Erica Orange, executive vice president and COO at The Future Hunters and Crystal Washington, technology strategist and futurist, will be keynoting the Lawn & Landscape Technology Conference and Tradeshow Aug. 31-Sept. 2 in Orlando. We caught up with them to get the latest on technology in the working world and how to keep employees together even if they are working a part.
Lawn & Landscape: What are some trends you are seeing when it comes to technology and business, especially in service-based operations like landscaping companies?
Erica Orange: For starters, we first have to understand that the world is experiencing something we call Templosion. Templosion refers to the implosion of the biggest of events happening in shorter and shorter periods of time. It’s the idea that everything from corporate lifespans to strategic planning cycles to the way in which we communicate is becoming more truncated. We are experiencing time like it is on steroids. One of the biggest ways in which this Templosion effect is playing out is through the exponential rate of technological development, which is leading to the creation of entirely new business efficiencies.
Yes, artificial intelligence (AI), smart systems, robotics and the rise of deep learning/the neural net will be responsible for automating an increasing number of global human workers in the future. But it will also free up time in new ways. It will allow employees to perform tasks faster, more accurately, more consistently, at greater scale. And it will allow them to act on insights from external data and user behavior, thereby better meeting the needs of customers. In an age of AI, humans will remain critical to the future of work. All aspects of the human job function will not go onto software. It is simply that the role of the human worker in this new ecosystem is going to change and evolve — and so, too, will the required skills and competencies.
Crystal Washington: We're finding that as millennials are aging (the oldest millennials right now are about 40) they're wanting to book services in a more efficient manner. We're seeing a lot of companies that may have been a little apprehensive about leveraging apps, online payments, things like that – they're having to make the jump because they're seeing that they're losing out to the organizations that do make it easy for clients to book and pay and put down deposits immediately without having to call someone and wait for a call back.
L&L: Can technology negatively affect company culture as less face-to-face interactions are happening? If so, how do you minimize this?
EO: The hybridization of work – where workers can split their time between working from home and going into a physical office – is here to stay. As leaders navigate this evolving new work landscape, the one critical piece ripe for redefinition is organizational culture. Many attempts to rethink remote work culture have centered around technological solutions, particularly those aimed at enhancing employee productivity. But at a time when people feel more socially disconnected and physically isolated, technological band-aids will only get organizations so far.
Key questions to consider for the future of company culture include:
- How do we measure, reward and drive true human resources?
- How do we create new metrics to measure human output?
- How do we empower human value creation?
- How can organizations reimagine human capital?
"In an age of AI, humans will remain critical to the future of work. All aspects of the human job function will not go onto software."Erica Orange, executive VP & COO with The Future Hunters
Companies that treat their people with greater fairness and consideration will emerge among the winners. This ultimately could correlate with a rise in a more empathetic workspace culture and style of leadership. In sharp contrast to the competitive business philosophies that marked traditional corporate culture decades ago, empathy has emerged as a powerful driver of culture and will become more critical as work continues to be distributed.
Rituals and well-established routines from the workplace will also shift and be ripe for redesign, particularly when it comes to recreating those rituals digitally. In times of uncertainty, rituals provide structure and a sense of control by imposing order — illusory or not. An extension of this is fostering a culture in which spontaneous casual interactions can occur. Organizations will be increasingly tasked with revitalizing that feeling of serendipity across distances.
CW: I think that it can be negatively impacted, but I think it can be a positive thing as well. Technology is actually very neutral. It's all in how we leverage it, right? Like you can use a microwave to make something yummy or you can use a microwave to put an animal it and hurt it — it’s terrible. When it comes to your company, having your employees and your team involved in technology decisions, polling them, seeing what issues are at hand all help. Have a listening session, saying, “We're actually considering these two different solutions and these solutions are going to fix these problems.”
The team doesn't actually need to know how the sausage is made. They don't need to know how the technology works, but how will it make their jobs better? Get their buy-in and listen to their suggestions. It doesn't mean you have to use all of them.
Then, when you decide to implement something, come back and say, “Hey guys, after our conversation, based on what everyone was saying, we decided this was the best decision. Thank you so much for your input. James, when you said this, Sharon, when you said that,” let them see how they're part of the process and they’ll be more likely to utilize it properly without grumbling.
I'm a millennial. When I was in corporate America, there was nothing that I disliked more than meetings. That's because most of them really were totally waste of time. And in my little young millennial mind, there were a few that were productive and that we needed to have. But a lot of them were just people talking and it just wasn't helpful.
When we talk about less face-to-face, we can be more efficient and taking some of the meetings that maybe don't need to happen face-to-face (and make them virtual). But then make sure that we plan for in person on a regular basis, whatever that looks like for your team. Is that monthly, every two months, every two weeks? It depends on the business and the culture. But have some type of thing where people do see each other and meet up and just have that comradery and build activities into that. In some ways, you can get rid of some of the things that maybe your team really doesn't need to meet on.
L&L: If there is one thing you would want the lawn care and landscaping industry to know about technology, what would it be?
EO: Technology can augment and streamline your core business offerings.
That is certain. But it cannot take the place of what really matters and that is the heart of a company. Keep your overall long-term vision — these are your guiding principles and declared set of goals. But keep the strategies with which to achieve that vision flexible. Do not stay wedded to your strategies because they will be ever-changing in an increasingly fast-paced world. If the future requires you to abandon a strategy, do not hold onto it. Do what serves your vision. A key part of that will be finding and implementing the most appropriate technologies to get you there, while also placing an even higher value on the people that get you there, too.
CW: We can leverage technology to make us not only more efficient, but also more appealing to our customers and prospects. All we have to do is be open to filtering what technology makes sense.
Ramona Mullins’ husband, Wesley, was tired of being away from the couple’s daughters and the amount of relocating he had to do as a helicopter mechanic, so in 2016, they made a bold move.
“My oldest was going into high school and we just decided to basically sell everything that we owned and downsize and start over again,” says the co-owner of Mullins Lawn Enforcement in Clarksville, Tennessee, a company she started in 2010. ”So, we sold all of our earthly possessions except for our business things and a camper and moved to a campground and actually bought a campground four months later and started that business.” Wesley ended up joining Ramona at the landscaping company while they also opened up an engine shop a couple of years ago. Here’s Mullins’ average day.
Usually, I’m up and at it around 5 or 5:30 a.m. and my regular routine is getting my family out the door. Workday starts probably at 6 a.m., getting the guys ready, getting the trucks loaded up and then they head out. It’s kind of a hectic morning. I get up, I make breakfast, I get the guys out the door, then get my daughter out the door and then I go right back into the next layer of the business, which is the shop that gets open.
The commute to work is right next door because we live and breathe our businesses. The landscape business is right next door to the equipment business. I literally just go take my daughter to school five minutes away and then come back and open up the doors to the store.
The first hour of my day is just checking all the emails, making sure that nothing got missed, nobody got missed and calling people, letting them know that their machines are ready. The morning stays pretty busy with people coming in and out, and they’re buying things or bringing things in to be checked in for repairs.
It’s definitely a working lunch. I have a fridge in here with my sandwiches and everything in there. That way I can eat in between the tasks that I’m doing. In between everything that I’m doing here, I manage all the calls still for the landscaping company. I still do all the quotes for the landscaping company. The engine shop is closed Sundays and Mondays. So, I go out in the field with them either on Mondays or Saturdays — planting, mowing, whatever is needed in order to catch up from rain.
Post lunch, I do all of the scheduling for the next day for them. So I create their schedules for probably the next couple of days.
(My husband) has only really been out there running the crew for the past three years. I stay involved in all of the creation that has to do with the landscaping out there. So, he’ll FaceTime me and get my input and make sure the plants are where I want them to be — if there’s anything that I’ve seen that I need, that I want cleaned up or touched up like branches or dead trees in the yard, etc.
(I stop) usually around 4:30 p.m. At the beginning of the season, it can vary because that’s when we get a lot of calls and a lot of quotes and estimates.
I used to check emails all night, but not anymore. I’ve had to set boundaries because now with two businesses, you can get easily swallowed into people pleasing, which I’m very big on. I put my phone on silent. At dinner time, 7 p.m. at the latest, it will just turn itself to silent mode and not bother me.
I usually go to bed around 10 p.m., wind down around 9 p.m. and watch a show or something, you know, just spend time together.
Saturday is a normal work day for us because the shop is open on Saturdays and we run two businesses with five employees, so we definitely do six days until about November. We really take our breaks in November, December and January. That’s when we take a lot of time off and regroup.
Cream of the Crop features a rotating panel from the Harvest Group, a landscape business consulting company.
We’re all aware of the current hiring challenges companies across numerous industries are facing. In the landscape industry, it’s especially prevalent, as manual labor is a driving force behind every revenue stream.
However, before you can expect labor to perform, you first need top-notch salespeople to successfully sell your services. Labor shortage or not, finding the right salespeople for your team can be tough.
Creating a cohesive sales team is more complex than it seems, and you don’t want to cut corners when it comes to those who represent your company or your brand. As with the entirety of your business, you can benefit greatly by quantifying the sales hiring process with key qualities you identify with and value.
Think outside the box.
Hiring the first cookie-cutter applicant that walks through your front door won’t do. You are looking for the rock star who is going to tenaciously acquire new business. In doing so, you may want to stray from the norm with a couple of these tips.
Consider hiring someone outside of the landscape industry. Sales professionals come from many backgrounds, and many great sales professionals find themselves working in various industries. Great sales professionals can sell anything, so a jump from tech or medical to landscaping might be the refresher they need. Do not pigeonhole your search by narrowing it down to just one industry.
Role play: “sell me this pen.” There is no better way to observe a salesperson than to see them in action, so put them in a scenario where they must sell you something based on value. If they can close you under pressure, they can probably close a prospective client with time and resources at their disposal.
When looking for salespeople, ideal candidates should be self-sufficient, technology savvy and charismatic.
Personality test: Myers-Briggs. While different sales professionals with different personalities employ different tactics and can be effective in a myriad of ways, you should know how they will fit into your sales team. For example, a Myers-Briggs personality test will tell you if your prospect is an introvert, extrovert or relies more on their thinking vs. feeling.
Understanding of digital sales tools. In the era of “Sales 2.0,” your sales and marketing efforts must be nicely integrated with a variety of technologies. A good salesperson should be well versed in the digital world and quick to learn new digital sales tools.
What they really need to know.
There used to be a stigma surrounding experience or a degree in the landscape industry. While this can be helpful, this is not necessarily the expertise they need to be successful. You should be able to teach them what they need to know about your business and easily get the job done. These days, expertise and experience rule, and there are a few skills your salespeople should possess that will help them perform.
Value-based selling. The best sales professionals are adept at identifying the true reluctance of a potential client and offering a solution. You want a sales professional that will emphasize the discovery process and use the information gathered throughout the rest of the sales process. Oftentimes discovery is overlooked, but to provide a solution, you must know their problem.
Presentation: tools and ability. Knowing how to use digital tools is vital, particularly when it comes to presentations. A good salesperson should be well-equipped not only to create and operate presentations but be comfortable confidently speaking in front of groups. They should have a variety of presentation styles in their arsenal for differing situations. Pitching is prime time in sales, and it is hard to teach charisma.
Prospecting: old vs. new. The line between sales and marketing is murky with debate on where responsibility falls to generate leads. A salesperson that is comfortable producing their own leads is going to be much more self-sufficient and effective than one who cannot.
Great sales professionals should not only be able to sell your landscape services, but also to sell themselves to you. Ultimately, think of yourself as a potential client as that is how they should treat you. Let them work to win your business and join your team.