As I write this column, it is mid-January, the sun is shining and tufts of grass are peeking through an abnormally thin layer of snow-an uncommon sight during a typical Vermont winter. Meanwhile, southern areas of the country unaccustomed to drifting snow and arctic winds are being battered by a debilitating blizzard. It has been an unusual winter for sure.

By the time this issue reaches your mailbox, a fantastic football season will be coming to a close, while spring training baseball is still a few weeks away. Although many fields may still lay dormant, there is important work to be done off the field. Preplanning can make or break your management program, so start prepping now to avoid setbacks in the peak of your busy season.

Reconnect with your staff and establish your goals for the upcoming summer. Establishing a culture that encourages idea sharing, rewards stellar performance and builds personal responsibility can greatly improve the efficiency and dedication of your crew members. The level of employee engagement-the extent of commitment, pride they feel in working for their employer and their motivation-can greatly affect the success of your team. Studies show that fully engaged employees have a 70 percent higher productivity rate, 78 percent higher safety record and 70 percent lower turnover than employees who are not engaged. Want to develop an exceptional crew? Empower them. The pride they feel in their position will be reflected in their performance and dedication to the job. See page 24 of this issue for tips on effective employee training.

Another major undertaking you could check off your list this month: preseason equipment maintenance. Inventory all your gear, perform routine maintenance and fix anything that needs repair to make sure your equipment is ready for the summer season. Maybe it’s time stock up on infield conditioner or invest in a new infield groomer. Check out our special New Year, New Gear section (page 12) for some of the newest offerings from the industry’s leading manufacturers to help you have your most successful season yet.

Katie Meyers