. We can either commit timeline to completion if we know exactly what it will take and already have what we need; timeline to arrival if we are more confident of when we can get there than of how long this will take; or timeline to assessment if we need to first make sure we have a wise plan in order to avoid adding the problem of wasted money on top of the problem already at-hand. Regardless: only make a commitment we know we can keep.
  5. Get It Done: Keep whatever promise was made, then repeat steps #1 to #4 in each talk thereafter until the issue is fully resolved. Fail the test with bravado and adding an unfulfilled promise on top of doubts of our character and competence; pass the test making a sequence of smaller, well-selected promises we keep.
  6. Fix The Root Cause: Always try to not just fix what happened but why so it cannot reoccur later. Some fixes might even be okay to share with the client. Example: “That mowing team that just did an outstanding job fixing your weed and quality control issues? We’ve decided to reassign your property to them permanently moving forward.” What a great way to solidify restored confidence!

David Rempfer is an Executive Consultant to the Landscape and Snow Removal Industries, including ASCA-C and SIMA-CSP accreditation. David currently serves management and ownership initiatives targeting business improvement and quality of life.


Driving Quality in Your Landscape/Snow Business

Would your last big prospect say you separated from the crowd on value?

Let’s imagine being that decision-maker for a moment. You are an HOA President, an industrial facility Engineer, a medical campus Director. Every decision is both opportunistic and endangering; produce maximum value, at best price, with least risk – or else. Decision time is here. The public walkthrough knocked out a few tardy vendors. A few more left during one-on-one Q&A’s realizing the job was beyond them. After a lack of acceptable references released a last few, six bids are now left, and you begin to analyze. Conveniently, all six are the region’s best / leading / largest provider. All are “dedicated to service”; have “over X years” in the industry; specialize in your market vertical; provide a “complete portfolio” of services that can “handle it all”; bring the “highest value”; are “solution-minded”; and the scopes of work and pricing seem to be relatively close.

If this imaginary story is raising your anxiety and naming off your “advantages”… perhaps your value differentiation might not be so different. (Good news: It’s fixable.) In reality, there are only four types of competitive advantage, and – news flash – marketing is not one. Advertisements are meant to close appointments; advantages are meant to close sales.

  1. Differentiate on Innovation: No one else does what you do yet.
  2. Differentiate on Separation: You have concrete data showing superior excellence on the same service(s).
  3. Differentiate on Consolidation: The “one neck to wring” advantage, or “one call to solve it all”. Sometimes prospects simply want less partners to oversee.
  4. Differentiate on Price: Other than innovations, or gains in efficiency, it’s time to be the cheapest, and in the race to zero profit everyone loses.

In most markets landscape and snow removal are not just available but expected, so #1 is out. Also, in any high population market with multiple large competitors, or when you are a younger company that can’t yet do “everything”, commonly #3 is out. Thus the important realization: Our most easily controlled competitive advantages are either Separation – higher quality – or lower price, and most of us would rather not be known for the latter.

Analysts often say, “You find the right answer by asking the right question,” and this provokes the right question: “How can I drive quality in my landscape/snow business?” Here are Ten Traction Points to get you going – for best results, done in the order listed!

  1. Leadership First – Standards you declare but don’t demonstrate rarely happen. Total leadership consensus is required, and expect to regularly, healthily revisit this value.
  2. External Benchmark – In everyday operations, “This is how we do it,” tends to dangerously slip toward, “This is the best way to do it.” Find outside sources to fact-check your standards and your math.
  3. Internally Define Success – Being on a team that knows it’s winning is intoxicating. People love knowing their efforts matter and love seeing it directly drive results. But… defining success also means defining failure, and not everyone will want to step up to what it takes; lead with health and coaching but willingness to let bad apples go.
  4. Communicate The Standard – Talk about it. A lot! Every captain’s meeting, team meetings with management, quarterly reports… “Vision leaks”, they say, so keep pouring it on; quality is a core value now, and everyone needs to know it.
  5. System Centralization – Teams who cannot see where they are seldom end up where they intended. Costing, estimating, scheduling, and reporting must merge together. This helps successes know they are on-track and to “stay the course,” and it gives errors a chance to course-correct while there is still time.
  6. Accurate Bidding – Bad bids mean operations are set up to fail from the beginning. They feel like a rigged carnival game – either no one wants to play, or – worse – to “win” people have to “cheat” usually, cutting corners on quality!
  7. Measured Production – Which teams consistently beat their budgets? Who is taking unauthorized overtime? These numbers matter as the owner; they need to matter to your teams. Capture performance on a company-wide level – successes and failures.
  8. Reporting Mechanism – With performance captured, now we talk about it! Take time to celebrate your winners and invest in your lower-performing teams. Winning together requires willingness to talk about where we aren’t winning and why. It’s okay to fail, but “fail fast” and learn from it – or, go fail somewhere else.
  9. Quality Audits – Field teams act differently when random site checks and photos show up at weekly team meetings. They really act differently if you start showing up at their sites a few times a week for random inspections. (To soften the edge, keep some ice-cold Gatorade with you to give out to teams who are doing a great job. A 24-pack costs you less than even one over-budget labor hour.)
  10. Champion Celebrations – Regularly highlight teams who are outstanding at quality and excellence of work. Not only is this great for morale and loyalty, it might spark just a touch of healthy competition from people wanting their moment in the sun.

These are all internal plantings intended to harvest the external result of reputation. Remember: Reputation is performance-awarded perception; you can just as easily be known for unfinished business and under-delivered promises as you could be known for superior quality. We want to be seen as the best. Maybe we are not as cheap as the guy next to us, but may we be known for delivering a superior value too good to pass up.

Small Stuff, Big Benefits

What if I could convince you in 30 seconds that not every “big gain” requires a big initiative?

The lesson came from what seemed the unlikeliest of sources: a Salvation Army bell-ringer in 2016. That December day I scraped up my leftover change for a normal moment: crisp winter air, a pure silver bell, that cascade of copper-to-tin-can collisions. The man thanked me. I gave the obligatory, “You’re welcome,” smile. But… For whatever reason, I added a shrug and said, “I know it’s only a little bit.”

He laughed. “If a lot of people give a little bit, that’s a lotta bit!”

While the roots of that story are in generosity, the principle is bigger: small stuff can add up to big benefits. Reaching peak efficiency is a lot less like the dunk tank target at the fair some kid will eventually hit with the right throw and a lot more like the athlete getting a few seconds faster each month until they lead their world.

Below is a list of some such “small tweak” ideas. Some you knew. Some may not apply. Some are perfect for you! If nothing else, let them spark your #leadership #creativity early this week to think of other little gains to be had, both in this week and in the weeks ahead.

  • Opportunity Growth – Look for new services (or company divisions) you could add with minimal additional equipment or talent. Examples: Snow removal with mowing trucks; pond, pool, and pest control treatments by turf applicator teams; etc.
  • Specialization Crews – Declare certain crews as specialty crews and assign them as close to 100% of certain job types as possible – jobs that are either higher skill level or atypically expensive on materials – ex. turf treatments, irrigation, hardscape, etc.
  • Route Density – The cost of travel is in many ways unavoidable, but by giving crews a group of properties that are geographically close to one another – or, better, also close to one of your shops – you can reduce their daily percentage of unapplied labor.
  • Onsite Arrivals – One way around that travel cost is to recruit crews who live close to certain all-day, or all-week, job sites and have them report directly there to start the day. Only pay one team leader (or driver) for A.M. load, truck travel, and P.M. unload.
  • Fleet Lifecycle – Once your fleet surpasses its ideal lifecycle it becomes a “black hole”, sucking in repair parts and labor totally beyond your control. Keep an eye on aging and include a rotating replacement as part of your annual budget.
  • Blade Sharpening – Power mower manufacturers suggest blades need sharpening after 20 hours of mowing or blades can dull and lose as much as 15% efficiency. Plan on twice-a-week sharpening for all full-time mowing crews!
  • Posting Time Review – Ever burn manager hours with an employee arguing their paycheck was missing hours? Post hours (using a confidential system) a few days early. Now both parties are empowered to, and responsible for, catching errors early.
  • Team Rankings – In a toxic workplace this can turn into shame-/blame-culture, so be careful. When well-managed, though, a weekly team ranking fuels the best to want prove they are such, and it sparks camaraderie to mentor lower-performing crews. Nothing lifts your numbers as quickly as your teams lifting one another.
  • Team Rewards – Define a goal only attainable if a significant majority of your teams work together, and attach a reward big enough to motivate – though, preferably, that costs you as the owner less than missing the goal would cost you! (Caution: Goals that require 100% perfection can feel “rigged” and can drive bitterness. You want a demanding but winnable goal.)
  • Peer Groups/Consulting – Refuse to become the ceiling on the growth of your own company. Push yourself to keep getting better just like you push your managers and teams to do the same.
  • Successful Verticals – Is there a certain customer/property type where for some reason the numbers show you simply enjoy better success – close rate, retention, upsell purchasing, top profitability, etc.? Design a campaign to call it one of your “main verticals” (which it is!) and specifically target your efforts to grow therein.
  • Supply Chain Relationships – (Just as one example:) If you buy bulk salt from the local guy for $200/ton, you are overpaying. Figure out who they buy from, who that person buys from, etc., and see how far up the chain you can negotiate to buy it. We love the local guy, but less middle who need a cut means you get a better price.
  • “Economies of Scale” Discounts – At the same time, don’t buy products from 20 vendors; why would any of them give you the best price if they feel like a commodity to you? Make a plan to buy from just one to three vendors all season. Meet with the 20 to express that intention, to explain your projected need, to prove they “have what it takes” to be a primary partner, and to watch them compete on bids for your business. In general, when vendors can receive better unit counts they can give better unit costs.

David Rempfer is an Executive Consultant to the Landscape and Snow Removal Industries, including ASCA-C and SIMA-CSP accreditation. David currently serves management and ownership initiatives targeting business improvement and quality of life.


Which Services are Most Profitable?

Which Services are Most Profitable?

Do you know which services have the best profits or are you just guessing? Stop guessing – deploy BOSS! Focus your time and resources where they will count the most.

Hear Harvesters Ed Laflamme and Bill Arman with The Harvest Group touch on this at a BOSS®LM client conference.



Labor Management for the Future


Read Lawn & Landscape Magazine’s latest article about how Bland Landscaping reduces their labor costs by using BOSS LM’s labor forecasting features.

Labor Management for the Future

Down to one – Richter Landscape on how to find the best integrated software system

John Richter of Richter Landscape, one the most recent members of the BOSS LM community, writes in Lawn & Landscape Magazine about having too many disconnected systems to support daily operations and his search for a single, integrated solution.

“Down To One”