Maximize your workforce
Employee efficiency is more important now than ever as the economic squeeze has brought closer scrutiny to every field and facility. “We have to manage our facilities in the most efficient way without compromising quality,” says Chris Walsh, sports field manager for the city of Scottsdale based at the multiuse Scottsdale Sports Complex.
One way to do that is to evaluate your staff to identify their strengths and weakness. “That’s the first thing I do in any new position,” says Eric Fasbender, CSFM, assistant director of athletic facilities and grounds for Louisiana State University Athletics. Having honed his management skills through similar positions at various facilities, he can attest to the effectiveness of matching the most qualified person to a task. “One of our staff members is unbelievable on a painter, putting down laser-sharp lines without string. Another, highly detail oriented staff member does an incredible job at our softball complex.”
Computers can be a great tool in improving efficiency, notes Bob Shumate, park maintenance coordinator for Calvert County Parks & Recreation in Prince Frederick, Md. He says, “Before we had computer access to the department’s RecTrac software program at all of our parks, we had to rely on inter-staff communication to share information. Now, all of my staff can log in directly. They’re trained to think ahead, checking the field use schedule for the coming week to determine the field setup so they can plan their work accordingly.”
Track your results and keep fine-tuning your systems, urges Walsh. “Scottsdale’s Parks and Grounds Division uses a computer software program to continually improve efficiency. At the end of each day, all staff members log in their hours spent on each task using an on-screen form that makes it quick and easy to do. That information goes into a database that I can check to analyze details on anything from review of an individual’s time allocation to total staff time spent on a task at one field or total staff time on a specific task at all of our facilities.”
That data is shared when Walsh meets with his staff at the beginning of each workday. On Monday morning, they review the list of daily goals for the week, as well as long-term project goals, and work together to plan the best strategy to accomplish them. They gather again for 15 minutes at the end of the day to get those hours logged in and also review their goals and make adjustments as needed.
Jason DePaepe, CSFM, athletic field manager for the University of Colorado Athletics, adopted a strategy a few years ago that has helped his crew become more focused and efficient. “Instead of managing all of our facilities myself, I delegated each of our facilities to different members of my staff. They are responsible for all maintenance; selecting, ordering and applying fertilizer; painting; irrigation schedules; etc. It’s allowed them to gain experience that they wouldn’t get if I just told them what to do every day. It also has given them a sense of ownership of their facility and increased productivity. Their time management and communication with other staff members have improved because some of their projects and events require many people which they are responsible for coordinating when they need help. A key benefit is this better qualifies them to step into a management position when they’re ready to move on to new challenges,” he says.
Adapt proven resources
“We can’t change people’s behavior, but we can change our way of managing them,” says Kevin Mercer, CTP, superintendent of grounds for St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “Finding the balance for each individual can be difficult, but also is very rewarding especially in terms of increased efficiency.”
Mercer has researched the options for accomplishing this, including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality inventory, a program many facilities use to better understand their employees, and the book, “Please Understand Me,” by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates. The concepts he’s integrated into his management program came from a self-assessment system developed by Rutgers University as part of their Turf Management curriculum.
Mercer says, “It was designed to teach golf course superintendents about their managerial styles and to help them manage their employees’ strong points and weaknesses. It identifies the four character types as troubleshooter, stabilizer, seeker and analyst. I use that insight to more effectively match my employees to the tasks within the three sections of my maintenance efficiency program.”
The first section of Mercer’s maintenance efficiency program focuses on the basic day-to-day operations for safe sports fields, including crease repair, overseeding, sod repair, skin area maintenance, mound and batter’s box repair, warning track maintenance, topdressing, watering, aerating, verticutting, mowing, painting, and fertilizer and pesticide application. The second concentrates on playability, including: mowing height, rolling, topdressing, the brightness of the paint, goal rotations and warm-up sessions on and off the athletic field and preparing the field for non-sports events. The third covers aesthetics: striping the field; trimming; litter control; fence repairs; and bed maintenance for woody, herbaceous and perennial plants.
Mercer says, “The troubleshooter can work well on his own or with a crew. He sees problems as a challenge and thrives on solving them. He’s an excellent trainer for other personnel. To stay at the top of his game, he needs the flexibility of working in all parts of our program. The stabilizer likes the routine work of the basic day-to-day operations of the first section of our program, and continually strives to become better at each task. He’s dependable, punctual and always prepared. While he doesn’t like to be the center of attention, he takes pride in his work and appreciates being recognized for what he’s accomplished. The seeker thrives on attention and praise and will work hard to earn my respect and recognition. He understands others’ needs and can motivate a team so he makes a great foreman. He also excels when focused on a specific task, working well in the aesthetics area of our program. The analyst is a problem-solver who strives for perfection, making an excellent foreman or assistant. He’s open to new ideas and quickly adapts to change. He can handle all aspects of our program and excels in the playability segment. Working with the analyst is always a mentoring situation. I know he’ll want to learn everything I can teach him and then move on to greater challenges.”
Keep communication flowing
With communication playing such a huge role in employee efficiency, it’s essential to make sure each contact is effective. Fasbender says, “If you’re trying to deliver information that the recipient can’t process, you’re both wasting time. My wife shared a communications strategy she’s put to work in the classroom as a high school chemistry teacher that greatly improved my communications with my staff. Everyone processes information most effectively by one of three methods. They may be auditory, hearing what is told to them and remembering it. They may be visual, needing to see a picture or information in writing to process and remember it. Or, they may be kinesthetic, learning either by taking their own notes on information told to them or by observing an example and then performing the task themselves. Once you determine which method works best for each individual, you can tailor your communication with them to that method.”
With multiple communication venues readily available, it’s easy to work this strategy into a management program. Fasbender says, “Use in-person meetings, cell phones or two-way radios with the auditory communicators. Post a dry erase board in your office or main maintenance facility to list daily tasks for your visual communicators. Carry your digital camera to take photos of that perfect field layout or a procedure being performed properly to show the visual folks the results you want to achieve. Those photos help the kinesthetic communicators, too. You just need to give them the opportunity to perform the tasks themselves. Equip them with a notepad or PDA, so they can take notes during verbal communication.”
Create the environment
These savvy sports field managers understand how attitude impacts efficiency. As Mercer says, “How you treat your staff becomes the basis of how they interact with each other. Practicing the golden rule builds a great team. I’ve learned how important it is to admit when I make a mistake because I didn’t listen to one of my staff or haven’t been attentive to others, and to apologize for it. The trust and mutual respect this has built strengthens our team and improves our efficiency.”
Establish an environment of harmony, urges Fasbender. “When your staff members have the opportunity to focus on the tasks they like best and excel at, you’re putting them on track for success. When you keep the communications flowing effectively and value their input, you empower them to take ownership of whatever they’re doing. An empowered team is an efficient team.”
The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.