Lessons from Sports Applied to the Landscape Industry

An inside look at how lessons learned in sports ring true in the green industry.

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Is there a lesson for our industry from this year's Super Bowl and from sports in general? Absolutely. Sports can teach us a lot.

Lessons from sports

Recruit, hire and retain great talent

Teams that win Super Bowls do two basic things: They recruit the best talent, and they have excellent coaches who expect the best out of their staff. Our company has prided itself on recruiting well for the past 35 years. It was something I learned when working in the restaurant business. We worked with Don Clifton who wrote the book “Strength Finders.” His company taught that a manager's No. 1 priority should be recruiting, hiring and keeping the best players. As a Nebraska-based company, Clifton used sports analogies to make his point about talent for any industry. He would challenge us to look to sports if you want to stand out. Learn from great teams. Nebraska was regularly winning football national championships in those days. The school recruited well and coached well.

Recruit team players

In the movie “Miracle on Ice,” the team coach Herb Brooks was committed to having the American hockey team beat the Russians in the 1980 Olympics. Not only did they beat the Russians, but they went on to win the gold medal in that same Olympics. How? Brooks understood the Russians beat our best “all star” professionals. Back then, Olympic teams were made up of college players. Herb realize he needed a new strategy. The Russians were simply too good. It was not about putting together the best players, and Brooks realized he needed the best team players. In our industry, we put teams in the field doing tasks. Our jobs need talent even more. Each team must work together. Efficiency comes from people working together as a team. Think about each job has a score the team needs to hit. It could be as simple as it must be completed in “X” man hours. When the team finishes the job in an amount of time less than “X,” it allows the company to have a nice profit. Along with profit, we should always ask, is the work completed with excellence?

Invest in coaching

Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry was credited with saying, “a coach is somebody who makes you do what you want to do so that you’ll become what you want to become.” Landscape professionals can think about this as they work to align growing employees so they can become future managers and even greater employees.

Develop your team

At Ryan Lawn & Tree, we have Toastmasters speaking groups for most of our employees in the winter. The first year employees hate it, but a few years later, after they present a training session or give their first garden club talk, it all changes. When they finish that first presentation, it seems they are 6 inches taller with pride.

Reward your team

Now let’s ask, if our people win, what do they get out of it? What’s their trophy? In many companies, owners simply say “a paycheck.” Is that enough? What do winning players get? We need to think about this if we are going to build the best companies and lift our industry. Do you give recognition, bonuses or other benefits to thank your associates?

At our company, we are working on this issue continually. We pay well. Everyone is full time with full benefits. We are employee owned. In addition, we are continually working on raising our annual salaries. To make that happen, we need to be more productive and run more dollars per person hour. As productivity goes up, our goal is to share a portion of that increased productivity back to the employees. I’d like to see our associates make considerably more in the future than they are making now. We think this is critical. 

As an industry, can we share ideas to make this happen for all of us? I think that could be a great goal.