Gabe Zichermann says every frustration you’ve ever had with technology is a result of human error.
Photo by Keith Griner

How we view technology

Many see technology as a risk rather than a benefit because of several influences ingrained in our culture. By Jimmy Miller

Gabe Zichermann knows technology causes genuine anxiety.

Zichermann, an author and keynote speaker, delivered the keynote address at Lawn & Landscape’s Technology Conference. His speech, titled, “The Future of Technology is People,” updated attendees on the current state of technology.

The risk of automation is causing real harm to people. In areas where automation is removing jobs, Zichermann said that there is a demonstrable decrease in overall health metrics, according to research compiled by both Villanova University and Ball State University.

And yet, only a third of companies have been open with their employees on their intentions for technology in the future. He said we’re entering the fourth industrial revolution – the past revolutions included things like the internet and communication tools – but we’re still not sure what the end result of that revolution is yet. We know a lot is changing, but we’re not sure about the scope of that change.

“We don’t yet have a single unifying technology that we can point to and say that is the defining area of our revolution,” he said.

Zichermann said there are five primary technologies involved in this fourth industrial revolution: artificial intelligence, machine learning (where the machinery updates itself based on its interactions with its outside environment), robotics, quantum computing and blockchain (trust and verification of online transactions). He also pointed out that technologies like phone screens and social media algorithms have dominated our thinking and changed the way we interact with one another.

But how far will those technologies go? Zichermann’s guess is as good as yours.

“I have no idea where this is going either,” he said. “But what we have in our industry is this…belief that things are definitely going to get better. A rising tide lifts all ships.”

It is inevitable.

Zichermann says this changing technology is inevitable, so the pressing question remains what companies will do strategically with this industrial revolution.

In order to have a strategy, you need to understand how people and technology affect one another.

He pointed out that every single upsetting thing that ever happened to you with technology is the fault of the technology’s designer, a human being.

He urged attendees to understand what has influenced everybody’s perception of technology. First, technology moves fast. He showed viewers a video of a robot built by Boston Dynamics that can be knocked over and get back up on its own.

Additionally, missed expectations of technology set by media creates disappointment. People are shown images of flying cars, colonized planets and human-like robots in shows or movies like the “Jetsons,” “Star Trek” and more. The whole industry has moved away from grand-scale advancements and instead invested in short-term technology.

What’s more, some interest in technology is simply powered by our desire in novelties. Take Google Glass – a brand of smart glasses – for example: When it was announced as a new technology, it was exciting, but many asked themselves, “What’s the point?”

“But our instinct, our desire for something new propels us forward,” Zichermann said.

Tech at work.

People automatically assume technology being introduced to the workplace is simply for the benefit of leadership and the company itself. It will make the companies more money and won’t actually make their jobs any easier. There’s no consultation with the employees; it’s simply a directive from bosses to use the technology. As a result, the technology goes underused and the process of learning is made more difficult as employees grow stubborn.

“The cost of technology implementation in the workplace is much, much higher than the sticker price on the product and the service and the support,” he said. “At some point, the way people learn about the way to use this technology comes with an order.”

Zichermann said employers need to understand that learning is simply difficult. There’s an expert bias among people who can exercise that skill without even having to think about it. The problem with that skill level is that they have “trouble absorbing new realities.” In other words, they have a problem learning new ways of doing work.

“Many people are fundamentally bad at learning, so when presented with new information, they literally have trouble learning this new information,” Zichermann said.

“As technology leaders, we need to take a step back and ask, ‘Do our teams have the underlying skills necessary not to use the technology, but to learn the technology.’”

The big five.

Zichermann offered attendees five solutions that successful companies have used to implement new technology without creating a huge stir in the company culture.

  • 1. Involve employees directly in the development in new technology so that they don’t oppose you right from the onset.
  • 2. Lying to employees or avoiding conversations about technology will make employees anxious and corrode their trust in you.
  • 3. Don’t assume that your employees should know better, and give them the chance and incentive to learn it.
  • 4. Allow employees to be self-directed with technology and let them embrace the ideas head-on.
  • 5. Don’t just expect employees to simply fall in line and be passive about new technology. “Treat them like customers,” he said. “Market to them, message to them, and persuade them to do things that are in their best interest.”

The rules of recruitment

Josh Willey provides some tips he’s learned over the last 20 years trying to hire and retain the best employees. By Lauren Rathmell

With a shortage of labor and help wanted signs on every corner, Josh Willey, senior vice president of operations with Green Lawn Fertilizing/Green Pest Solutions, says the way we recruit and retain labor has to shift. Willey presented as part of the Lawn Care Spotlight sessions at the conference.

The preparation.

“You are being interviewed before you even walk in the door,” he says. This means candidates are researching your company online immediately trying to find out more about you. Willey recommends ensuring your company has a positive online image before even beginning the recruiting process. This involves not only your website but your company page on Glassdoor, a service you can pay to monitor and customize.

Josh Willey says you should tone down your sales marketing on social media.
Photo by Keith Griner

Marketing.

“When you’re recruiting, make sure you tone down your sales marketing on social media,” Willey says. He recommends posting about company events, photos and employee recognition on social media channels. And, make sure all employees have updated LinkedIn pages with accurate info. “People are looking at this,” he says. At Green Lawn, employees can upload the same cover image to their LinkedIn pages with Green Lawn branding.

Generally speaking, Willey says they’ve had more luck filling managerial roles with LinkedIn rather than field-work positions. Indeed.com has proven to be the most beneficial, and he recommends utilizing paid options that allow companies to target audiences better. “Max out your budget and your goal on Indeed,” he says.

Screening and scheduling.

Right off the bat, your company should come up with a list of “knock-out” questions, Willey says. These will weed out any potential duds right away. They can be five to 10 questions that would automatically disqualify a person from working with your company.

And just because you’ve nailed down an interview doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. “The amount of options for people versus the number of people out there has changed,” he says. “Less people are showing up for their interviews now.” To remedy this, he recommends sending out a detailed email with information including a map pointing out the location, the date and time and supplemental information like a brief guide to your company’s benefits.

The interviews.

“The first impression matters,” he says. When you bring in a candidate for the first time, make the candidate feel at home. “The candidate isn’t the only one being interviewed here,” he says. “You should be able to tell your company’s story in the first five minutes.”

When it comes to a second interview, schedule it for a different day to give your team and the candidate time to prepare.

Onboarding.

Once you’ve gotten the right candidate in the door, the recruiting process isn’t over. Willey recommends personalizing their onboarding process with branded items and a name plate or badge ready on the first day. About 30 to 45 days after the start date, Willey says Green Lawn carries out a “Stay Survey” which involved a 10-minute check in with the new employee to make sure things are going well. “This offers accountability on your training,” he says. “And, it helps catch concerns before they escalate.”

Photo by Keith Griner

Moving forward

Implementing and executing technology for when you know it’s necessary. By Jimmy Miller

You know technology makes your business more efficient and is generally beneficial for your company. Now what?

Brian Williams, a sales and executive coach at Perspectivity International who also works for green industry consulting company Bruce Wilson & Company, told attendees that there’s a smart way to implement technology. Failing to use technology the right way could overwhelm your employees and ultimately turn them off from all types of solutions in the future.

“If you have tactics without strategy…you’re never going to get anywhere,” Williams said. “We need both.”

Through three primary points – identifying the specific problem, a few technology and tool suggestions and making the right business leadership decisions – Williams showed attendees how to make the switch to technology as seamless as possible.

“What we do know is that change is difficult, so give it the time it deserves,” Williams said.

“You’d be surprised to see what happens when you use the most powerful computer in the world – it’s called your brain,” says Brian Williams, speaker at Perspectivity International. Visit bit.ly/lawntech2019 for more on the Lawn & Landscape Technology Conference.
Photo by Keith Griner

Problem.

You can’t “just do it.” Williams said you’ll burn a lot of money doing it that way. Clearly identify the problem you need technology to solve first will help companies know precisely what technology is needed. Someone who’s clearly identified the problem knows how much revenue the problem is costing the company, how many people it affects and its overall impact.

“You’d be surprised to see what happens when you use the most powerful computer in the world – it’s called your brain,” Williams said.

People often just buy technology because they have the budget to do so, Williams said. He shared Lawn & Landscape reporting that indicated investments in technology overwhelmingly didn’t help the companies recruit and retain employees like it was supposed to do.

On the other hand, Williams also said some decide they’ll just stand there and sit around waiting for people to come in with the perfect solution. Williams said many landscapers don’t even implement basic technologies like letting clients pay for services online.

“If two of you come to my door, I’m going to do business with the one who makes it easiest for me,” Williams said. “A lot of the market sees you as a commodity. They think cutting grass is all the same – cutting grass is cutting grass.”

Technology and tools.

Technology is incredibly diverse and complicated, Williams said, so that’s why it’s so important to identify the problem first before seeking technology that could be somewhat beneficial.

Williams talked highly of Facebook and Instagram sales funnels. He showed an advertisement that said “5 Steps to Fix Yo Ugly Lawn,” with the subhead, “Did you know that your neighbors are talking about you?” When someone clicks the ad, it takes users to a landing page. The video that started playing was not introducing viewers to the company, but rather educating viewers how to make their lawns look better.

Ultimately, Williams said the company wants users to come to the conclusion that making their lawns look that beautiful is too difficult. He said companies should place an appointment scheduler at the end of the video that encourages your sales leads to sign up for the services immediately. It takes no additional work on a business owner’s end and can be done any time, anywhere.

“Now, you’re at Chipotle eating lunch, and you’re making money,” Williams said.

Intelligent business decisions.

Williams said business leadership needs to have some technical background, specifically seeking out education on technology before they listen to sales pitches from software companies. When that’s done, leadership can ensure they’re not being fooled by a salesman and can even put some pressure on salesmen by asking pointed, informed questions.

“We’re not talking about becoming experts and getting a PhD in it, but we need some experience in it,” Williams said.

He also cautions leadership not to get too into the weeds with knowing the technology because it’s easy to think technology will always help solve every problem that exists within a company.

“I like to keep things simple,” Williams said. “One of the barriers to people embracing technology is it’s too complicated.”

Avoid buying technology just for the sake of having the technology. Ask yourself if a consultant or a coach could help solve the problem first rather than investing right away in technology. Williams also encourages companies to assemble an execution strategy through training, testing and tracking. Warn leadership to admit its faults and not be impatient or feed into its own pride.

“If it’s a people problem,” Williams said, “technology probably isn’t going to help you much.”

Educating the ‘old school’

Getting employees who are set in their ways to embrace technology is difficult. Here's how Leslie Allebach did it. By Jimmy Miller

Leslie Allebach came into the Lawn & Landscape Technology Conference with two goals: to keep attendees awake during her presentation, and to give listeners tips for enacting technological change at their company.

She acknowledges there will be pushback from some of the employees, many of whom are “old school” and comfortable in their current workflow. Allebach encouraged attendees to be patient with these folks – often times, they’re the ones you want to avoid upsetting.

“Old school employees are usually the ones who’ve invested a lot in the company,” Allebach said. “Sometimes, we just need to listen to them, even if we don’t agree.”

During her presentation, she encouraged listeners to show kindness and understanding to employees who are frustrated when you’re installing new tech. Compiling a list of benefits for a software change and showing the financial benefits is all about educating the employees.

Allebach said cash flow improves because software speeds up the payment cycle. It also makes the company more efficient and gives them time to do things that they want to do, but didn’t previously have the time.

“Can you be successful and stay old school? Absolutely,” Allebach said. “Can you maximize your success without technology? I don’t know.”

Of course, a software in particular might just not be right for the company. Leadership should be receptive to criticism of the technology so that they don’t invest long-term in something that slows down work. Allebach suggests asking employees to give management a trial period.

“When you come to them and you say, ‘Can you please give me six months? If we really hate it, we can revisit it,’” she said, “nine times out of 10, I think you’ll find that they get used to it and they’ll stay with it. (But) don’t be too proud to say, ‘this isn’t working.’”

Leslie Allebach said you should make technology changes easily accessible by sending expectations out over email or posting them clearly throughout the company.
Photo by of Keith Griner

Steps to assist the old school.

Leslie’s boss just so happens to be her husband, and he hates change, so she’s had plenty of experience of convincing folks how to embrace change. But over time, he found himself eventually admitting, “I can find things so much easier with this program.”

Here’s how she got to that point with her technology:

• Learn the program and then introduce it. She had three or four people who took advantage of all the tutorials, did all the training, and that was extremely beneficial. They created sample customers and sample accounts. “We were very, very familiar with the program before we even introduced it to everybody else.”

• Provide the employees thorough training. “This takes the fear and mystery out of the process. Remind them that every program will have its limitations. It might not work quite the work the way it worked in the past.”

• Be very patient. “I learned this one the hard way.” Allebach said she would respond to her family’s frustration with frustration back. “Don’t follow my example on that. You want to be kind and not respond with frustration.”

• Invest in products to make the change easier, and clearly communicate your expectations. “We expected our on-the-field employees to use the app accurately and regularly,” she said. “This was a big change because they were previously doing paper routes.” Hold meetings to get specific with them and write down those expectations. Make them easily accessible by sending the expectations out over email or posting them clearly throughout the company.

• Praise and encourage often. “Words of praise have a powerful effect. You want to say words that are truthful, words you really mean.”

• Offer help without criticism. “We had one guy who really, really struggled. You will probably have these employees. You need to remain firm in your expectations, yet you need to remain kind as you communicate with them.”

• Ensure the company has tech support. You want to let people have somewhere to go if there’s a problem. Give out the phone numbers and email for the software company’s tech support line.

• Use the change to build unity. “Laugh at your mistakes and don’t take it too seriously.” Allebach said it’s okay to make some mistakes along the way, and embracing these mistakes instead of making it feel like a cutthroat environment makes employees more willing to embrace the technology.

• Show your appreciation by actions. Hand out gift cards to people who have put in extra hours to work on this team. At The Greenskeeper, Allebach said they sometimes fill a cooler with some cold drinks or ice cream bars to show the guys they appreciated the efforts to make the change. “You want your place to be a place where they feel appreciated. You never want to take your employees for granted. After all, would you be where you are without them?”

• You want to plan your changes very, very carefully. There are an overwhelming amount of possible technologies. You want to evaluate your company and ask, “What is going to be the best improvement to make?”