Biggest Management Mistakes I've Ever Made

Crew leaders have to show, not just tell

Some of the greatest mistakes can be traced right back to basic communication and fundamental leadership skills.

Consider the following example. A crew leader, after carefully “telling” his worker how to prune some trees without "showing" him how to prune the trees, left the site only to return at the end of the day to discover that the worker had "topped" a significant amount of trees. This led to the costly replacement of many trees.

How many times have you heard “I told them” vs. “I showed them” in your business? How did that work for you? Believe me when I say more communication can make all the difference in the world. This one slipup can affect all businesses in all trades from design to construction to maintenance.

Owners can't be too trusting of crew leaders

Crew leaders are prone to making their own mistakes, but you the owner can make some big mistakes of your own when it comes to crew leaders.

I was far too trusting when I first started my company. I used to let foremen take trucks home, partly to help them and partly because I had limited parking at night in my yard. I quickly learned this was a costly mistake.

One Monday morning one of the foremen didn’t show up on time. When he did show up, he didn’t have my truck. When I asked him where it was he explained he took it “for a ride” with his girlfriend and had an accident. "Had an accident" was an understatement. The truck was a mess! Craziest thing was that my foreman couldn’t understand why I was going to fire him. Needless to say, that was the last truck a foreman ever took home.

Don't think you can always "figure it out later"

We all want to grow our businesses and are willing to “bring it on” when the customer is ready and willing to buy our services. And yet, is there ever a time when enough is too much?

In one of our desert regions, the perfect storm of landing a large amount of work at the wrong time "landed" on us—and it wasn’t a good landing. It was in July and temps were averaging 110° to 115°. We were awarded two major contracts to maintain seven large resort-type hotel complexes and 12 large apartment complexes all on the same starting date.

We thought we could handle it. Bad move! We dropped the ball primarily in the area of irrigation; we simply weren't skilled or prepared enough to deal with the massive amount of irrigation work. By the time the heat storm had subsided, we had spent more than $100,000 in extra effort, and were unable to recapture these costs and regain the confidence of the customer. After struggling our way to cooler fall temperatures, we were eventually asked to leave.

Don't fall victim to the "we will figure it out later syndrome" because it can be very costly. Know what your capability for growth is, and know when to say no. At the very least, try to navigate yourself to better times of the year to take on a ton of work.

Put it in writing

The craziest mistake I ever made was not giving my sister clear, written directions. I was in business a few years and we were awarded a multi-year contract to maintain a large condominium about one hour from my yard. We needed to mulch the shrub beds, so I had 100 yards of mulch delivered to the site; just the first of many loads.

I had just purchased a small loader to move the mulch around on the site, but now needed to get it from my yard to the condo. We hooked up our trailer to the largest truck I owned, and up went the bucket loader. I told my sister to bring it to the jobsite we would be working on. No, she wasn’t driving the truck, but one of my non-English-speaking men was. She was riding along to give him directions. After three hours or so, they pull back in the yard explaining they dropped off the machine and we were all set for the next day.

The next day arrives and two trucks follow me to the jobsite. They had never been to this job before, and I wanted to be sure they knew exactly what to do. When we arrived about an hour later, I pulled into the parking lot by the clubhouse. There was the mulch pile, but no loader. I drove all over the site, but still no loader. Did someone steal it!?

I called my office. After searching for my sister, they found her. I asked my sister where she parked the machine. She said she parked it right by the club house. I explained that it wasn’t there. Then I repeated the name of the condominium and town it was located in. There was silence. Well, you guessed it. She brought it to the wrong town and wrong condo. So there we were, six guys and no machine. Boy did I learn my lesson.

Ed Laflamme LIC started his own business from scratch, built it up, sold it, and then wrote a book about how he did it. He is recognized as a CLP: Certified Landscape Professional. Bill Arman worked for and helped grow one of the biggest landscape companies in the country. Bill, alone, has gone on 15,000 quality site visits in his career. Bill is the author of a new book, "The Harvest Way for Recruiting and Hiring the Right People." Visit The Harvest Group for more information.

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