Archive for the ‘business’ Category
A few weeks ago, landscapers across the country pitched in around their communities as part of PLANET’s annual Day of Service. It’s a way for companies to give back to the areas where they operate, and help out local organizations.
The Day of Service is just one of many examples of landscapers giving back and participating in community service projects. (In fact, we’ve got an entire department in the magazine dedicated to just these types of projects.)
Last month, Dan Moreland, my former boss and publisher of our sister publication PCT, wrote about Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and the correlation between compassion and business success.
For any company operating today, profitability cannot be the sole measure of success,” Schultz said. “Delivering long-term shareholder value is essential. But today’s increasingly complex world requires companies — including Starbucks — to hold ourselves to higher standards. Amidst continued worldwide economic uncertainty, Starbucks has demonstrated that it will continue to build shareholder value, but never before has that value been more closely aligned to our values. Simply put, the value of your company is driven by your company’s values.”
Capitalism, in and of itself, is not bad. It’s what has enabled the United States to become the largest economy in the world. I’ve benefited personally from the fruits of capitalism. Thirty-one years ago, when I joined GIE Media, we were a modest, start-up business employing four people working out of a single-room loft above a local restaurant. Today, we publish more than a dozen magazines and employ more than 80 people, supporting scores of families. Watching those families grow and prosper and contribute to their respective communities has been the single most gratifying professional experience of my life, and it’s all due to the gift — and power — of capitalism.
It’s when we lose our moral compass as companies, or as individuals, when we put profits and personal aggrandizement above all else, that we suffer collectively. The pest management industry understands this basic contract with society, perhaps because pest control companies have such an intimate relationship with their customers and the communities they serve. Paul Jackson, a staff writer for The Northwestern Chronicle, puts it best: “There are good CEOs and good companies, moral corporations; there is moral capitalism because as moral beings even our self-interest is moral in itself, but only if we see ourselves as humans reflecting humanity, one to another. How we function as a society, economy and polity has to do with Us: the market reveals Us and shows what kind of people we are. Indeed, the market is a test, a proving ground for your heart in search of the question — just how moral are you?”
If you’re in business just to make money, you’ll probably do OK. But if you make your goal the improvement of those around you and your community, you’ll do great.
First things first: I’m a big fan of monkeys.
Second: We all know they can cause trouble.
Bill Conerly, a columnist for Forbes, wrote this short piece on the idea of a Chaos Monkey. Besides being a great idea for a tattoo, the idea centers around a program Netflix created to test its own systems.
If our recommendations system is down, we degrade the quality of our responses to our customers, but we still respond. We’ll show popular titles instead of personalized picks. If our search system is intolerably slow, streaming should still work perfectly fine.
One of the first systems our engineers built … is called the Chaos Monkey. The Chaos Monkey’s job is to randomly kill instances and services within our architecture. If we aren’t constantly testing our ability to succeed despite failure, then it isn’t likely to work when it matters most – in the event of an unexpected outage.
What happens if one of your key employees quits? What happens if your supplier raises fertilizer prices by a factor of three? What happens if your bank calls in your loan?
Really bad things probably won’t happen, but what if they did? What if all those things happen at once?
Sometime in the next few weeks, sit down and think about it.
Be your own Chaos Monkey.
As someone who loves magazines, I read a lot. But one of my favorite issues all year is Businessweek’s annual How-To issue. The magazine dedicates much of its coverage to a series of small, as-told-to pieces that explain how to accomplish many practical (and not-so-practical) goals.
This year’s issue, which came out earlier this month, did not disappoint, and there’s lots of great stuff for any business owner. You can find all the stories online, but here are a few of my favorites:
- Orioles manager Buck Showalter (above) on how to fire someone (without resorting to the bat).
- Chicago mayor and well-known firebrand Rahm Emanuel on how to motivate people.
- How to run a board meeting.
- Howard Schutlz on how to make coffee (gasp) at home.
- Google VP Marissa Mayer on how to avoid burnout. Hint: it involves dinner and soccer games.
- And, in case your negotiations or motivation don’t go as planned, Manny Pacquiao’s former trainer Freddie Roach teaches you how to take a punch.
Seth Godin has a great definition of what it means to be the best in a world of online marketing and unceasing demands on your customers’ attention and budget.
The only way your business wins in Google world is to be the best available option, where “best” means best for the person searching for an answer, and “available option” means everything. (Best doesn’t mean most expensive or exclusive, it merely means the best choice for me, right now. You don’t have to be happy about how much competition you have, but it helps to admit it.)
You don’t sell nice plants or green grass. You sell a homeowner time with his family. You sell a property manager less risk and a better conversation with his boss.
That’s what you have to tell your customer. That’s what you have to be best at.
Scott Grams has a great column in this month’s issue of the Illinois Landscape Contractor’s Association magazine. Scott is the executive director of one of the country’s biggest and best-run associations, and he has a great perspective on the industry. What happens in the Illinois (read: Chicago) market tends to trickle down to other parts of the country, so it’s a good bellwether for the rest of the industry.
Scott’s take is that as the economy improves (and it is improving), consumer spending will continue to grow and landscapers will benefit. But he worries that many contractors have become locked into panic mode – the lean-at-all-costs way of operating that got them through the recession, but that will stymie their growth as things improve.
You can read the full column as a PDF here, but here’s the money quote (emphasis mine):
It’s said that financial success masks all problems. Mediocre salesmen look great. Bad salesmen look competent. Poor managers look like master motivators. The flip-side of that is that economic growth exposes poor innovators and small thinkers. This is the time for big ideas. As the rest of the industry stretches and groans at the daybreak, who is already out of the shower, down the stairs, into the car and jamming to speed metal? This is a time for reinvention and for the realization of pipe dreams. Survival mode will be over – and many have forgotten how to do anything but survive.
Scott has the right idea. If you haven’t already, now is the time to starting thinking big about how you can grow. Things will get better, and your company needs to be ready.
Don’t tell Marty Grudner, but in May, Frontier Airlines will stop serving its beloved chocolate chip cookies.
The sugary treat that for many years had delighted weary passengers is going the way of … pretty much every other nice thing that used to be associated with air travel.
Save for the elite class of business traveler (who are hard to see what with all the chickens flying around back where I sit), most of us have seen benefits and extras like Frontier’s cookies disappear from airlines and many other services we purchase.
That’s why doing small things for customers can go such a long way to cementing a relationship. Send a hand-written thank-you note. Call a few days after the first application to make sure the service was good.
These things don’t cost a lot, but they’re worth a ton.
Jeff Korhan offers three tips on how your company can one-up larger players in your market by doing something revolutionary: understanding your market better than they do.
The best session at PLANET’s Green Industry Great Escape was the discussion on social media and how businesses operate online. Led by Roger, Phelps, Stihl, Bruce Robert, Red Letter Corp., and Pat Schunk, PowerCloud, the talk touched on how consumers find companies online, the impact of mobile devices and how social media can improve not only your firm’s visibility but its reputation as well.
Here’s a quick re-cap of the talk. Look for more in an upcoming issue of Lawn & Landscape.
- Allow negative comments live on your site, blog or Facebook page. It shows that you’re a real company. The key is that you respond to it, and diffuse any bad situations.
- Good content pushes out bad. The more you publish about your company, whether it’s blog posts, Facebook updates or other content, the more you show up in search results (not rogue negative commenters).
- Use online tools to monitor what people say about you and your industry. Roger uses Kurrently to keep tabs on Stihl.
- Think about how social media can be used to highlight your employees, and how that attention can improve morale.
- Consider how your employees use social networks on (and off) the clock. The same goes for your family members – whether they work in the business or not.
- Social media takes time. If you’ve already got a packed schedule, you honestly might not have enough attention left to focus on updating these platforms. If that’s the case, don’t do it.
Jim McCutcheon told me this story a few weeks ago.
He was at a meeting with a developer in Atlanta that was known for its focus on green building, specifically LEED certification. In the meeting along with him and the client were a few other landscaping companies, most of which he knew. But one guy, down at the end of the table, he’d never met before.
The group was talking about the pros and cons of the LEED system, the developer’s challenges on this project and the cut-throat nature of the Atlanta real estate market in general, when the guy at the end of the table spoke up.
“How deep do you want your trenches?” he asked.
McCutcheon’s point here is that you have to have to speak your customer’s language – and that language isn’t always the language of landscaping. It’s not about the shiny brochure with pictures of your trucks. It’s about asking the right kinds of questions and learning about their business.
Charlie Sheen Dale Carnegie was wrong. You don’t “win” friends. You don’t collect them like business cards.
Reid Hoffman, founder of Linkedin and celebrated tech investor, said as much in the February issue of Fortune, where he was promoting his new book. Turns out you make friends and allies by just being thoughtful and lending a hand. Who knew?
This excerpt featured some of his best advice on how to strengthen your network:
The best way to engage with new people is not by cold calling or by “networking” with strangers at cocktail parties, but by working with the people you already know. Of the many types of professional relationships, among the most important are your close allies. Most professionals maintain five to 10 active alliances. What makes a relationship an alliance? First, an ally is someone you consult regularly for advice. Second, you proactively share and collaborate on opportunities together. You keep your antennae attuned to an ally’s interests, and when it makes sense to pursue something jointly, you do. Third, you talk up an ally. You promote his or her brand. Finally, when an ally runs into conflict, you defend him and stand up for his reputation, and he does the same for you.
You can read the full article, which includes more of the science and psychology behind networking, here.