Pulling in One Direction

Most landscape contractors reach a point sometime in their existence where they feel stuck in a certain mode. Arnie Arsenault began experiencing those feelings about a year and a half ago. “I knew we needed to get our whole crew to want to build our business together,” Arsenault says.

That’s why Arsenault and partner M. Scott Letendre signed up their company, A. Arsenault & Sons in Spencer, MA, for the Working Smarter Training Challenge in March 2009. Since then, Arsenault says they’ve found numerous ways to reduce wasted, unbillable time. Most importantly, everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Every Employee Makes a Difference

“When things started to get really tough last year, we wanted to implement some kind of coordinated training on a company-wide basis,” Arsenault says. Now all 15 employees meet for half an hour every Tuesday morning to work through the different lesson plans of the Working Smarter Training Challenge. Pulling the entire team together like this has had a positive effect on not only work processes, but also culture and communication.

“We’d had company cell phones for many years, yet the communication level in our company wasn’t the greatest,” Arsenault relates. “Crews didn’t talk to each other, and the information coming from managers didn’t filter down to each individual crew member very well. All of that has improved greatly since we started training.”

When employees begin seeing how the changes being implemented have a positive effect on productivity, Arsenault says everything starts to snowball. “Everybody feels like they play an important role in coming up with good ideas and finding ways to improve,” Arsenault adds. “The different crew leaders now call each other with questions and advice. The crew members are also fired up. They’re writing down more detailed notes on job sheets, and are eager to offer suggestions and share insights with not only their crew leaders, but even me and Scott (Letendre). Our employees are happier and more motivated—and now see the big picture.”

Perhaps most importantly, clients have seen the change. “Crews are visibly happier; there’s a bounce in their step on jobsites,” Arsenault says. “They are more confident and enjoy talking with clients now. That goes a long way in making clients happy.”

Arsenault says it took a little while before the full effects of the training kicked in. “It was a challenge to get guys participating at first; they’d rather mow and prune than train and share ideas. But we needed everyone to understand why this was so important.”

That’s why Arsenault and partner Letendre decided to slow down for a second and first call a few meetings with only their managers. Once the managers bought into the Working Smarter concept, and came to a consensus as to how it could help the company, they brought the rest of the employees in. While a few refused to get on board, most did—and did so in a big way.

Cut Fueling-up Time by 70%

The crew members played a valuable role in identifying process improvements that have helped A. Arsenault & Sons reduce the non-billable time spent fueling vehicles by 80%. Here’s what has happened:

BEFORE: After receiving their route sheet in the morning, the first thing crews did was head down the street to the gas station, whether they really needed gas or not. Two 2-man crews and two 3-man crews equals 10 employees—each wasting 10 minutes every morning. Total unbillable time: 1.5 hours per day.

AFTER: Now one employee comes in a half hour early each morning. He’s responsible for fueling up the trucks, equipment and gas cans. A “key board” hangs on the wall in the shop’s meeting room. Each truck has a hook and notification card; green means “fuel it” while red means “don’t fuel it”. When is it time to fuel a truck? When it’s below a half tank. Total unbillable time: 0.5 hours per day.

Finish Strong, Start Smooth

Like most contractors in the Working Smarter Training Challenge, A. Arsenault & Sons has also improved its process for getting out of the yard in the morning. “Once we explained how important this is, crew members immediately began making a conscious effort to improve,” Arsenault relates.

Crew leaders now come in at 7:45 a.m. to perform DOT inspections on vehicles, which is a big reason why the company’s fleet now runs a lot more smoothly. The crew members then arrive at 8 a.m. The first thing they do is look at the job board to see which crew leader they’re assigned to. This has eliminated confusion over scheduling and all of the wandering around associated with that confusion. “Our two-man crews are on the road in 5-10 minutes, and our three-man crews are gone in under 15,” Arsenault says.

There are other examples of how A. Arsenault & Sons is Working Smarter, too many to list here, but they all tie back to one thing: The employees were involved in the development of the process improvements. As a result, everyone is happier and more motivated, and communication throughout the company has improved greatly. “It’s made for a business that is a lot more comfortable to run these days,” Arsenault says.

Learn how you can transform your company into a lean, productive and passionate organization that can continue to be competitive for years to come by visiting Working Smarter Training Challenge, or call 920-563-1614.