Elmtree Garden Contractors – strategy consulting
A well-known family firm established in 1969 with a name in the Bristol area for landscaping and grounds maintenance for housebuilding and construction projects. When I started working with them in early 2010, the founder had taken a step back from the business and his son, Paul Lynch, had assumed the position of Managing Director. He was keen to put in place a set of properly-structured processes to manage the performance of his then 17 people, and to learn all he could to enable him to feel fully in control.
There has always been a stated commitment to Quality, Service and Reliability, and the firm was already known as one of the better employers in the sector. What I found when I spoke to everyone who worked there was that :
- there were very few measures and targets to back up the claims about Quality, Service and Reliability
- people did not feel they were informed about business performance, strategy and goals
- Paul and the foremen had had no training in team leadership, meaning they were struggling with the problem of being ‘mates’ with their operatives at times when they needed to keep an objective distance
- people wanted the occasional chance to have a proper one-to-one chat with the boss
At our strategy consulting sessions, Paul was very positive about moving forward with my suggested improvements, and we worked together on an action plan that had to take account of the seasonal cycle of the trade.
We developed an aims and objectives document, written for the team and using a very simple version of the Balanced Scorecard, that set out what Elmtree was aiming to achieve over the longer and shorter term. Once this was drafted and discussed with the team, everything else we did could be geared towards achieving the objectives.
I joined team meetings to support the communication of everything that was going on, including how each operative could get personally involved in generating new business leads. This reduced the pressure on Paul to take responsibility for all sales and marketing operations. I delivered short in-house skills workshops for foremen on motivation and team building. I came to see Paul for strategy consulting sessions every six weeks in the winter months to help him keep on track. I supplied guidance and templates of some 1-page forms so he could get a straightforward system of one-to-one job chats going.
When Elmtree went for Investors in People in March 2012, they achieved the award easily. The team had spoken in glowing terms about how things had improved and the positive effect these had had on teamwork, communication and customer service. The resulting benefit to profitability came directly from these. At a difficult time for the sector :
- operatives have been kept within the team instead of being laid off during the quiet winter months
- relationships with main contractors have strengthened
- new recruits have joined so the team has grown to 28 people
- valuable contracts have been won and new services launched
Update : In early 2015 Elmtree underwent their Investors in People reaccreditation. They gained the award at Silver level, showing how markedly they have moved forward. The assessor’s feedback highlighted particularly strong practice in :
- planning – employee participation in the development of company objectives
- values – regularly involving the team in discussions about what these mean in practice
- learning and development – the quality of on-site training