Training 101

Features - Formulas for Success

Programs that develop employees’ skills show a company values its team members and is serious about delivering quality.

April 11, 2011
Kristen Hampshire

If every employee is thought of as a company ambassador – the face of the business and a sample of what the firm has to offer every customer – then what kind of owner would dispatch team members into the field without holding a rigorous and ongoing boot camp?

The products and services you sell are available from competitors. “The only thing we have to sell is ourselves,” says Pat O’Bryan, general manager of Jamison Pest and Lawn in Memphis, Tenn. When his company was a two-man outfit, he treated every lawn and knew every customer.

Today, he relies on his employees to carry out that example of quality and customer service.

Training ensures that a company’s philosophies, quality standards and, at the base level, its services, are carried out according to the standards set by the owner and/or management.

Training is insurance, in a way. By teaching employees the right way to get it done, you avoid potential losses (customers, reputation, bids), and potential headaches. 

This month, Lawn & Landscape spoke with three firms to learn how they use training to keep their associates sharp and develop employees into valuable team members.



Jamison Pest and Lawn
Pat O’Bryan:
General Manager
Location: Memphis, Tenn.
Established: 2004
11 2010
Revenues: $1.5 million
Customers: 90% residential; 10% commercial
Services: Lawn care, tree and shrub care, aeration, soil sampling, insect and disease control

“Training doesn’t cost, it pays,” says Pat O’Bryan, general manager at Jamison Pest and Lawn in Memphis, Tenn. Sure, there is lost productivity during training time. But the invaluable result of training is, ultimately, customer referrals. “What is a satisfied customer base worth?” O’Bryan asks. “People are so conscious of how they spend money these days, they are really looking for value and service.”

These principals must be taught. And, at Jamison Pest and Lawn, the actual practice of treating lawns or controlling pests also must be taught. That’s because O’Bryan’s recruiting efforts focus on hiring for attitude and not necessarily aptitude. “We find the best people we can, and we break down our training into bite-sized bits,” he says.

Specifically, O’Byran leads classroom sessions that correlate with the guidebooks for state certification for lawn (category 3) and pest control (category 7) in Tennessee. A new lawn care technician will learn about labels, safety, spill control – the works. “As they progress through the certification and understand mixing, pouring, personal protective wear, they are also out in the field,” O’Bryan says.

And as the company has grown from two people to nearly a dozen, O’Bryan recognizes that every employee is a spokesperson for Jamison Pest and Lawn – and that he is no longer the “face” of the business. “If employees aren’t excited and glad to be part of our team and have that service heart, they are not going to fit our culture.”

Some of the “service heart” O’Bryan refers to is innate: a technician who picks up a client’s newspaper from the curb and takes it to the door. Other aspects of service are taught during monthly meetings, and O’Bryan digs deep. He trains employees to only write on service tickets in red pen because that color stands out on the light-green paper. He teaches them ways to write notes on those service tickets that are easy to understand and concise. He emphasizes why technicians must knock on doors at every stop, because O’Bryan finds that a good portion of customers are actually home during the service and appreciate the personal contact.

The payoff for training at all levels is growing an organization of strong, service-focused, quality-minded leaders. “Training keeps employees engaged and makes their jobs more enjoyable,” he says. “They’ll be better at their jobs, they’ll feel better about that and they’ll represent your company better.”

Quick Tips
Cover the details. From how to write service tickets to what to say on the phone, cover every process and explain the importance of consistency and quality.

Test the training. O’Bryan gives crewmembers quizzes after bi-monthly training sessions to be sure everyone understood key talking points.

The right fit. By finding employees with “service heart, O’Bryan knows that he has an employee who fits the company’s culture and will go beyond what is needed when it comes to customer service.



Pacific Landscape Management
Elias Godinez:
Founder, Vice-President
Bob Grover: Founder, President
Location: Hillsboro, Ore.
Employees: 100 2010
Revenues: $6 million
Customers: 100% commercial
Services: Maintenance, irrigation, snow removal, pest control, tree and shrub care

A company is only as good as its employees. That philosophy drives a robust training program for crewmembers at Pacific Landscape Management that shows everyone they are valued.

The return on investment for the Hillsboro, Ore.-based firm is high employee retention. “Our company is going to be 10 years old this year, and some of our guys have been with us for that long,” says Elias Godinez, co-founder and vice president.

A commitment to training means keeping education at the forefront of the business. The company does this with layers of learning an annual training day where all employees gather pre-season; on-site training for new employees, and weekly half-hour meetings during which employees take turns presenting on various topics for a couple of minutes.

Quality, attention to detail and teamwork are emphasized in training from day one at the company. An employee’s first day is broken into two parts: company history and policies, where incentives and payscales are also covered, and a basic equipment overview, including getting to know the truck and trailer. From there, foremen take over on-the-job training. “They locate those new employees and spend quite a bit of time the first week to make sure they are learning the equipment,” Godinez says.

Godinez says employees spend about a month getting to know equipment – “we make sure they are learning each piece slowly” – and all workers get a “checkup” on equipment skills at the company’s annual training day, where all employees from the company’s three locations gather at headquarters for a full day of learning. “We start with a presentation about the prior year’s success and failures,” Godinez says, adding that the discussion includes goals and objectives for the coming year. “We share financial numbers with them. Then we show the orientation program again, which serves as a refresher so they don’t forget about our beliefs and values and so they know exactly what new employees have heard about their first day.”

Godinez also teaches courses on understanding business decisions and how to survive and thrive as a Hispanic in an American culture.

This enthusiasm for training is passed on to employees by giving them an opportunity to give short safety presentations during weekly meetings. The employee presenting chooses the next week’s “speaker,” who can choose any safety topic. Crewmembers who prepare and present well are rewarded with a lunch bag or coffee mug – and positive feedback from fellow team members.

“At the beginning, they may feel uncomfortable speaking in front of other people, but after a while it gets easier,” Godinez says, noting how this activity builds professionalism and team spirit.

This attitude, and upstanding quality, is evident on job sites, Godinez says. “You can see them focusing on details or whatever we just trained – you can see the effects.”  

Quick Tips
Get everyone involved. Requiring crewmembers to give a safety presentation at one weekly training meeting during the season builds confidence. Plus, peers support one another by listening and learning.

Encourage apprenticing. Crew foreman work one-on-one in the field with new employees as these “green” workers learn each piece of equipment in the fleet. After a month of supervised work, employees are prepared to work more independently.

Train professionalism. Learning extends beyond basic equipment know-how at Pacific Landscape Management. Godinez wants his workers to feel empowered to succeed, so he also provides business-focused training that builds leaders.




Mariani Enterprises
Stacy Betz:
Human Resources Director
Location: Lake Bluff, Ill.
Established: 1958
Employees: 420 (peak season)
2010 Revenues: $35.5
Customers: 78% residential; 22% commercial
Services: Design/build, maintenance, holiday lighting

ISO (International Standard for Organization) is the ultimate in accountability. It’s a system used by manufacturing firms and all types of corporations all over the world to develop operating standards that are audited.

“The simplest form of ISO is to write down the processes for everything you do – you say what you do and do what you say,” says Stacy Betz, human resources director at Mariani in Lake Bluff, Ill.

Betz says the company created flowcharts that document every procedure. This process triggered the company’s training matrix: a detailed spreadsheet that outlines every weekly training meeting spring through fall, and includes every employee’s name. Crew leaders are responsible for tracking who attends every meeting, and anyone in the company can view the chart and find out which employees missed a session.

The result of this progress chart-style system is more interest in training topics, more ownership in the overall training curriculum and better results in the field. The training matrix for an upcoming season is completed in fall by production managers, who develop the topics. They plug in sessions that focus on procedural and safety topics.  Training sessions can be swapped out or edited mid-season to accommodate real needs, such as if crew leaders notice performance is lagging in a certain area, or if environmental conditions warrant a special topic, etc.

ISO auditors can check up on Mariani Enterprises at any time and find out if employees marked as attending training truly did – and that they honestly learned something, Betz says.

“Then they can take it one step further,” Betz says “and go out to the crew and ask the crewmember, ‘It says you attended: What can you tell me about it? Do you recall the training?’”

Simply showing up to training is not enough. “We have a more educated team because they are going through the training,” Betz says, “and we have brought companywide recognition to our training.”

The author is a frequent contributor to Lawn & Landscape.

Quick Tips
Schedule training. By creating a matrix that lists training topics for every week of the season and distributing this to crewmembers before season’s end, everyone recognizes the importance of learning company policies.

Hold them accountable. To obtain ISO certification, Mariani Enterprises had to define every process – and to maintain certification, these processes are tracked and audited.

Make it a team effort. By giving everyone access to the training matrix and who attended sessions, employees encourage each other to attend to boost the company’s overall participation score.