Creating the connection between these two phrases is the hallmark of a great employee. But how does a manager or organization get people that can link these on their own? Is having an inquisitive mind a strength that is in one's DNA, or does the desire to learn need to be instilled in an employee?
The mind is a muscle. Like a muscle, one must use it or lose it. In our industry, not a single day goes by that is not filled with many opportunities to exercise your mind and learn something new. Not everyone is equally disposed to being a learner. But the desire and ability to learn is essential to high performance.
Create a learning environment
As the boss, I set the tempo for my crew. Fortunately I am a lifelong learner. I don't rely on my boss or my organization to continue learning. It is part of my being. Unfortunately not everyone on a crew may want to expand their talents or skills. It is important that the organization create the atmosphere where it is clear that learning is supported.
Attending seminars and classes (here at Drury University we understandably have many on-campus opportunities to learn), obtaining and maintaining certifications, and even tailgate meetings are just some of the ways learning takes place. By modeling learning, and accommodating learning with policy plus day to day operations, employees begin to see that the organization values their improvement.
Learning Demonstrates Desire to Improve
Years ago as a young groundsman at George Mason University, I was part of a 5 man team using 21 Lawn Boys to mow the President's House. As I mowed my section an image began to assert itself in my mind, but I didn't know what to make of it. At lunch I described my thoughts to my boss. I told him about thinking there were light and dark stripes in the grass of some English manor I recall seeing (where? I don't remember). He explained this was pattern mowing (striping if you will) and why/how it happens. I resumed mowing, trying to stripe, but without much luck (Lawn Boys don't stripe well). I did however strive to improve my mowing from that point onward and now consider myself pretty good at pattern mowing (greens and fairways will certainly help you take your mowing to new heights!).
Striping is a talent that is frequently self-taught.
Learning by Necessity
I remember learning about turf diseases in school. My Turgeon textbook covered most of the common diseases and I also had to study some in order to obtain my pesticide applicator's certification. But seeing pictures, and even worse, reading descriptions, doesn't always prepare one for diagnosing problems in the field for the first time.
Theoretical learning, applied in the field, can result in quality learning.
At one of my jobs I had a turf stand that was starting to look off color, splotchy and had some areas browning out. I imagine many of you are already at the correct diagnosis. But as a new supervisor, the coworker that told me it was due to an unusually lengthy period of overcast weather sounded reasonable. After correctly diagnosing Brown Patch, then having it confirmed with sample testing, I learned a lesson never to be forgotten, nor repeated. Lessons learned through mistakes stick with you.
Let Individuals Have Their Head
Learning is best when done in your own way. The points that allow me to understand something are not the same for others. We all learn in our own (extremely?) particular styles. As discussed earlier I learned striping on my own. But many of us have tried to teach striping and it does not always guarantee success. Some people cannot learn the extra skills that make some people top notch mowers (and others like me, just okay).
Pruning is another talent that comes to mind. Some people just see the pruning in their mind before they start. Others cannot seem to match the picture of a well renovated shrub with the final outcome. I try to gauge where a workers talents are, and let them learn in their own way.
Everyone Wants Gardening Advice
Another factor that helps learning is the need to dispense advice. Whenever someone hears we are a groundskeeper or superintendent, a first inquiry will be about growing better turf, or about a plant pest. Just this morning a coworker texted me about Emerald Ash Borer. Being a Certified Arborist I had some familiarity with this pest and was able to provide an appropriate response. I wanted to verify my information so I visited MU Extension website for EAB. My info proved correct, I learned more about the current situation my state is in, and I reinforced my learning as well. All because I was asked a gardening question. Next time someone asks for help, use it as an opportunity to learn.
Visiting frequently with experts pays learning dividends. University of Missouri experts Bob Balek (2nd from L) and Dr. Brad Fresenburg ®, share wisdom with DU Groundsmen Jeremy and Andre (L-R).
Never Stop Learning
Learning keeps my job exciting. I learn when I write this blog, I learn when a reader responds, I learn when I make a mistake, and on and on. If every task of my job was always the same, how unbearable would that be. As groundskeepers we are surrounded by constant change. Conditions change, soil changes, methods change. By embracing the learning that comes with our jobs, we truly are better off.