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Thinking on Quality...


Joseph Fearn

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106458a3e8a1135b0f35b349f8ce7c26-.jpgTo start, I want you to please imagine a car. Imagine a Toyota Camry, XLE package. For those of you that have a little bit more imagination, maybe even a Toyota Avalon XLE. This car has leather interior, power everything, a full touring package and even a Bose stereo. I think we all would agree this is a nice car. This isn't some trumped-up entry level car with plastic goodies on top trying to convince you it is nice. This is a NICE car. But it isn't a Mercedes. The Mercedes (go ahead and imagine a NICE Mercedes) is in a class by itself. The quality stands out. It is obvious at every turn. Even the cup holder is something people take note of. Quality in grounds management should be like the Mercedes.

 

Quality is Noticeable

I am not an automotive engineer but I can discern a nice car. Most people who visit your campus, or play on your course, are not grounds professionals. But this does not mean that people don't notice things around them. Visitors to Drury University have expectations already built in to their mind. They are visiting other campuses. The average person sees a lot of landscaping in their day. This means that your landscape is being compared to all those others. This also happens to golfers that have visited other courses too. This comparison may not be overt, but it almost always happens on some level or many different levels. Groundskeepers and Supers compare constantly also. When comparative quality is visible, and noticed in the landscape, it is a great benefit to the organizations purpose.

 

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Fountain Circle at Drury U: crisp edges, consistent plant maintenance and spacing, fresh mulch.

 

Compare to the best

We have all heard the phrase "if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best". This is true for grounds management. Fortunately we don't have to "beat" anyone. My operation just has to reflect a pursuit of excellence that makes visitors and users bring to mind excellent comparisons. If someone looks at our campus and is reminded of some other prestigious or renowned university, that is a positive association. This in no way means you need to try to copy those other landscapes or grounds (courses), just the person's recollection is enough. The fact that my visitor is thinking of Ole Miss or Princeton while looking at Drury is just fine with me. After all, they are here right now, not there. And importantly, personalizing the landscape for visitors is valuable also.

 

Explaining Quality

Explaining quality is sometimes difficult. People who excel in a field are expressing an internal drive, on their own, to strive for quality. This internal drive for quality isn't in everyone, but it can be brought out if quality is explained in terms people already exhibit elsewhere in their lives. I remember a guy I worked with once who I felt did not put quality into his job. The work was completed to just acceptable and none of that was because he was pursuing quality. One day he drove to work in a car he had restored. It was immaculate and a top notch collector's item. Obviously this guy understood what quality looked like. He simply needed to understand how to apply it to landscaping (training) or how to want to apply it (motivation). Explaining the "what and why" can help unlock a workers individual understanding of quality.

 

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It's all in the details: Pavers out of alignment (above) and after straightening (below).

 

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Quality Comes in Many Guises

A team needs workers who can express quality in a wide variety of ways. Last week I was mowing on campus and was getting close to a group of three ladies that were attending a Drury function. When I got close, I stopped my machine and told them I would be mowing right past them but would only disturb them for 3 or 4 passes then move away (we have contained mowing decks as we run mulch kits year round). Treating visitors (customers) with respect is a manifestation of quality. This is in contrast to an experience just yesterday at a sports complex. The mower operator showed no concern for the visitors on the stands, nor a consideration of where the wind was blowing his duff. He could have shown visitors his concern, but he didn't, and we all got blown with grass and had to move while he passed us. I am not concerned as to why, just that it happened. Helping golfers find a ball, or quieting machines while a class is in session expresses quality as well.

 

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Mower operator mowing with discharge chute up and too close to occupied bleachers.

 

Ultimately Quality Starts With Me

High performing grounds professionals understand quality. They know that it is about details and completing the job. They also know it is cumulative (quality parts=quality whole), exponential (quality process=quality multiplier), and a continual process (Continual Quality Improvement). But I have found that my personal commitment to quality is the greatest indicator for my operations commitment to quality. So when I exhibit 110% commitment to quality, I will see an upward spiral of quality execution and expectations from both my crew and my organization.

 

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