The difference between a poor leader and a good leader is that the latter prioritizes their people over anything else. They treat their people as the biggest, most important asset of a company. This is what Brenda Ward, the Vice President of Business Operations and Administration at Beary Landscaping, believes has led to her success as a female leader in the landscaping industry. Read the full interview below as Kristen Kinsella, Lead of Customer Success at Attentive.ai, talks to Brenda about her role and things that excite her about the future.
Table of Contents
Leadership With Brenda Ward
Responsibilities of a leader by Brenda Ward
1. Team management
A good leader puts the people first. “It’s all about people. The people that you have on your team, the people that you can attract, and how you can retain them. You really have to work at that.”, says Brenda. Knowing the direction of growth, making the team aware of the same, and moving in that direction together, whilst ensuring it is a smooth sail, is how she describes her role as a leader.
As a leader in the landscaping industry, her key responsibilities include people management. She says, “I consider my role as a leader to really keep a pulse of who we have on the team, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what their career goals are, help them build those goals, and, build a vision for where they could potentially see themselves, in our company in the future, which has really worked out well, considering the state of the labor industry right now.” She believes having a close-knit team is beneficial, where every team member knows the role they play in the company’s success – “They just really feel a part of the family side of the business and that they’re a part of our growth and they’re a key part of our future. And so that’s really what I look at as my number one responsibility as a leader in the company.”, she adds.
2. Being available for the team
Brenda notes, “You know, so much of my week is spent in meetings just because it’s really important to me to be a face and to be available to my team so I can hear what’s going on. I can be available to them. And I just can’t imagine being a leader that doesn’t connect with their team on a regular basis, but not only that, it shows them the importance of connecting and in being a part of the team and how they are connected to our growth and how it’s not just one person or one department or one division.” Being well connected results in everyone being on the same page. Regular catch ups and building this connection with your team creates a momentum for growth and also a strong workplace culture. A leader investing this time, effort and energy on their team is rewarding. And this is Brenda’s favorite bit about being a leader.
3. Building a culture and hiring in line with it
Brenda mentions attracting and keeping excellent staff that is also a good cultural fit is her top most priority. Good staffing for the fields, offices, sales and management level is a challenge in this industry.
Brenda highlights, “If you don’t spend a lot of time with your HR department, really fostering good job descriptions and understanding the type of people that you want on your team, you can find yourself very quickly accidentally with a culture that you weren’t expecting or that you don’t even necessarily want just because the loudest person in the office is driving it and you’re not around, or you’re not paying close enough attention to realize that’s what happened.”
“I think your culture attracts your clients. So if you want a certain client base, but your culture doesn’t match, you’re not going to have as much success.”, says Brenda. Brenda thinks the culture attracts clients. One is more likely to attract the clients that match the company’s culture. If it is a fun, easy-going company with the pulse of the team representing the same, it will be difficult to win over a serious, straight-laced, by-the-book client. So, it is imperative to first know the type of culture you want for your workplace, which then sets the tone of your client relationships as well.
Brenda’s take on workplace culture
Attracting new generations to landscaping
When asked about the top 3 challenges in the landscaping industry, Brenda says, “I would say number one, two, and three are our people, keeping people and attracting people to the industry.” She adds, “Landscaping is a great industry to work in. It’s fun! It’s usually so family-oriented and you get to be outside and enjoy nature. But I think it’s kind of seen as just mowing lawns. There is hard work involved, and it’s not always easy. It’s hot, the days are long. As an industry, we have to figure out how to attract new people to come in and be a part of it with us. We have to change the way it’s seen and what it’s doing for us. The changes in technology, the labor rates, the weather and the climate. So many things are changing so quickly that we will not have a choice to sit back and ignore it for much longer.”
Brenda envisions changing how people perceive landscaping as a career and attracting newer generations will solve the ongoing labor shortage. Brenda adds, “I have a 20-year-old, he can’t imagine working a nine-to-five job. So in order to get people like that out of my basement playing video games, we’re going to have to come up with ways to be more flexible and more attractive. And I think we can do it. We have to look past how it’s always happened and come up with some new ideas.”
Incentivizing them with benefits like health insurance, sign-on bonuses, higher pays, and even profit sharing remains the go to strategy for better retention. But technology can now be leveraged to make this career option more enticing for the younger, “video-gaming” generation. Be it AI driven property measurement or autonomous mowing, having the option to seamlessly perform tasks that have always been dreaded can certainly give landscaping an edge over other career options, allowing young talent to focus on sales and customer satisfaction.
Is technology the answer to the industry challenges?
In this industry, newer things have often faced push back as the older generations are used to doing things a certain way and they’re not very welcoming or adaptive of technology. People who have been in this industry for long perceive technology as an over-complication. The younger generation, on the other hand, has already started realizing the fruits of new technology.
“Technology is a no‑brainer because, in order to fully understand your costs, it all starts with a good estimate. Time is of the essence in a salesperson’s life. What stops the adoption of technology rather than fostering it is a generational thing.” says Brenda, “Younger people are coming into the sales teams and they want to do things differently, make it completely mobile and they don’t want to have to get out their calculator and prefer a product like Attentive.ai. They probably wouldn’t even have taken a job if you told them they had to walk off a site with a measuring wheel, refresh their geometry skills from 10th grade and figure out the size of all this stuff.”
Brenda mentions that with new age tech like Attentive.ai automeasure software, guessing estimates is now a thing of the past. “Now with products like Attentive.ai, there’s no excuse in measuring being automated. It’s going to go across the industry where everybody’s proposals are better. Their estimates are tighter, so their prices make more sense. And if you don’t get on board, you’re either going to be pricing stuff too cheap. Or you’re just not going to be competitive for long. The people that can walk up to a site and say, oh, this is a $15,000 job. There’s only so many of them in there. They’re not going to last forever.”, states Brenda, and adds, “With technology, you are doing things faster, better, and without harming the environment with paper, without extra emissions.”
Technology in the landscaping industry
Efficiency and how it helps your team
Technology will aid in accurate estimates and calculations, which means efficient planning of resources and labor. Efficient costing means sustainable growth. Brenda points out, “That’s my favorite discussion, efficiency. So much in business comes down to your pricing, right? You have to understand your costs. And if you don’t understand your costs, then good luck growing.” Paying close attention to where you are spending your time and effort and getting the right amount of labor, material, and equipment is crucial.
Investing in good technology will save you money in more ways than one and also give you spare time to plan out operational and administration tasks, which can turn out to be cost and time-intensive if not paid attention to.
All in all, Brenda’s primary focus remains on the people of her company and on how to make them more efficient. Not just finding and hiring them, but also working towards collective growth of the organization and the team. Brenda believes every landscaping leader needs to run an internal program that finds people who run mowers, trimmers, backpack blowers, etc, and gives them the opportunity to train, upskill and grow their skill sets using technology. This, she believes, is a key responsibility of every leader in the landscaping industry.