August 1, 2020

Start change before you need it


Mark Bradley Leadership has many meanings and leaders have many roles. One of the most important roles of a leader is to influence others to behave in a way consistent with the goals of the group or, in this case, the organization. Some leaders do this with fear and force. Others inspire and empower. We can discuss and copy the habits of the most effective leaders, but one thing is for certain. To successfully implement change when it is most convenient for the organization, you need to start the change before you need it.

When it comes to the snow business, there may be no other rule that rings more true. We can’t be sure when snow is going to start. We simply can’t control every truck, site or piece of equipment. We probably can’t even control who’s going to be working for us this winter.  

So, if you want to make improvements this winter, start now. If you wait, you’re going to have to manage change, plus all those other variables — all at once. Act now, or the change just won’t stick. Not like it could have.

The right equipment

Having the right equipment isn’t just about having something that can do the job. It’s about having a piece of equipment that can make you the most productive, and likely, the most profitable snow and ice contractor.  
Take a step back and look at your equipment — and your job sites — more holistically.
  • With larger, more productive equipment, you can do more area with fewer people. In today’s labour market, it is very difficult to put a price on just how valuable that is.
  • Despite the more expensive equipment costs, equipment is almost always cheaper than the labour required to do the job by hand — so you can do the same work (or more) for less cost and more profit.
  • Equipment can help you sell. I don’t mean by impressing your customer with the latest toys. I mean by making you more efficient. If you park a larger piece of equipment on a site, you can bid or solicit neighbouring sites with a significant productivity advantage. For example: A truck, plow and operator has an average cost of about $55 per hour including wages, fuel, wear-and-tear, etc. A loader or tractor and an operator might cost upwards of $75 - $80 per hour. But if you can plow 2.5 times faster, you can likely beat your competitor’s price on neighboring sites, get the job done faster (and thus, create happier customers), make more profit and reduce the number of people you need to hire to ensure your snow operations run smoothly. Those are some powerful advantages.

The right systems

Everything didn’t go right last year. So, what were your biggest challenges? Before you answer that question, take a good, hard look at your challenges from last season. Each problem is likely a symptom of something else. Ask yourself why it happened. And then ask why that happened. And again, ask why that reason happened.
Using the Five Whys Technique, you can take a long list of 50 problems and likely boil them down to three-to-five specific problems. That’s what you need to focus on.  

By fixing the three-to-five specific problems that are the root (or true cause) of most of the problems you had last year, you can eliminate far more problems than you ever thought possible — without trying to tackle 40 problems at once! It’s a highly effective way to improve your company, and for all entrepreneurs out there, to improve your quality of life.

Better yet, you don’t need to do all of this yourself! Put your team to work for you! They don’t want to face these problems any more than you do this winter. Nobody wants long shifts, ranting customers, broken equipment, and no sleep. It’s no fun for anyone.

Organize a company meeting and let the problems fly. Write them down as fast as they come — don’t start talking about solutions yet. Just get the problems out. Then, add a few columns after each problem. Why did that happen? And if you answer that question easily, then ask why that reason happened. Keep going until you don’t have a good reason. You will find many of your problems boil down to just a few systems. Or lack thereof.

Next up: empower your staff to implement solutions to those big problems. Share ideas, assign someone accountable and assign a deadline. Don’t try it to do it alone. Supervise to ensure it’s done the way you would like, but you don’t have to do everything. In fact, you will find people are more willing to embrace and adopt change when they are part of the process.

The right information

I don’t believe there is anything more important than ensuring companies and their decision makers have the right information at their fingertips. It needs to be timely and accurate. After all, everything depends on information. Your billing, your payroll, your job-costing, your estimating, staff productivity — your company’s profitability depends on accurate information.  

You and your staff depend on timely, accurate information to know:
  • When to go out
  • Which properties to service
  • What to do on those properties
  • What to track on those properties
  • How to bill those properties
  • How to estimate those properties
  • How to drive from property to property
  • Your equipment’s maintenance status
  • That your customers are being serviced to the correct standards

And on and on. All these mission-critical functions depend on the accurate and timely flow of information.  

To get the right information into the hands of the right people should not be taken for granted. It’s not as simple as it sounds. You need to prep all the information necessary for field operations to execute, operations needs to execute and report back (in a timely, accurate manner) and then you need to act on that return information — fixing problems, billing customers and identifying successes and failures.  

If you are a snow contractor still using paperwork to track your crews, you have likely got a paperwork/information problem that is eating up tens of thousands in wages, mistakes and lost productivity each winter. And it’s almost impossible to improve or manage your company better because the results are just too slow coming in.  

This winter, get ahead of the game. Start planning your equipment now. Give your staff the opportunity to help identify problems, as well as the time to plan and implement solutions. And start planning and training your staff now to help information flow effortlessly and instantly from one department to another. If you don’t do it now, this will just be another year lost because we waited too long.
Mark Bradley is CEO of LMN and the former CEO of TBG Environmental, both based in Ontario.