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All you believe…may be ALL WRONG – Belief #3

Misconception #3 – Garden Centers Should Employ Horticulturists with College Degrees Full-Time, Year-Round and Pay Them Professional Salaries with Comprehensive Benefits

(Read time approx. 3 minutes.)

This is the third misconception in a series of six. The concepts being discussed here will likely be counter to your beliefs. The comments left on the previous posts are quite interesting so you may want to go back and read them. Click HERE to go back and begin with the first post related to this series.

Disclaimer: While I focus on the business side of the horticultural business my education, training, and experience is broad in the green industry including plant production and retail garden center with Scarff’s Nursery, landscape services with Horticultural Advantage, and marketing and sales of plants with Bailey Nurseries, and Sunrise Marketing. Let it be known that I am all in favor of the future success of the many educated and knowledgeable horticulturists in our industry, especially those that are effective in carrying out their responsibilities.

Necessity is the mother of invention. When the facts are laid out and we discover that it is simply not possible to 1) do what we once did, 2) do what others do, or 3) do what we would like to do, then why not open our horizons and explore opportunities we previously ignored? The title of this post is designed to get interest and discussion going rather than to discount the value of horticultural expertise. So please, read on then leave a comment.

The Blended Workforce: A workforce today may include people who have recently launched or are well along in a lifelong career in the garden center business blended with others who have very different expectations. It really has always been this way, but now we depend on it more than ever with high school and college students. It has become more difficult to recruit quality high school and college students, but other resources are increasingly more available.

Career Opportunities are Different for Different People. The times have been changing for quite some time and it is easier than not to lag behind on adapting with our own changes.

There are many people who are looking for opportunities that PREFER NOT to have a full-time year-round job and place little value on the costly employer obligations provided along with it. In most areas of our country there is an abundance of retirees and professionals from other industries (as well as horticultural professionals) who are not looking for the traditional full-time, year-round career. Among the benefits many of these folks offer are often maturity, experience from previous careers, in-the-garden experience, and the ability to engage consumers and help them translate the benefits of our products and services in a way they understand themselves. Many garden center customers are among this potential workforce that often places higher value to a generous employee discount than they do to other benefits.

The presence or lack of a college degree is not the issue at all. The issue is really all about affordability for the garden center, which is amazingly enough connected to effectiveness and productivity. However, providing correct information, products, and advice to the customer is always necessary. For years, garden centers have been exceeding their financial ability to pay for the expense associated with those they choose to employ. The determination of who was on the payroll was based more on horticultural knowledge and education than other factors. The hard economic reality is that we cannot afford to employ anyone we cannot afford to employ. Even more difficult is the fact that we cannot afford to employ people who are not effective just because we are willing to pay for them rather than deal with their ineffectiveness.

“What will we do without them?” This concern is always related to people who are already known to be of marginal contribution to the profitability of the company. The real question should be, “Can we do anything with them?” And of course the answer to that question is sometimes yes, and sometimes no. People who are in question are in question. It is really not more complicated than that. It is just a matter of time, but the result is always the same. Eventually the person in question will be gone. Either they will become an effective person or they will leave on their own accord or because a clear decision is made that the business is better off without them than it is with them. If you can’t afford to carry ineffective people now, you certainly won’t be more able to afford to carry them in the future. Why wait. Or are YOU the problem?

The days of accountability for workforce productivity are ALREADY here.  But what have we done about it? Are our people effective?

For a long time our industry has operated with the assumption those fine folks who had the same last name as the owner, or had “earned” a college degree majoring in Horticulture or closely related subject matter also had the requisite knowledge, experience, and ability to lead and perform functions of merchandise management, marketing, accounting, finance, and other tasks. But it wasn’t always so was it?

Who we REALLY need:

Our industry needs people who are not only knowledgeable, but also effective. Knowledge without initiative is ineffective. Efficient people get things done. Effective people get the right things done efficiently. We can afford only effective people, however, we can afford effective people only if we do not “carry” ineffective people along for the ride.

NEW Belief #3 – Effective Leaders Develop other Effective Leaders. (This is also an Executive Principle taught in our Executive Advantage program.)

Consider these traits of effective people:

1. They define the desired result. This is not always the best possible result, as effective people understand that there is a diminishing return on investment and effort and that good is sometimes required, great is often better, but perfection takes too long and very few customers will pay for it.

2. They map out a process. Planning is a tool used by effective people. Unfortunately planning can be a crutch for some who plan perpetually but never initiate their plans. Don’t throw the bath water out just yet.

3. They strive to reach agreement or consensus. Effective people do not try to live as if they were in a bubble. They recognize their inter-dependence on others whether it be those who provide resources to, or those they provide resources for – their customers.

4. They communicate progress. One of the least understood yet most critical tools of leaders is the feedback loop, also known as the communication loop. And what company have you ever heard of that did not have a communication problem? A communication problem is also a leadership problem as well as an impediment to effectiveness.

There are other traits of effective people of course but these are some that are invaluable and often missing from the pool of incumbent players in many companies. Unfortunately effectiveness traits have not been required to receive horticultural expertise or college degrees. They are learned through continuing education, personal development, mentoring, coaching, training, application, and experience. In other words they are developed over time with specific intent to do so. And that is exactly why and how we offer our Advantage Development System.

I don’t know who to give credit for this but one of the wisest people related concepts I’ve heard lately is, “If you can’t change your people, it is time to change people.” But remember the instructions you hear before the plane takes off: “place the oxygen mask on yourself first, before assisting other passengers.” We can begin by helping ourselves as well as our people become more effective by providing direction, a feedback loop for accountability, and the training and development they need for our companies to succeed. As a result we too will be more effective. This is the most direct route to profitability and business sustainability.

4 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Suzi McCoy, Sid Raisch. Sid Raisch said: Should garden centers employ horticulturists? http://ow.ly/FeoS […]

  2. Sid can’t say this but I can:
    There’s a need for technical knowledge in any business, but an often-overlooked fact is that half of all jobs involve some form of sales. This fact is most overlooked by institutions of higher learning, perhaps because they aren’t overwhelmed with applicants in search of selling skills or with career aspirations in sales. But sales is commerce and commerce is sales. It is a rare college or university that prepares its graduates for this simple fact.
    College-educated experts can and very often do overwhelm the customer with unwanted and indecipherable technical jargon, the enemy of making the sale in many cases.
    They also have a tendency to overvalue themselves. By this I mean that they don’t necessarlly measure their worth as employees by how many dollars of profit they add to an enterprise, and this is a fundamental measure of worth in any for-profit business.

  3. Well Steve, I’m probably independent to a fault too in many ways and I can say it and I will. Thanks for the challenge! Before dealing with selling skills we have to deal with selling attitude. The underlying attitude throughout our industry is that “we don’t want to be high-pressure salespeople” which is true but can also be a lazy cop out for not putting ourselves out there emotionally to the customer. It is much easier to hide behind the plants moving them, watering them, planting them and every other sort of thing while our livelihood shrivels from the fear of selling. Having recognized this as the #1 issue critical to the success of our industry we launched Client Advantage, a program that deals with this opportunity by teaching the correct mindset for professional selling and the skills to go with it. The principle here is that if we don’t sell enough stuff we’ll never have enough people to take care of the stuff we have and afford to stay in business. My recommendation to anyone approaching a career in horticulture is to “intern” in a sales position in a company that provides professional level sales training.

  4. Ok as a college trained horticulturist with a full time job (thankfully) i defiantly have to agree with Steve in that i wish more of the school training would include sales and other practical work stuff. i had a few options but they were all either science based(lab) or production/grower focused. While we all do some production and grower tasks there is a lot in the industry that you aren’t even introduced to in a 4 year degree.

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