Do Crew Chiefs Really Hold the Keys to Profitability?

Highly respected management consultant and financial expert Frank Ross was recently asked: “In a successful organization, who has the greatest influence on profitability? Is it the sales staff, top-level management, or the accounting manager?"

"No, no and no," Frank exclaims. "It is the crew leader."

At many landscape companies, Frank relates, the crew leader is the guy who's given a couple of employees, a truck and trailer full of equipment, a route sheet, and the expectation that he must perform miracles on his properties. Frank says "miracles" because, in many instances, a job is sold for whatever it takes to land that job. But the crew performing the work is still held to some pre-defined standard of, for example, $30 per man-hour. When the contractor sold the job for $24 per man-hour, though, it's no wonder that the crew couldn't meet budget.

"Landscape companies need to recognize that their crews are good, and I mean really good," Frank says. "If managers are smart enough to give their crews the tools they need to succeed, crews can perform well above expectation."

One of the best tools around: The White Board

Tool number one is the hours needed to adequately perform the work. Then, Frank says, one of the best systems he has ever seen is the over-sized white board.

Written on the white board are the job schedules for each crew. "The board is lined off in a honeycomb fashion with 'days of the week' across the top and the crews listed individually down the left-hand side, or vice versa," Frank explains.

Each of the squares sequentially lists yard time in the morning, each job to be serviced, yard time in the evening, and the hours budgeted to perform each. "This system transfers ownership of an entire day's worth of crew time to the crew leader," Frank points out. "The board clearly states how much time should be spent on each activity.

"At the end of the day," Frank goes on to say, "the crew leader will post the hours he is submitting for payroll next to the daily hours budget. If he is posting fewer hours, he uses a black marker. If he is posting more hours, he uses a red marker."

It's amazing, Frank says, that this one simple system creates ownership among crew leaders—ownership when it comes to not only quality work, but also efficiency and profitability. That's a great sense of ownership to create because the crew leader holds the real keys to profitability in a landscape company.

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