October 31, 2018
Work like a video game
Employees at Rembrandt Landscaping of Milton, Ont., find smartphones essential for time logs, communication between crews and sharing photos if there is a concern at a job site.

Work like a video game


Mark Bradley Not a day goes by when I don’t hear from somebody, somewhere, about struggles with labour. Candidates for open positions are very hard to find, work ethic isn’t what it used to be and wage expectations are higher than ever. And it’s likely to get worse. Millennials just aren’t being raised to want to work in the trades, much less an outdoor trade. They have been raised in basements and bedrooms, with eyes fixated on screens of all shapes and sizes.

So what are you going to do? You could wait 25 years and hope for a generational shift that swings back to the good ol’ days where kids played outdoors and appreciated the satisfaction behind a hard day’s work. Or you could adapt your business to change with the times. I’d (strongly) recommend the latter — so here are three simple ways to make your workday less like ‘work’ and more like a video game.

Show ’em the score

Most video games are based on a pretty simple concept. Do something right — you get some points. Do something wrong — you lose. (Or you die!) Like it or not, young people have been conditioned since a very young age to try and beat a score. Previous generations had a different work ethic or ‘code.’ You showed up, you sweat it out, and you went home at the end of the day, with a certain sense of accomplishment in just putting in a hard day’s work.

Not so much anymore. You don’t just play games for enjoyment. You play for a score — and to win. And we do the same in our businesses — we play to win. So here are some simple ‘scores’ you could display in your business to help motivate this different generation.

Use equipment and technology

Been in a skid steer or zero turn mower lately? It’s pretty close to a video game. In your hands you’ve got two controllers that can do all kinds of cool stuff just by thinking about it. Manual labour was never cherished by any generation, but previous generations accepted it as part of life. Today’s generation hasn’t had to do much manual labour and they don’t expect that to change in their career. 

The more you can equip your crews with machines, tools, and technology, the more your staff will enjoy daily work.

Estmated hours vs. Actual hours Daily Each and every time a crew is on a job, they should know
how long they should be there and work to beat that goal.
You’ll see a huge improvement in productivity.
Billable vs. Unbillable Monthly Billable time is time spent on jobs generating revenue. Unbillable time is time spent on payroll doing things that don’t generate revenue (loading/washing trucks, driving, fixing, etc.). You can measure and post each crews percentage of unbillable time and reward the crews with the lowest score. You’ll likely see immediate improvements in labour expenses, job productivity and revenue earned.
Revenue-to-date Monthly Set an annual sales goal for your company or division. Post that goal, and each month’s progress-to-date up in the shop, so everyone can see whether we are on track for success. You can expect to see improved engagement in the business, suggestions/ideas, and productivity.
Enhancements sold

or Quarterly

In maintenance, many contracts are sold at extremely competitive prices to ‘get the job.’ Profit depends on enhancements. Set goals for enhancements sold to date and track progress to help inspire account managers and crews to identify and sell property enhancements to your customers. This will have a significant impact on net profit and revenue earned. 
Safe days Monthly Getting home safe to our families is the Number One priority of every work day. To demonstrate a commitment to safety, track and share safe days worked.

‘Level Up’ your staff

Many games give you a character, and your job is to develop that character. As you play (and win), your character gets greater powers, does more damage, and in short, is much more fun to play with. Why should work be any different? Isn’t this exactly what we want, too? We want staff to build their skills, get faster and be better. They’ll cost a bit more, but they’ll be far more productive, be able to take on more responsibility and build a company culture around successful people.  

Skid steers, minis, etc. They make your staff more productive, at a lower cost per hour! They decrease the number of people you need to employ, finish jobs faster (so you can finish more jobs per year) and make work more enjoyable. All for a monthly payment that’s less expensive than your cheapest labourer!
Smart phones There’s more power in today’s smart phone than the first ship to land on the moon. With the right apps, these devices improve communication, document work completed, eliminate paperwork, eliminate overhead staff and data entry hours, and improve driving, routing and information accuracy. This is a no-brainer.
Drones and job cameras Drones can add cool overhead shots and ‘fly-bys’ to your marketing, while stationary cameras can document time-lapsed diaries of jobs as they’re completed (while improving job efficiency because the camera is always watching!). Gives you cool content for marketing, and improves employee pride in quality of finished work.
Grading controls
Even compact machines can benefit from grading controls. For a relatively low cost, you can excavate and grade with extreme accuracy. Eliminates a second person to help shoot grades while reducing the costs 
of excavated material, base material, and excavation time.

Nearly all landscape contractors have roles, but do not know:
  • How to move from one role to another.
  • The wage ranges for the roles .
  • How to advance within a role (How do I get a raise?).
Giving your staff a ‘level up’ system will not only give work a greater purpose and an incentive to improve/develop, it will prevent uncomfortable conversations around raises and why they are or aren’t earned. Subjective conversations (around feelings and I ‘think’) are frustrating. Objective conversations (around goals, certifications and yes/no answers) make difficult conversations really easy.
Establish positions and levels For example, you might create roles like Labourer Level I, Level II, and Level III. Then, someone could move up to Lead Hand I, and eventually Foreman I, or Foreman II. 
Set clear skill expectations For each position (and level), identify the necessary skills or certifications. Gives your staff a very clear picture of what they need to develop in order to progress. You’ll quickly be able to identify the staff that are ‘plugged in’ vs. the staff that are just there for a paycheque. 
Establish wages (or ranges)
for each level
If it’s clear that a Labourer Level I maxes for each level out at $16/hour, but a Labourer Level II can make up to $18/hour, you give staff very clear reasons why they should invest in themselves to develop the skills necessary to improve their standard of living. Much more effective than giving raises ‘just because’ someone’s been around a while, or you’re scared to lose them.
Run predictable reviews Do employee reviews at predictable intervals and give raises and/or advancements only during these reviews. It will cut out the uncomfortable feeling when an employee walks in your office in the morning asking for a raise ‘or else.’ 

In the September Landscape Trades, we wrote about creating opportunities for staff by developing career ladders with predicable wages and expectations for skills and capabilities. For a more detailed explanation, find that article.

Mark Bradley is the president of TBG Landscape and the Landscape Management Network (LMN), based in Ontario.