TheTurfZone: Welcome to TheTurfZone. Today we’re speaking with Neal Glatt, Managing Partner at Grow The Bench and business coach certified by the Gallup Organization. Welcome Neal.
Neal Glatt: Thanks for having me, Julie.
TTZ: I’m going to start out with a little explanation about what we said in your intro. You are a business coach, certified by the Gallup Organization. Can you tell me a little about what that means?
NG: I get to help businesses improve, usually around sales and management, which is really my passion is helping teams perform really well. And the Gallup organization is the world’s largest independent polling organization. So especially with election season right now, people are probably used to hearing “According to a Gallup poll…” That’s where most people know Gallup from is they call people up, they ask them what they think and they do it all around the world, more than anybody else and they don’t take any money from anybody, and just spend millions and millions of dollars on payroll to survey people. What they’ve developed are these world-class surveys is a lot of great information about what people really want and how it related to business. So when it comes to high performing teams, Gallup has essentially invented the category of what we call “employee engagement.” For the past 35 years, has been publishing information about what makes a highly engaged team, what even is a highly engaged team, and most importantly for us today, how can we take something really simple, at very little cost and put it into action to get more from our teams and make everybody feel better.
TTZ: You mentioned High performing teams, and that’s really what we’re going to focus on today, and fine tune that for the green industry. Can you tell me how you got into sharing this type of information and this type of business coaching, specifically in our industry?
NG: It actually happened the other way around for me. I graduated college with a degree in marketing, wanted to go into sales and started working for a landscaper and so I was working in this industry before I knew any of this great business stuff. And I had all the same challenges that other green industry companies have – too hard to attract people, too hard to keep people, nobody really as invested as I wanted them to be. Just trying to make it, and through that process of being frustrated and failing at management, I started to learn the hard way about some things that needed work. I was fortunate to work with or have employed some other really great managers and I’d see glimpses of greatness from people. And I see, you know, this person’s really great at developing relationships and people seemed to really like that. Or this person’s really great at developing people, and meanwhile their team is doing better with all the hard metrics. So systematically, I studied that and discovered some of the science and a few years ago decided to go out on my own as a business coach and earn some certifications along the way that support that. So I have the opportunity, being self-employed to work with any industry, but I just have a heart for the green industry because it served me really well. I think what we do is so important and so overlooked, and I get pretty excited about bringing this cutting-edge science to the green industry in a meaningful and practical way because I think that the green industry needs some love and gets overlooked by a lot of people.
TTZ: I absolutely agree. In these podcasts and in speaking with turfgrass professionals and nursery and landscape professionals across the region, very very few do not point to labor and building great teams as one of the biggest challenges they face. From education all the way to hands-on lawn and landscape smaller companies, everybody is trying to creating workplaces that foster good teams and that are productive and effective. I’m really excited to talk to you about this. Let’s start with – tell me how you identify a high-performing team, what characteristics are you looking for?
NG: So Gallup, and by extension I, define a high performing team as a team that has high employee engagement. And employee engagement is a term that gets thrown around a lot. But let’s define it first with the official definition, which is a highly engaged team is a team which employees are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and their workplace. We can actually measure this on a scale which Gallup has put out there an actual survey method, and we can see team to team within an organization and/or company to company how these companies compare to the extent which their employees are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to what they do and the company they do it for. And that’s really critical, before we move on and break it down about what that means, it’s really critical because that is the difference-maker. They call it work because it’s work, and it’s not about who’s happy or who’s satisfied in their job, although we do measure that. And, by the way, when are teams are engaged, satisfaction and happiness increase dramatically, which is awesome. But that’s not the place to start because there are times when work isn’t fun. When we have bad days where we have to do things that we may not like to do. That’s okay, that’s part of what work is. We need to understand that first and focus less on trying to placate to our teams or trying to make everybody say, “Yeah, I love what I do because of the people I work with or the perks they give me.” And really focus on, let’s do something meaningful first, I feel personally engaged in this mission, in this purpose, and it drives me to get up, even through the tough stuff, because we have to do tough stuff sometimes. And that will cover over everything else. So we look at how involved are people, how enthusiastic are people, and how committed are people and we try and drive those. And Gallup has identified 12 factors (and I don’t know if I’ll have time to go through all 12 today) that determine how enthusiastic and how committed and how involved people are.
TTZ: I like that distinction between “I love my job and I’m committed and involved” and what you said that, “I’m doing something meaningful.” Let’s start with some of those 12 factors and share how those apply in the turfgrass industry, or in the green industry in general.
NG: So at the most basic level, our needs are just understanding. So, do I know what’s expected of me at work? And I think a lot of people glaze over this and assume that everyone knows what’s expected. But realistically, that’s not true. In fact, only about 50% of employees clearly know what’s expected of them at work. And when I share this with people, normally they say, “Well, how do people not know what they’re supposed to do every day?” Well, maybe we have an idea of what we’re supposed to do, but we get confused on the order of how to do it, or the importance of what we’re doing. And there’s not just what we’re doing in terms of our roles or responsibilities, but there’s also a lot of expectations around relationships or company norms, so there’s this responsibility expectation but there’s also an emotional and relational expectation and it can be confusing, it could be showing up as “I don’t know what my manager really thinks about me,” “I’m not sure if I’m supposed to turn this in or be proactive or go home early or stay late.” All of those little uncertainties that we all face in our roles can creep in and the more we’re uncertain about, the less subconscious and psychological energy we have for what we need to be doing, which is investing in our roles and seeing that production.
So that’s the basic level, and then we start talking about does everybody feel like their individual role contributes to the mission and purpose of the organization, so we look at the big picture with that too. Almost every team has a mission and purpose, or every organization does. So depending on what sector of the turfgrass industry you’re in, maybe our mission is to provide great places for families to come and enjoy the outdoors, or have family moments together, or maybe if you’re more on the supplier side of turfgrass, your mission is to keep landscape contractors or people who maintain turfgrass fields running and fulfilling their missions, and it’s a supportive mission. Whatever your mission and purpose is, is fine so long as every person in the company says, “What I do every day actively contributes to that.” And it should be somewhat personally important.
TTZ: How can we measure engagement, this feeling of contribution from our team members with employee engagement?
NG: The easiest way is with the Q12. It’s a 12-question survey, and it’s really affordable. You can go to Gallup and purchase it for like $15 per person, and run this anonymous survey then crunch all the numbers and they compare you overall. But even if that’s not feasible, you can just ask people. One of the things I always advocate for is completely free, which is, if you’re a manager, go have a conversation with everybody who reports to you for about an hour every single week. And that can be a lot of time, but that conversation is going to be about how they’re doing in their role, how you can support them more as a manager, where they want to develop and grow. But really talking with them, and you can just sort of ask them, “Do you know the mission and purpose of our organization, and how you contribute to it?” Or maybe as simple as reminding them, “Hey, you know our mission is to make other businesses flow really well through their operations, and you do that consistently by doing this and I appreciate that.” So, other Q12 items are appreciation, growth and development and you see very quickly how these all sort of intermingle in a conversation.
TTZ: Let’s do go back to that growth and development element because I can see that that’s where our team leaders and for instance, golf course superintendents who have larger teams – they didn’t become leaders without going through that process, and I know that so many of them have shared that that’s what they want to see in their assistants and in their team members. So how do we support and encourage that?
NG: It’s got to be intentional and it’s got to be continuous. Gallup has done a lot of research around millennials and I am a millennial myself so those of us born between 1980 and 1996 have a bad rap in the workplace, but we’re like 50% of the workforce, so if you’re a superintendent and you’ve got a workforce, at least half of them, or they were, except they quit. Because we’re a problematic portion of the workforce, especially in this sector. One of the challenges I think that the turfgrass industry faces is growth and development, you know educationally, there’s a lot of opportunities, but positionally and pay raise, you’re relatively fixed. If that’s the case for you, you’re going to have a tough time attracting and retaining labor. Because, especially for millennials, the number one factor when choosing a job is the growth and development opportunity. When a millennial, or when anybody comes to you, really, and says, “I want a promotion and I want a pay raise,” instead of assuming that it’s because they’re entitled, I think a lot of the time it’s because they’re looking to grow and develop, and that’s kind of the only traditional way we know, is that we got a new title or we got a pay raise. What I encourage leaders to do is, let’s add a lot more steps to what growth and development looks like. So instead of going from whatever the title is, general turfgrass technician to assistant superintendent to superintendent, how many more positions, even if they’re unofficial, can we put in there? Can we stratify the levels a little bit and show people, listen, it might take you 5 years to go from assistant to superintendent, but in those 5 years, here are 10 concrete steps that we’ll look for you to take. It might be pesticide or fertilization license, it might be getting some sort of certification around water conservation, it might even be a degree from one of the big turfgrass management programs out there. And all of those things can contribute towards that growth and progression. And it’d be really great if there was some financial reward along the way for earning some of those things. But at the very least you can support and recognize them in those steps, and that alone will boost retention dramatically. So one of the things we know for employees who are very engaged, compared to those who are not as engaged, is that it leads to 43% lower turnover compared. So if we want to keep people longer, we can give them growth and development opportunities and it’s going to seriously move the needle for how often we have to hire and train people.
TTZ: I love this two-way street of communication between leaders and team members where the leaders really do have to take ownership of communicating the expectation on a very basic and detailed level, but also through this proven development process, and in a broader scale.
NG: You may be listening to this podcast right now and saying, “well, the leaders should be having those conversations with me, but they’re not.” If that’s your situation, I don’t think that you’re in a hopeless situation. I would suggest that you go to your manager, whoever that is, and say, “I want to grow, I want to progress. Here’s some ways I think that I can do that, and here’s what I’d like to get to – my idea is I would love to be superintendent in three years and be making this much money. Is that feasible, is it reasonable, help me vet out my career plan a little bit.” Have an open discussion like that, and then say, “Now help me identify the steps.” If I’m – I’ve hired and managed a lot of people – very, very rarely has somebody come to me and said, “Neal, here’s where I want to go, and here’s what I want to do.” But when they have, we were able to make that work. In fact, I’ll share a quick story. I once hired a young gentleman who was basically fresh out of prison, dropped out of high school, was in a not great situation in life, but he’d come out more or less what we would call reformed. This guy was looking to make a positive change in his life. He never wanted to go back to where he was. He didn’t have a lot of skills though, didn’t have a lot of communication skills but was hungry. He wanted to grow. He goes, “listen, I made bad decisions in my life, I got hooked up with the wrong people, I don’t ever want to go back there again. Let’s talk about how I can avoid that. How do I get health insurance because of the way they took care of my health in prison was way better than I can afford to take care of my health now?” We started to come up with a plan. I hired this guy, he was shoveling snow for me part time in the winter, because that’s what we did. It was an on-call, seasonal position, but we developed skills. We paid for some of his development, but he also put in a lot of his own resources into development. Getting better with technology, getting better at grammar, and eventually, over the course of about 4-5 years, he worked himself up to being our fleet supervisor. This guy runs around now in nicer shirt and shoes than I wear and runs a whole team of mechanics and does awesome. And he really bootstrapped his way there. I feel really fortunate to be a very small player in helping him get to a better life and really he did it on his own, I was just able to buy an online course for him. I was able to spend a few hours here and there telling him about financial management lessons that I’ve learned along the way. It wasn’t a lot, but it was intentional and that’s the best feeling in the world when you can make something like that happen.
TTZ: Let me, in typical 2020 fashion, throw a wrench in all of this and let’s talk about how do we continue these good habits and this team development when we are working so differently – we’re short staffed, we are social distancing on the job, we have new requirements for health and safety, we’re all overburdened with shifting and changing, and while we’ve been really resilient as an industry, I think it has taken some of the focus off of developing and nurturing our teams the way we typically would. How can we handle this and COVID times?
NG: I think that we have a great opportunity to do this because we’re already having some of these conversations. Nobody has survived the last six months without saying, “Ok, here’s what the expectations are going to look like for whatever period in the future.” We’ve had to have some of those conversations. So here’s my three-step process for really using COVID as a way to leverage this development:
- Have more frequent expectation conversations. A lot of places of business said, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do with COVID and that’s going to be it. But we know that the CDC and states are changing their guidelines weekly if not faster. So I would say let’s have a conversation at least every two weeks about what the expectations are. And part of that expectation is going to be the commitment to the employee. Here’s where we see ourselves as a business, here’s where we’re at with funding, here’s what we believe will be normal for the next two to four weeks. Even though the information is going to change, you have our commitment to hold this little update meeting every couple weeks with you so that there’s no confusion. So, a great opportunity to continually reinforce the expectations of people from working conditions to hours and on and on.
- This is a phenomenal time to start conversations about wellbeing and really build these personal relationships. One of the Q12 items reads: I have a best friend at work. Having a best friend at work is weird language, right? Certainly any of the senior superintendents listening to this podcast are like, “In my day we didn’t talk about best friends at work.” And I get it. But we spend so much time at work and so much time with the people we work with, and the number one factor in our overall wellbeing as a person is not what we’re doing, but who we’re doing it with. And so it could feel awkward in the normal course of business to say, “Hey, let’s talk about the relationships you have and how you feel about them.” But in times of COVID, it’s expected and sympathetic and a relief. Is your family doing okay? Any issues making ends meet that I should be aware of? Any health issues where you could use time off that I can help support you with? How are your kids doing, are they in school? Childcare still available? Is your spouse working? Those questions are very easy to ask now, they’ve become the norm to ask and it won’t be perceived nearly as weird to have some of those conversations. So it’s a great opportunity to leverage the situation to really start caring about the whole person, when maybe before we didn’t worry about it. Because now we’re all in it together, right?
- I would say this is a great opportunity to start to retool and rethink about the future or what the new normal might be. We’ve all been through the ringer – no work, some work, social distance work, find a new way to do it, get by with less. This is a great opportunity for a lot of innovation. Some of the firms I’ve worked with and talked with are saying stuff like, “we used to have everybody come out of the field for a 2:00 meeting, and everybody would spend all this time driving back, meet as a group and that was the end of the day or they’d go back to the work. Now we’re just calling in or doing it over Zoom and it actually works okay. In fact we’re saving 8 hours of drive time every time we met, because not everybody has to drive here and they’re more productive. So that’s a great thing that we may want to keep for the future even when we’re allowed to meet in person. We may have found that some people had to do more than they were used to, but actually they have a hidden talent in an area we never made them do anything before. Well, let’s see if that’s part of their long-term career path and build that growth and development. Even if we’re not learning or going to conferences as much as we used to, or maybe we’re doing online stuff and it’s a different format, we can still have growth and developmental opportunities and conversations about the job, just around kind of what we’re doing with our roles and responsibilities.
TTZ: That’s great advice. So as we close out, if our leaders and team members who are listening had to just take away one most important part of employee engagement, what would that be?
NG: The most important thing to understand is that employee engagement really starts to click when we view work as an integral part of our life. Meaning, let’s try and move away from “work/life balance” and really move towards “work/life integration.” How can we make work integrate into our life, how can we make the mission and purpose an important part of our day, how can we see ourselves here for a long period of time where we’re growing and developing and cared for as a person and shown appreciation, and just make work a place where we want to be, just like we want to be with our friends and our families when we’re not at work?
TTZ: Neal, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. For more information and links, check out our show notes. Don’t miss an episode. Subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also visit us at TheTurfZone.com.
You can reach Neal at:
Neal Glatt, Managing Partner | Grow The Bench