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Joseph Fearn

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  • Club/Course/Company
    Mississippi State University
  • Location
    Starkville, MS
  • Interests
    Using the landscape to help promote human and organizational health. Reconciliation landscaping, ecological restoration, innovative landscape design, beautiful turf, healthy soil, native habitat and ecosystem revitalization.

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  1. Based on the title of this blog you may be thinking how your team works with native plants, resource conservation, or uses alternative fuel. I am thinking of sustainability from a different vantage point. Crew sustainability asks 'can your team survive?' Put another way, this blog asks can you survive AND be successful over the long term? The landscapes we manage are constantly changing. Most often our responsibilities are increasing while the resources we are provided by our parent organizations are shrinking. This paradox requires Grounds Managers to do more with less and often necessitates we look critically at our equipment, cultural regimens and resource consumption to ensure we are operating with careful stewardship. But how often do we look at our staff and teams critically through the lenses of team conservation? I say not often at all. Far too often we (or our organizations) treat staff as a commodity as opposed to a resource to be carefully managed and conserved. Let the Team Help Create the Process One of the major ways to keep a team connected is to let them contribute to your organization's effort. This contribution doesn’t simply mean productivity or how “hard” they work. I’m speaking about letting them feel a part of something bigger than themselves. Nearly all the people I have ever worked with want to be included. They want to be seen as having played an authentic role in your success. Unfortunately, when team members don’t feel included, it can manifest in negative behaviors. I suggest letting all members of the team have some voice in how the work progresses. This can be beneficial to managers in several ways. It lets the team take ownership of successfully achieving work which can create satisfaction and team pride. It creates accountability when we are part of the decision-making process, tying us to its results. There is no blaming shortfalls on someone/something else. Perhaps most importantly it can demonstrate team expertise and foster reverse mentorship. These outcomes make the team more satisfied and fosters further investment to continuing success. Training and Enrichment Employing professional and technically capable workers is essential to meeting operational expectations and maintaining a sustainable workforce. Our teams must partake in appropriate job related training and skill development. Unfortunately, our constantly evolving work environments (both in the field and our personnel) make this very challenging. I argue it is the most important piece of the puzzle toward achieving superior results. Providing frequent, meaningful training empowers the workforce. Simply put, most workers want to do a good job. I truly believe this. In my career as a Supervisor, I have only run across a handful that were willfully not interested in achieving positive results. What holds many people back is structural obstacles (lack of expertise, incomplete organizational communication, no appreciation, etc.) As Managers (Leaders) we have usually been self-directed and self-responsible for our improvement. Our work/life experiences instilled these traits in us. Many of our workers are simply waiting for the team to instill it in them, even when they don’t know they are looking for it. Good team leaders perform strengths/challenges analysis of their operation and react through training to develop their workers. Training your team builds expertise and lets them take ownership of your processes. Meaningful Contribution Creating a workplace atmosphere that allows and rewards meaningful contribution is another step that builds a sustainable workforce. Much like expertise, the majority of employees want to work effectively to support their teams. All of us can appreciate the satisfaction that comes from being an integral part of team success. Sharing in success validates our professionalism and rewards us through the respect and thanks of our peers and organization. Some workers are looking for this. Others, perhaps less self-aware, don’t recognize the satisfaction that can come from team accomplishment, but can be shown the benefits of contribution readily. Personal satisfaction takes many forms though. This is actually a good thing for the team. When individuals contribute in different ways it builds strength and flexibility into your operation. Trying to get all people onto the same page is not only difficult but also can be self-defeating by repeating common mistakes. Allow workers to satisfy themselves within the team. The payback to themselves and the team will be worth it. Letting your teams perform on their own at times creates a sense of pride in contributing to team success. Compensation Any discussion of employee retention and satisfaction must include compensation. Money can be a powerful motivator however is not a magic fix to maintaining a stable team. No matter how enriching and satisfying your workplace is for your employees, they will not be fully productive if they can’t buy milk/pay bills at the end of the month. This is not a learning to budget issue on the employees’ behalf either. Unfortunately, every organization I have worked for has been reluctant (some even miserly) to generously compensate employees. Using compensation as a tool to drive performance and reward consistent high execution benefits our operations far more than the possible savings from lower wages. Hiring and training workers is expensive. Next, the remaining staff has to (hopefully) pick up the load while the position is refilled. New employees must assimilate and may not even last. Some workers take vast stores of institutional knowledge with them upon separation. Given the current difficulties hiring any employees, providing adequate and even exceptional compensation makes much more sense. Grounds managers and our sustainable (satisfied) workers will be sure your organization gets its money’s worth. Workforce Master Planning Creating a sustainable crew is not a one step process. It requires a comprehensive approach that is adapted to your operation. Failure to address mediocre team commitment results in a team that constantly struggles to keep up. Awareness of diminishing employee satisfaction compels grounds managers to look at our teams through critical eyes. By performing frank analysis of any issues coupled with honest discussions from all levels/sections of our teams we can address the particular causes of our difficulties. If we are lucky our operation may need only small adjustments. Any of the aforementioned components can help improve retention but when they all come together the results can be extraordinary. The benefit of a sustainable team creates an upward spiral and can make all the difference in your success. Monitoring overall team satisfaction can create not only a productive crew but also a sustainable one.
  2. Randy, Another gem. One of my sons is working at a local course. My first child to dip a toe into my field. I told him he'd love it and he does. of course, some of us recall fondly the days gone by BEFORE we were actually responsible for the whole thing. Anyway, love to share your videos with him now that he has a glimpse of where they are coming from. I keep telling him just do what RW says and you'll be fine. Cheers, JF
  3. All of us want to be good employees and work with good employees, but how does that happen? Companies utilize many ways to quantify employee performance and determine who is measuring up and who is not. There are job descriptions, annual evaluations, coaching sessions, employee reward programs and other approaches to get the best out of people. But far too often there is disagreement over who is doing a respectable job. The lack of clarity can be frustrating for employees who are doing a satisfactory (or better) job. Their contributions and dedication get missed, resulting in frustration. For the employees who are not doing appropriate work, the confusion created by evaluations and metrics can help them disguise their lack of performance, letting an undesirable situation continue. So, to cut to the chase, I use three important attributes to determine how valuable an employee is in my operation. Are You Mastering Your Craft? Groundskeeping, in all its guises, requires a vast amount of knowledge. Some of this knowledge comes from experience and some comes from structured learning. To be accomplished in this field require that employees at each level of the team continually learn and grow. The best employees will seek additional training and experience on their own. This self-motivation must be fostered and accommodated. Any organization risks frustrating exceptional employees if they do not. But what of employees that do not seek their own improvement? I suggest our teams may benefit to a greater extent if there is structured training/learning that focuses on these employees as they usually make up the largest component of our crews. Their hesitation toward self-improvement may not indicate unwillingness but may be due to having not been invested in, nor rewarded in some fashion for self-improvement. Employees participating in learning to whatever extent they are individually capable of are valuable to a high performing crew. Mastering your craft requires continual education and practice. Are You Producing? Are you productive refers to your work output. This is not always as cut and dry as it sounds. Output can be subjective, and output metrics can be subjective also. To objectively evaluate production, the metrics and benchmarks must be discussed, evaluated, and most importantly agreed to before the work is done. After the period of productivity (or lack thereof) is the wrong time to try to resolve misunderstandings. Disagreements of scope, pace, etc. creates the possibility of arguing over accomplishment. Productivity can be measured and quantified given clear directions. As a supervisor or leader, your sense of productivity and whether it is met is vital. However, it must be evaluated dispassionately and evenhandedly. Many times, I have asked employees to give me a score (usually 1-10) of how productive they have been. This may be judging a day, or some longer evaluation period. In my experience they will usually be within 1-2 points of what I judged. The exact score is irrelevant. At this point there is opportunity for coaching and productive discussion. The goal is to have them begin to evaluate their own production rather than requiring you to do it, and for some modicum of improvement be pursued. Catching employees working is a great way to document productivity. Do You Make Your Team Better? Teams are at the heart of our work in the green industry. We can have strong individuals, but due to the scale of most our jobs, and the nature of the tasks we perform, work is accomplished by multiple people working in unison (or some semblance thereof). For this reason, and for others, having workers enhance teammates performance is a huge benefit. Note I said enhance not improve. I believe workers must perform as individuals and as teammates. If two workers cannot get along, or create friction when sharing a task, is detrimental to accomplishment and stressful to everyone. Enhancing a team is about synchronization, cooperation, and shared purpose. We all benefit when we all benefit. Playing to people's strengths usually means that everyone will have a role and that their role is what is best suited for them. What I like about this aspiration is that it (hopefully) recognizes everyone individually as essential. In any team sport there are specialist positions. But no team will win with only one group of specialists. Championship teams have units that mesh and improve each other's performance. The best employees enhance themselves and they enhance their team. How well your teams mesh is critical to accomplish goals. Each member must improve the team, even if not equally. It Does Not Stop There Evaluating employees is serious business. My writing this article is not meant to provide the only way to gauge employees value/performance. It is meant to supply a framework for using our various evaluation protocols or HR processes thereby arriving at an understandable, supportable, and appropriate rating for our employees. Any rating should be mutually acceptable to reviewer and reviewee, but in dire cases this may not be possible. Employee evaluations are meant to be useful for improvement, not through brute force, but thru harmonious persuasion. Another beneficial aspect of this approach is they are goal-oriented but do not assign a character judgement. While it can be beneficial to evaluate an employee, it is important not to make a moral statement on the person. We are evaluating the performance, not the personality. By utilizing these 3 aspirations, we hopefully coach improvement rather than build resentment. Lastly, these objectives can also be used to process daily work. In this way the evaluation reinforces ongoing behavior rather than being seen as an occasional event. So, ask your team these 3 simple questions and listen to what they say. You might just confirm you have some valuable employees already.
  4. Infrastructure is a hot topic in our country right now. While it seems to me many different voices agree we should be investing in infrastructure, there seems to be significant differences over how much we should invest. Perhaps even more importantly, there are differences over what even defines infrastructure. While most agree roads and pipes qualify, past that agreement ends. For those of us in the Green Industry, the components of our work are rarely considered infrastructure. Not only is this misguided, but I also think it is seriously short sighted so far as defining infrastructure. To explain myself I want to put forth my opinion as to a commonsense definition of infrastructure and justify why investment the green industry is wise infrastructure expenditure. Most people agree on what defines infrastructure. But the definition should include the green industry. Durable The first aspect that is common to all infrastructure is durability. Infrastructure should reflect a long-term investment thereby providing long-term benefits and utility. Water pipes and roads normally fit this bill, but their durability varies. Usually there is also some correlation between level of funding and durability, but not always. In the landscape industry a project I suggest should logically be considered infrastructure is tree plantings. Landscape trees, even in harsh environments (where incidentally they provide the most benefit) can last many decades, and maybe up to a century. In addition, in contrast to buildings and pipes, trees increase in value and benefit. Most manmade structures require ever increasing maintenance and renovation to keep them suitable. Yes, there is a maintenance cost to trees, but early low-cost maintenance interventions can decrease the necessity for later high-cost maintenance. This positive relationship between initial investment and low long-term cost coupled with diverse long term benefit means trees are an infrastructure winner. Tree planting is infrastructure. Low initial cost pays back long term and increases in value. Serves a Larger Purpose – Multi Beneficial Another hallmark of good infrastructure is that you get more than just the project you build. With transportation infrastructure (roads, rails, runways, etc.) benefits are achieved beyond getting people or things from one place to another (development, economic growth, liveability). With landscaping projects, you can multiply benefits from what seems to be a single facet project. Enhancing or expanding green space can help provide many benefits. Plants provide multiple environmental advantages such as helping mitigate pollution, decrease stormwater runoff, provide cooling in cities, and sequester carbon. Plants and landscaping also improve the livability of an area through aesthetics, providing opportunities for recreation, supporting healthy living, and creating sense of wellbeing. In the education realm (education is infrastructure of the mind) landscaping can improve satisfaction with a school, and even increase test scores and retention. Investment in landscaping infrastructure can enhance these important commercial and social outcomes. Foundational/Primary Another characteristic common to infrastructure is a foundational attribute. This is to say it should be in place before other phases of a project or is supportive of subsequent results of the project. For community development to take place, roads and utilities must first be in place. But I suggest schools, grocery stores and recreation must be in place also. What workers will want to work in a job where there is only the job? Green infrastructure enhances business very well. By building public parks, sports complexes, greenway trails, and maybe even golf courses, a municipality or business demonstrates a commitment to an area and its citizens (employees). At a university the green space strongly supports residential students and the greater school community alike. It can also provide the livability that will attract and retain students, faculty, and staff. One more important consideration is the order in which green infrastructure should be installed. Waiting until later phases of development will add additional cost. Delays, disruption, and redirection of resources may all occur when infrastructure is performed as an add-on or renovation. These costs are avoided when green infrastructure is installed in the proper construction sequence or during early construction. All infrastructure should save resources in order to maximize benefit. Recreation complexes as infrastructure can anchor development and improve livability. Getting It Done Defining infrastructure is hard enough let alone implementing an infrastructure project. This blog is not meant to be an authoritative guide but simply a commonsense discussion of what infrastructure is at the street (or grass) level. I believe our country and communities need infrastructure investment. What the specific implementation will look like will be up to decision and policy makers above my pay grade. My writing this is to hope that those same people will look to the green industry, in all its guises, and determine that landscaping is infrastructure too. They should also enthusiastically demonstrate investing in landscaping infrastructure is smart policy.
  5. Early in my career I was the Head Groundskeeper at a hospital in Northern Virginia. Like many hospitals mine was invested in community health and each year held a major screening and education event for the area. Because of the size of the event, volunteers were looked for from all areas of the hospital. Being eager to help my organization, I volunteered. The day of the event I checked in to get my assignment and was seriously disappointed to be assigned trash detail. While this was not the end of the world, I realized I had been pigeonholed. The people detailing jobs saw me as a groundskeeper and only a groundskeeper. Therefore, trash duty. What they failed to realize, and failed to benefit from, is a Grounds Crew can do so much more. If your Grounds crew hasn’t gotten excited about a new project (like in house training program), it is because they haven’t been asked. The Face of Your Business The interpersonal interactions that take place in a business/workplace are the lifeblood of the organization. How people interact with staff can create a positive first impression and/or cement a long relationship. For many (all?) people that come into your business, the Grounds Crew is the part of the team they will interact with every day. Granted, they might not be the people that your visitors are coming to see but nonetheless, they are usually the staff that are seen first, answer requests for directions, or offer the first greeting on campus. In addition, the work of the grounds crew will be the first facet of the campus witnessed by customers, so it is vital your team be on their game. The Grounds crew must be considered a key member of the customer service team. Marketing Marketing is what a business or entity does to generate a purchase or convince a customer to enter an arrangement with that business. In order to drive attendance universities, utilize many different departments to market to prospective students. All universities support landscaping to some degree, but rarely is the Grounds Crew itself involved in the marketing effort. Uniforms, professional equipment, and even the team morale all come together to market the school to prospective students. Every university displays the campus landscape as best they can, and all look to supply a beautiful aesthetic. How many market the team itself? If a prospective student walks by a crew, would they be greeted appropriately? Do all crew members know their job enough to answer questions? Is the Admissions team in communications with the Grounds Crew? By integrating the Campus landscape staff into marketing, a stronger more cohesive promotion product may result. Organizational Alignment The primary organizational goal for any Grounds Crew differs based on the business of the organization it is housed within. For a university, the primary organizational goal is education of students. But universities have many other goals also. There is Faculty enrichment, administration efforts, community outreach and fundraising to name just a few. Your Grounds Crew can come alongside all these efforts in direct ways. Our Grounds Crew here at Mississippi State University is partnering with our MSU Entomology Department to support a pollination project that department is working on. We will provide tactical support via plant advice, design, maintenance, and manpower in alignment with their strategy of pollinator habitat, ecology, nutrient cycling, and diversity. This partnership supports both our departmental missions in addition to the mission of the overall university. It also strengthens the interdepartmental ties where they otherwise might not be close. This is the power of a Grounds Crew. The MSU Department of Entomology is partnering with MSU Campus Landscape on renovations to make their landscape more pollinator friendly. Return on Investment Successful organizations all spend their money carefully. Smart money must provide a return and help to build the value and assets of the organization. Human capital is often seen as a smart investment and many companies earn dividends by investing in their team members. This is especially true for your Grounds Crew. Providing training to your groundskeepers improves efficiency via streamlining production, eliminating delays, and preventing rework. By investing in the crew, turnover can be decreased thus reducing the cost and friction of training new workers. Proper training in proven techniques plus current research may eliminate costly mistakes but also take quality and outcomes to new levels. Perhaps most important is due to the durable yet perpetual nature of grounds work, training can result in short/long term, repetitive payback. Clearly the Grounds Crew can generate positive ROI. Grounds Does It All Every Grounds Crew I’ve ever been a part of, no matter the type of parent organization or location, has several traits in common. One of those traits is a deep commitment to serving their organization. Fortunately, this desire for service is usually readily available for utilization by their parent organization. In addition to the opportunities above, many Grounds Crews are active in volunteering, participating in boards and committees, mentoring, pollution prevention, and more. Talk to your Grounds Crew to help create avenues for increased participation and positive press. Your Grounds Crew truly can do it all. The MSU Campus Landscape Team strives to do more every day.
  6. Over 30 years of groundskeeping and the pinnacle of my career occurs at 1:20 of this Randy Wilson Rockbottum video. I wonder if it has something to do with Mississippi State University? Thanks for the shout out. RW is the BEST.
  7. Trees are a well-known part of most landscapes. I can’t think of anyone that hates their trees although several segments of our industry may have a more nuanced relationship with them (think golf course Superintendents and sports field managers). I, however, am a through-and-through treehugger (smile when you say that). Given my connection with trees, I have always planted quite a number at each of my professional stops. Therefore, it was no surprise when in my role with Mississippi State University Campus Landscape my team would participate in some winter tree planting. What was a surprise to me was how many trees we would install. And, while we are still in the midst of this effort, I know at the culmination we will look back with pride and accomplishment at our endeavor. Why Plant Trees? Our landscapes are installed and maintained to provide some sort of service. For most landscapes we are usually trying to provide beautification and promote recreation (think sports, hiking, relaxation, etc.). Fortunately planting trees comes with side helpings of environmental benefit, increasing property value, improving a sense of wellness and even decreasing crime. Mississippi State University is well known for its campus landscape. Of course the trees and campus forest contribute significantly to the overall landscape atmosphere. MSU is also a Tree Campus USA through the National Arbor Day Foundation. Planting trees is an essential component of this program. Tree planting efforts demonstrate a commitment to our campus that reflects not only a present day effort but also a commitment to the future of the university. In my opinion, trees demonstrate clear evidence of dedication to a community and a sense of responsibility to that community. Trees benefit our landscapes in many ways. Arbor Day celebrations are a great way to celebrate trees. Let's Talk Numbers... So if someone wants to plant trees, how many should they plant? One way of course is to simply count the number of trees in your landscape and increase the number of trees to add each season/year/planting etc. Another way is to measure canopy cover. Regardless of the method your organization chooses, increasing tree inventory allows for a feel good story which improves organizational pride and team spirit. I suggest that deciding on a number reflects a rational formula reflecting some arboricultural goal and is dependent on factors such as climax ecotypes and carrying capacity, not to mention maintenance dollars. At a previous site I worked at our crew planted over 300 trees on 100 acres (m/l) over 7 years. This was based on our estimates of declining trees heading for imminent removal, and the goal of increasing canopy cover (our canopy increased 14%-19% in 7 years). This winter we will plant nearly 300 at MSU in this round alone. Remember though, no matter the numbers, planting any is better than planting none. Planting Trees Never Gets Old I love planting trees. Truth be told, I love most of the tasks I perform in my job, but the tree stuff is special. There are so many wondrous aspects to trees that amaze me. The mass and scale a tree creates from soil, water and air is remarkable. The variety and complexity of plant structures ranging from bark, to lignin, buds, flowers and nuts, etc. reflects adaptations based on thousands of years of evolution. Another aspect of trees is the potential longevity. Trees can last decades and even longer if sited and cared for properly. Trees can be used as historical artifacts. By overlapping tree rings an unbroken timeline (dendrochronology) lasting millenium can be created. Tree longevity leads me to hope I might be participating in a landscaping process as long lasting as an Oak tree. Trees are also a critical component of the ecosystem. Many animals and insects live in and amongst trees, not the least of which is humans. Truly, where would we be without all the benefits of trees? Well Worth It This tree planting project at Mississippi State has been hard work. But the opportunity to make a significant impact on the MSU campus is all worth it. The trees we planted this round varied from 3-4" caliper and had root balls 4 foot around. Planting trees this size is challenging whether staging, transporting, or installing. The results have been obvious and outstanding. I call it instant landscape and it is. Our Drill Field is an iconic part of campus and has now been improved via a 44 tree install. On February 12 this year MSU celebrated Arbor Day on campus. None less than MSU President Keenum was in attendance amongst many others representing all parts of our campus family, especially students. Several speakers talked of the importance of trees to the financial health of our communities in addition to the other benefits they provide. The “State” trees we celebrated are now part of our campus forest and our MSU Campus Landscape team is very glad to have been a part of it.
  8. Thank you for writing and posting this. Momentarily felt some regret for not reading it when it was posted, but when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Great Friday read, to make a better Monday attitude. I think I'll smell some roses today. Thanks again.
  9. All of us have heard the adage “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. Of course, many have also heard “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. One of my favorites, attributed to Abraham Lincoln and also appropriate to the green industry is “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe” . Regardless of how we view planning, it is essential to achieving goals and successful team operation. My career has now landed me in a position that requires me to assist in building an operation largely from zero, so I'm in the midst of creating an organizational plan. I'd like to share some of my thoughts around this important topic and hopefully hear from some dear readers on the subject as well. Why Plan? Creating a plan achieves a number of benefits for an operation. The first benefit is that a plan lays out a road map for success. Creating a destination and a route for getting there provides efficiency and prevents missteps. Surely you can achieve an objective without a plan, but there will likely be fits and starts along the way. Next, a plan helps establish benchmarks. These metrics can help keep an operation on schedule. Demonstrating progress and achieving benchmarks is key to indicating/sustaining success. A clear and understandable plan also helps foster buy-in of stakeholders, allowing them to see the future. People outside your operation, but involved in it nonetheless, can help provide energy and resources. Sometimes they may even provide cover if unplanned glitches pop up in the plan. Keep it Real, and Achievable A key factor to any plan is to keep it reality-based. Only with accurate evaluations of your operation and avoidance of wishful thinking can your plan be achievable. Begin by completing an objective evaluation of where your operation currently is. Documenting the status quo can provide a quick start to your plan because even the most dysfunctional operation is achieving success somewhere. There is no need to start completely from scratch so thereby we avoid unnecessary work. Including the thoughts of current employees has the dual benefit of providing a different vantage point and also helps foster responsibility for successful implementation of the plan. Employees usually will get behind any effort they help craft rather than one they are ordered to follow. Make objectives that are realistic and measurable. Small achievements can provide momentum plus maintain and enhance continued plan support. Don’t Go It Alone Creating a good plan requires broad participation from all facets of your operation. Regardless whether you are tasked with creating a new plan like I am, or simply updating an old one, seeking input is essential. First, this takes the responsibility for the plan off your shoulders alone. While you likely don’t shirk being on the hook, getting feedback usually creates a stronger plan. Next, it helps to eliminate any prejudices or functional blind spots you may be subject to. People usually base a course of action on experiences they have had. While this isn’t entirely a bad thing, getting additional perspective can be invaluable. Lastly, getting someone else’s thoughts on your plan, especially from a boss, can give clarity as to expectations. What I believe we are pursuing may not be what my boss thinks. Seek feedback and be open to it. Be Flexible, Aim High, and Reevaluate Regularly Any plan should be like rubber rather than concrete. All plans should be precise and fact-based, but not so rigid as to ignore the specific realities of the operation and scenario it lives in. My situation has considerations that may be hugely different than other operations/locations. Your plan should be aspirational also. Set your sights high and create lofty goals. It is better to shoot for the stars and fall short rather than not go for broke from the get-go. Again, basing your plan in reality and fact will accommodate realistic and achievable goals even if those goals are aggressive. Lastly, plans must be reevaluated regularly. Reviewing progress and considering whether adjustments are needed prevents wasting time and effort. The goal of the plan is progress, not necessarily perfection. Plan for Success Planning for success is one of those statements that has two meanings depending on how you read it. But both are critical to your operation and both are necessary at any time. First, the preparation and pathways for charting your course are essential. Things we plan to do may or may not occur. But I guarantee if you don’t plan something it won’t happen. Next is planning to achieve your goals. That is to say believe in what you are doing and where you want your operation to go. You, and everyone around you, will draw energy from a resolute mindset. In my experience, very little happens when we don’t believe in our ability to make it happen. So, make a plan, stick to it, and enjoy the results.
  10. January 2020 was like many other New Years. I say this now with some embarrassment because of how actually good my life was at that moment (oh, hindsight). My family was healthy and happy, my professional life was established and predictable, and while not financially carefree, I was managing. I truly would have said things were fine. Fast forward nearly a year and things are much, much different. Like many in our country and TurfNet family, this past year brought about many changes in my life. 2020 ended up being a crazy, challenging, stressful year and truth be told, I’ll be very happy, and quite relieved, to see it in my rear view mirror. Changes, Changes, Changes In January 2020 I had heard of COVID-19 but wasn’t really concerned as it seemed a China-only issue. Unfortunately, as all of us know too well, coronavirus would end up spreading in the United States. In March, my previous employer shut most operations down. My team and I were deemed essential personnel so stayed working during the first “shutdown”. Over the next several months, and for the rest of the year, every aspect of my life would be touched by the COVID pandemic. In July my position was eliminated to save money. By years end, my immediate family had been COVID tested several times, had one scary but fortunately brief bout of the virus, and several episodes of quarantining. As a write this COVID-19 is still a significant, if not dominant feature in our daily lives. You Can't Know the Future So, 2020 took me for a ride. I am now in a new position, a new state, a new house. Looking back, I wouldn’t have thought all these occurrences could all possibly be positives. I have been fortunate to improve my lot in all this upheaval. Each step of the way during the past year, my path has taken me in a new direction I would rather not have travelled. I say this not because I regret where I am now, but because change, especially involuntary change, can be difficult and uncomfortable. However, what I realize now is I can’t fully judge my present circumstances because I don’t know my future. Hope for 2021 Surely things will be better in 2021. I say this not because of any specific effort or upcoming event, but because I believe that things are currently bad, yet probability dictates that things won't get worse. Mind you I’m not guaranteeing anything. There are likely to be unforeseen consequences ahead, and many difficulties are yet to be overcome. Fortunately, there are many, many people working hard to overcome our problems. Our everyday decisions matter also because not everyone can make momentous impacts. Little efforts add up. I suggest that even reading this blog illustrates that you are still plugging. These facts are why I have hope things will improve. Spring ALWAYS Follows Winter We are in winter both literally and figuratively. As all of us green industry types know, winter can feel challenging and interminable. But we know it isn't. Spring is coming. In the meantime, though, take care of yourself and those around you. Look out for your loved ones. While at work, or even at the store, look out for those you encounter. Remember what is important. The New Year harkens a time for honest assessment of where we are, but more importantly, where we might go. I am looking forward to trying to be better in 2021 and expect things will indeed get there. So goodbye 2020. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. It feels so small to wish the usual sentiments this year. What I hope for all is health, prosperity, and happiness in the New Year. Where there is loss, healing and warm memories. Where there is fear, comfort and faith. And in all, some rays of sunshine and love. Godspeed.
  11. As of my last blog post I was at a crossroads. My position had been eliminated due to circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, I was actively seeking work in the green industry. Losing my position was a blow to my livelihood and my confidence. Being out of work is tough at any time but even more so during a pandemic, when many people are out of work and companies are hunkering down, not looking to add new employees. So, it is my good fortune to be again gainfully employed as Horticulturist Supervisor at Mississippi State University in Starkville, MS. Feel like I have been called up to the Bigs Mississippi State was one of several universities to contact me for an interview and I, being a fan of SEC sports, was very excited about that prospect. Throughout my career I had always sought to be part of a significant undertaking. While my previous positions weren't on a big stage, I approached them as if they were. Acting as if we were in the spotlight allowed my groundskeeping teams to perform at a high level even if our audience wasn’t large. Mississippi State is the big stage, nationally renowned as a leading university with an incredible campus landscape operation. Comparing my situation to sports, I am not the star on the team. I may not even be in the starting lineup, but see myself as a role player. I won't get the MVP trophy, but will get a championship ring when our team wins. That’s just fine with me. A role player on a big stage. A successful job search but a delayed start I lost my previous position July 28, 2020. I began my search for new employment immediately. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was very fortunate to have friends, colleagues and an existing network who assisted greatly in my job search. I was offered and accepted my position at MSU in mid-September and was scheduled to start October 1. Unfortunately, someone in my personal circle tested positive for COVID-19 and I had to quarantine for 14 days. In a strangely fortunate way, Coronavirus quarantine is not unusual and MSU was very accommodating. They simply pushed my start date to mid-October. The State of Missouri released me from quarantine and I happily headed south. The scale of the MSU campus will take some getting used to. Much to get used to Entering a new position means there is much to acclimate and orient to. The biggest aspect is that now, as a Team Supervisor, I am no longer over the entire grounds operation. I view this as a benefit because of the wide range of team expertise to draw from. I’ll have plenty of opportunity to make decisions within my sphere but don’t miss having to make all the big decisions. I am having to relearn and adapt to new processes. In Springfield I had long ago settled into many processes and had all my preferred tools. I am confident I’ll take some of the same steps I have in the past, but reevaluating routine anew is useful. Perhaps the biggest adjustment is simply the size of the Mississippi State campus. I started my career on a large campus at George Mason University, but I haven't worked on anything this big in a while. My sense of scale is off and has caused some minor glitches with time/manpower estimation. Fortunately, this is temporary issue and is dwarfed by the endless opportunity the campus size presents. So many possibilities and opportunities to learn When I looked into what MSU had to offer, even beyond the nuts and bolts of my job, I realized the great potential I have before me. Mississippi State University is a land-grant college. This means one focal point of its academics is agriculture, which MSU takes seriously. Some of the programs offered are multiple Agriculture degrees, Horticulture, Landscape Architecture and Landscape Contracting & Management. Within Forest Resources there is Conservation, Forestry and Sustainable Bioproducts. Another very intriguing school is the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. Of the many degrees offered in this area, none is more exciting to me than Golf & Sports Turf Management. This program is sanctioned by the PGA and was founded in 1985. Clearly there is an amazing opportunity to integrate our applied work within these schools/programs and learn from industry leaders. Being able to ply my trade in the pursuit of excellence is a great opportunity. So very fortunate I am so happy to be resuming my career at Mississippi State University within Campus Landscape. I recognize very deeply how fortunate I am to have landed at such an organization in this role. There is a clear charge from this organization to strive to be the very best and I am so happy to feel that energy. This job offers me a new chapter in both my professional development and in the potential for new TurfNet blog content. To any of you still searching, have hope and faith. And of course, to the entire TurfNet family, stay safe and best wishes for the future.
  12. If anybody ever needs a lift, Randy Wilson is the source. Rockbottum is TOPS.
  13. Ronald, Sorry for the delay in responding. I am somewhat surprised when there are comments as it is (sadly) not the norm. I am glad that you liked this blog. Job loss and separation is quite a tricky situation. What struck you about this article. Curious about your situation. Let me know? Yours, JF
  14. Parting ways with a job is something that will happen to nearly everyone over the arc of a career. Sometimes this occurs in some predictable or desirable way such as promotion, relocation, or retirement. In these cases, parting is usually manageable and follows a transition by both the employee and employer (notice period, job posting, training a replacement, etc.). But in other situations, the severing is a surprise and does not allow for transition planning. One or the other parties is prepared and likely has planned the change in employment, but the other is not prepared. This can be much hard to manage for an individual and can cause some difficulties returning to productive employment. Having a plan to get back in the saddle can be beneficial and may decrease the amount of time in transition Get Your Head Right Leaving a job amicably to both employer and employee can be a very smooth and even happy occurrence. It is quite the opposite when a job is lost precipitously. Hard feelings can occur on behalf of whichever party was surprised. This sudden separation is particularly hard on a devoted employee. Losing a position without some preparation can feel comparable to losing a loved one. Like any other separation from a meaningful relationship, job loss may result in a grieving process. Symptoms of grieving such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance may occur and in no particular order. Regardless of how you deal with your emotions, be resolute you will get through this situation intact. Negative feelings toward your previous employer are understandable, but ultimately, they do not help you come to acceptance. Avoid falling into a spiral of bad-mouthing or hopelessness as these can delay getting your head right for recovery. To some extent many jobs are about compromise. Not the good compromise of mutual benefit, but the bad compromise of forgoing doing what you like or a paycheck and accepting something short of fulfilling work. Understandably, most people have to work to live and so the daily grind becomes kind of a routine. Losing your job stops that routine cold. Fortunately, now is the chance for freedom to think about what work you might really want to do. Passion is a key trait that accompanies success in many professions, so why not seek a job that matches your passion? Think about what makes you tic and see if there is a job to match. Evaluating your talents is another way to determine what job you should be performing. Combining your passion and talents could be called following your bliss. Take advantage of this juncture between employment to really think about what you’d like to do. The adage “if you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life” is true. Assemble Your Info Performing a job search can be like full time work. A first step is to assemble the information needed to tell prospective employers who you are, what you have done, and how you will help them in the future. Your resume, references, and employment history should be collated, telling your career story. Getting professional support is preferable. Like any other profession, career development personnel are specialists. A professional resume and cover letter can set you apart, getting you to the next level of job seeking. Have several people review your documents to see if anything is missed or hard to understand. I also suggest going beyond the normal means of telling your story. Today, our professional lives are online to varying degrees. This is simply the way it is, and one’s online persona is going to become more important and will also become easier to uncover. By adding an online section to your resume, you may help employers find out more about you. Share Your Info Your number one objective must be getting your name/history/resume/application in front of prospective employers. Utilizing all your resources is essential. Think about other colleagues and professionals you have a relationship with. Let them know you are looking for work. Word of mouth can be an important resource for learning about job openings. Go online. LinkedIn, TurfNet, Indeed, and others post jobs. Most any employer will have an employment page to review. Many will let you submit a resume for future consideration of jobs not even posted. Volunteering is another way to stay engaged and could also get your foot in the door. Job hunting is not a time for timidity. Be assertive but remember there are protocols to cold calling about employment. Finding innovative yet acceptable ways to make meaningful contact can demonstrate capability to employers. Get out there and get after it. In It To Win It Being out of work is no fun. The strain and consequences of job loss can be severe and immediate. Most people do not have resources to weather unemployment for very long. It is essential that us unemployed workers do all we can to get back in the saddle because there are no easy answers or magic potions. Do not get down on yourself and do not let anyone else get down on you either. Being unemployed is not about how good a worker you might be. Use all your resources. Now is not the time for half measures as it will be challenging to get back to work. Doing the right things doesn’t guarantee anything, but it does build the odds toward your favor. I appreciate how difficult this time is for unemployed people everywhere. Please do not get defeated. Everyday may be the day the phone call comes with a job offer. * * * * * Further thought: I lost my job July 28th 2020. As soon as he heard, TurfNet Maestro Peter McCormick sent me his article “Fired”, which he had originally written almost 20 years ago from personal experience. From that I learned that my situation is not unusual for our profession. There are a host of potential pitfalls we managers face... all it takes is one to cost you employment. I also learned it is okay to be angry but to not let your resentment (even if justified) rule you. Several of the takeaways he discussed I had already arrived at myself, thus confirming I was still capable of appropriate situational analysis and had not lost my edge. But mostly what I felt was a supportive colleague and community that was rooting for me and could be a resource in pursuing employment and emotional support. It was just what I needed. Thanks so much TurfNet and PM and best wishes to any unemployed TurfNetters out there. JF
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