Character is Destiny

Character determines the culture of your landscape company.  And character starts at the top.  Culture is the residue of the example set by leaders in action. In short, the character and culture of doing the right thing… even if it means making sacrifices, is a chief hallmark of high performing breakthrough companies.

Consider the following example. A company makes a purchase from a vendor with contract terms outlining performance, problem resolution and if necessary termination. At some point, the company leader decides to terminate the contract after months of using the product for reasons not only related to the vendor’s performance.

Despite the efforts of the vendor to make things right, the leader isn’t interested in resolution and opts to terminate at the same time refusing to bring the account (which unsurprisingly was past due) up to date pay for the services faithfully rendered.

Actions Speak Louder

We can probably guess that this action is a pattern of behavior not a one-off event. Regardless of contract language parsed by lawyers, this of course is not the right thing to do. The leader has set a clear example about how to treat vendors.  And smart employees know they will likely be treated this way too at some point.

What is the likely result? A culture defined by a character of expediency, fear and mistrust.

Breakthrough companies develop character when leadership does the right thing (regardless of how painful). This sends a message of fair play and honesty in work and relationships. The authors of the Breakthrough Company suggest that… Nice guys actually do finish first.

Dignity Is Key

Dignity in relationships is the product of good character and promotes an atmosphere of trust where ordinary people are happy to do extraordinary things.

Dignity simply practiced is:

1. Set your standards high.

2. Provide feedback when needed and praise when warranted.

3. Listen to people and include them in decisions.

4. Follow through on your word. That’s dignity… and people respond.

Customers and team members thrive in an atmosphere where they feel there is a fair deal.  And that environment it built by cultivating the character of your people and the culture of your landscape company.

Managing Complacency In Your Landscape Business

This is the third in a series of posts about building a Breakthrough company.

Business success can make cowards of us all.

Success brings profits and cash and a certain conservatism – as in: “let’s not to screw up what we’ve achieved”. This risk aversion is natural. When you started the business you really had nothing to lose… now with success you do.  This is where complacency in your landscape business starts…

For those of you who manage now and have had some success you can see this happening: people get a bit arrogant (don’t want to change), they believe their own press (because the have gotten so much positive feedback), and worse they want to take a break from the breakneck pace that was required to achieve that success. These are signs that you are about to lose your edge to someone hungrier with ‘nothing to lose” and begin a long slog spiral downward into complacency…

How to kill complacency before it hurts your landscape business.

The authors of the Breakthrough Company demonstrate that addressing this complacency is perhaps the crucial hallmark of high success companies. They are marked by their willingness to continue to make business “bets” and act on them when most would rest on their laurels.

Ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they are hungry and motivated. But someone must lead and get the team to assess the smart bets that will take the business forward – whether that means new markets, services, processes and software… or in many cases new staffing and management talent.

What’s your best bet to beat business complacency?

What business bets should you make? A good bet would be to find new ways to improve the performance of what you’re doing (better execution).  But even smarter bets are made by actively asking and listening to your customers and staff… then formulate with them the bet that provides your business with excitement and a competitive advantage for both customers and employees.

Eliminating the Leadership Bottleneck

This is the second in a series of posts about building a Breakthrough company.

Who’s the boss – The owner/manager or the customer?  

Seems like an easy question, but most companies are structured to serve the boss, not the customer.  Breakthrough companies make the choice to eliminate this “leadership bottleneck” because companies begin to slog when they over-manage from the top and neglect to respond to and anticipate changing customer tastes and needs.

In the beginning, the leadership bottleneck is normal and is actually helpful in providing direction to a new and inexperienced team.  Many companies grow because of the efforts, ego and charisma of the leader.  That is good.  What’s bad is when it doesn’t change as the company attempts to scale up. You’ve witnessed it, the boss has all the relationships… the customer expects to talk to the boss…  as if that can go on forever.

When The Leader Becomes The Problem

That’s the leadership bottleneck…  too many customer decisions have go through the boss whether it’s a concern for getting things right or a need for control, it doesn’t matter.  It slows everything down and creates customer communications problems because very few people can read the boss’ mind. Worse it ‘retards’ the growth of the very people who need to learn how to manage the customer without the boss.  The result is slow response and declining loyalty and sales.

The Breakthrough CompanyHow Breakthrough Companies Fix The Leadership Bottleneck

In a breakthrough company, the boss gets out of the way and makes the customer boss by creating systems:  

(1) Policies (return every call in 24 hours, or your money back if you are not happy).

(2) Metrics to measure happiness (surveys, delivery times, schedule accuracy).

(3) Training (dedicated account managers).

(4) CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Software to track it all.  

The Monthly Survey Solution

Simple once-monthly surveys – on a scale of one to ten – asking:  How happy are you with our performance? are easy to do.  You want 9’s and 10’s.  Anything else must be investigated and addressed.  Metrics can be tied to people to created direct accountability.  If you can measure you can reward it… and cut people in on the growth in sales and profits.

With policy, metrics (goals), trained people, CRM scorecards and pay for performance you provide the platform to scale your business.  Otherwise you are in for a long slow slog…  get the boss out of the way and set up a system that motivates people to do the right thing for the customer.

The Breakthrough Landscape Company

A breakthrough company is one that grows revenues and profits by ten times in 5 years.  More importantly, they all follow a common path to do it.  We at Aspire Software are practicing these strategies and we see that they readily apply to our clients in the Green Industry.

How to get ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

The Brakethrough CompanyThis is the essence of the Breakthrough Company.  In a five-year study of small to medium-sized businesses, the authors discovered a select group of breakthrough companies.  They found that these companies are unique in that they are accelerating growth while so many more are slogging along watching profits sag, revenue growth slow, and their people lacking fire.

What is it that breakthrough companies do that allows them to achieve such spectacular results?

  1. Eliminate the leadership bottleneck and the cult of pleasing the boss… and instead focus on pleasing the customer.  It sounds simple, but companies start to slog when they over-manage and forget to listen to and anticipate changing customer tastes and needs.
  2. Don’t get fat and happy.  Too often initial success breeds risk aversion…  “Let’s not lose what we’ve made.”  A good poker player doesn’t sit on his stack, instead he continues to make smart bets.  Success can breed inertia and instead of sitting pretty breeds you end up sitting ugly.
  3. Involve your team in making strategy and cut them in on the action to build excitement and “closing time” character.  Closing Time character – A customer walks into your shop at 10 minutes to closing time needing help.  What happens?  (A.)  Come back tomorrow we are closed.  (B.) Let’s see what we can do in ten minutes.  (C.)  Let’s get it fixed (regardless of how much past closing time it takes).  What’s your character right now? A, B, or C?  Character as they say is destiny.
  4. Navigating growth from small guy to big guy is not easy.  Lots of customers prefer small vendors because of the personal touch the big boys lack.  You have to decide what “small company” experiences you must maintain to keep your customers as you grow while minimizing the cost of keeping that personal service level.  This is strategy – finding out what really matters and investing in the systems that can standardize it is – customer loyalty.
  5. Strategy is the plan a company puts together to WIN.  Breakthrough companies create strategy with a broad group of people, not just the wise men at the top.  The focus is on creating ideas, executing those ideas, appraising results, and adjusting.  The emphasis is on action, execution and follow-through… not on meetings and talk.  Changing direction is hard.  But the breakthrough company approach makes it less painful.

That’s it! As you might imagine, there is so much more to it – details, methods and stories of how you can become a breakthrough company.  We think it works.  Aspire Software has been successful in our first three years by applying these ideas.  Like anyone else we have a lot to learn and if you are like us, we are ready to learn more.

How To Buy Landscape Business Management Software Part Five: Product Development

This is the fifth, in a five post series written to help landscape contractors buy landscape business management software.  You can see part one here , part two here , part three here and part four here.

The Importance Of Software Product Development

When making a Landscape Business Management Software purchase, like Aspire, for your landscape company, you are making a bet on the long-term viability of the software vendor.  Specifically about the probability that the software company’s product and people can support you as you grow.  

Key Purchase Question: Will Your Landscape Company Outgrow The Software?

You don’t want to be in the unenviable position of having to buy software to manage your landscape business again in a few years because you outgrew the product.  This is why a higher price tag in the present is justified because you are buying insurance that you WON’T have to go through the process all over again.  

That’s why I say you can spend too little.  This one facet of the purchase process is often overlooked, but in my estimation, it may be the most important element in the entire purchase process.

Does The Software Vendor’s Price Allow Them (and motivate them) To Continuously Improve The Product?

It takes a lot more money to maintain and upgrade a software product that it ever took to “write” the very first version.  You should understand the vendor’s financial condition and their vision and plan for upgrades and potential changes in technology.

Understand that a financially strapped Software as a Service vendor with poor profit margins will cut back on product improvement first.  They’ll “circle the wagons” to focus on keeping the current product version working, because they don’t have the resources to improve it.  This lowers the value of the software and stalls new customer sales, which continues the downward cycle.

On the other hand, a SaaS vendor with a healthy profit margin is motivated to continuously improve the product.   This attracts new customers and provides even more resources to improve the software.

Product Development Questions you should ask during your selection process.

  • Will the software grow as we grow or will I be stuck with old technology?
  • Is the product built on a mobile cloud-based platform?
  • Can the software function remotely across multiple branches and regions?  
  • How is my data managed and secured?
  • Do I own my data?
  • What is the risk of data loss and the recovery process?
  • How do I get updates? How often?  What’s the process and the cost?
  • Are the owners committed to the landscape industry long-term?  
  • Is the company financially stable?  Is their pricing model sustainable?
  • What does the organization chart look like (Remember it takes lots of people to support software)?
  • Can I speak to them before I make a decision?  

Again, think of buying landscaping management software, like purchasing a car.  You want the car you buy today to run as good or better ten years from now…  That can only happen if the product was great initially and the service and maintenance schedule is backed up by a plan and money.