Karen E. Varga
Back in the day, I would wait with bated breath for the announcement of the dates of the upcoming high school dances, events that I always enjoyed. From the fancy gowns to the corsages and boutonnieres, it was a great excuse to get more gussied up than usual. However, things have changed since I was in school. No longer is the typical carnation and baby’s breath corsage enough for many high schoolers. While some may still crave the traditional look, many are jumping out of the box and looking for the most creative and unique combinations to stand out from the crowd. A quick search for “prom corsage” on Pinterest will bring up everything from a glow-in-the-dark flowers to orchid arrangments to a corsage that includes a peacock feather.
As you’ll find out in this month’s cover story, this desire for more unique plants and flowers has been changing the status quo in the floral industry. Floral designers like Rizaniño “Riz” Reyes in Seattle, Washington, are catering to both traditional and nontraditional customers, incorporating locally grown and unique plants like succulents and tillandsias into their table arrangements, wedding bouquets and boutonnieres. And that means there are new opportunities for growers to supply these designers with plants that weren’t traditionally used in the past. Find out more about this up-and-coming floral designer and what these trends mean to you starting on page 12.
Also in this issue you’ll see the first of our monthly, expanded Generation Next profiles, where we feature one of the members of the Class of 2015 and take an in-depth look at what makes them tick. Courtney Crawford, head grower at Millcreek Plants, found her passion for horticulture in high school, and has developed a special interest in improving chemical application and propagation techniques in the greenhouse. Read more about Courtney starting on page 20.
As the winter trade show season winds down and your greenhouses fill up with new plants, I wish you the very best for a successful spring season.
Your business doesn’t run itself. The quality of your organization depends on the quality of your team—a motivated, energized staff is the key to companywide success. You want A-players, those colleagues who contribute disproportionately to the advancement and profitability of the organization.
In the same way that the Pareto Principle states that 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of your employees (based on research by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in the early 1900s), your A-players have a measurable impact on your bottom line.
The Pareto Principle is often used in a sales environment, but it applies equally to a variety of different industries. If you can build a team of A-players around you, then your job as a business leader or owner becomes much easier, as you do not have to deal with endless crises and can work more intentionally on developing the future strategy for your organization.
So how do you find A-players for your team?
The funny thing about A-players is that you can find them in the strangest of places. A few years ago, James was running a car dealership that was lacking in quality salespeople. He received a call from his wife while she was out shopping for strollers, and asked him to meet her at the store.
“I want you to meet Louise. She has a great attitude and I think you’ll like her.”
Ten minutes later he was walking into the shop to meet Louise. She was a class act and spent the next half an hour asking them lots of qualifying questions about their lifestyle. Once she had all the information she needed from them, she launched into a brilliant sales demonstration of various products. She was impressive.
They ended up spending more than $1,000 in the shop that day and were absolutely thrilled with their interactions with Louise. James was particularly impressed by her enthusiasm, her energy and her ability to listen intently to their needs, and then repeating this information back when closing the sale. Too many sales people believe that selling is about talking, but in reality it is actually about the ability to listen to your customers so that you can truly understand their needs.
A few days later James went back to her store and offered her a job. He was not sure that selling cars had been on her career plan, but to her credit she took a risk and joined the team the following month.
Initially, Louise struggled a bit because she had no product knowledge, no customer base and was the only female on a sales team of 30 people. However, after continual support from James and the upper-level staff and a combination of hard work and positive attitude she began to flourish. By the end of the year she was the top sales person at the dealership.
When you are seeking A-players for your organization, don’t just look for skills and experience, but start by looking for someone with a great attitude.
Here are seven tips to help you find your own A-players.
1. One-page plan
Have a simple one-page plan that you can share with future employees. This plan highlights what you have achieved as an organization during the past year and also what your vision is for the next three to five years. A-players are motivated as much by being part of an organization that has clear goals and aspirations as they are by salary and benefits. They want to be part of an organization that has a purpose.
2. Think outside the box
Don’t just look in the same old places for new employees. Think about looking outside of your industry for people with the right attitude and a track record of success. You can always train skills and product knowledge.
3. Telephone screening interview
Consider having a 15 to 20 minute telephone interview with potential candidates. This can save both parties a lot of time and expense before a more formal interview is arranged.
4. Personality profiles
Use DISC or another similar personality profiling tool to make sure that you have a good fit for the role you are seeking to fill. Different fields require their own unique brand of skills, such as high-influencing personalities or levels of compliance.
5. Watch the body language
Always have another person interview with you and if possible get them to ask the questions, so that you can concentrate on listening to the answers given and also observe the body language to make sure that it is congruent with what is being said.
Always insist on speaking to a former boss for a reference. Sometimes it is not what is said about the candidate but the way in which it is said over the phone that can alert you to potential problems but also provide clues to the positive aspects of the candidate. Written references are usually very brief and not very helpful.
7. Staff referral program
Have a program in place that rewards existing members of staff if they recommend someone for a position you are trying to fill. For example, you could offer a cash bonus to your employees if their recommended candidate is taken on, and another bonus if the candidate is still with you and performing well six months later. This has the added benefit of ensuring that the new member of staff has a mentor looking out for them during their initial six months.
Try some of these tips and see what works best for you. If you can surround yourself with a team of A-players who have great attitudes, are motivated by achievement and are strong in areas where you are weak, then your role as a leader or business owner becomes far easier. You can concentrate on setting the future strategy for your organization while your team achieves amazing results.
Richard J. Bryan is an international speaker, executive coach and author of the forthcoming book, Being Frank: Real Life Lessons to Grow Your Business and Yourself. Through his experiences as the fourth-generation CEO in a family-owned business, Richard gained a wealth of knowledge and developed into a true leader. By applying his creative strategies, Richard helps businesses hire the right people, forge dynamic teams and increase their profits. For more: www.richardjbryan.com.
You’re a master at the work you do. Unfortunately, you’ve got one client (or maybe more than one) who’s so hard to deal with that you can’t get to a place where you can prove your value. Sound familiar? It should. From time to time, we’ve all struggled with a client who seems indifferent, constantly questions our judgment, or calls our cell phone demanding attention on a Saturday night.
Early in my consulting career, I had a client who became downright abusive. When we first met, he was relaxed, confident, professional, and even charming. But underneath that veneer he was a mean-spirited tyrant. As time passed, he became ever-more demanding and even vicious.
One day, I walked into his office with a three-page memo I had written to summarize our conclusions. He noticed a typo on the second page and began angrily yelling at me. “This is shoddy, unprofessional work,” he shouted across the table, his eyes bulging and face turning red. “How could you show this to me? This is totally unacceptable!” His rant continued for a full minute. I had no idea how to handle it.
I was only 28 at the time and I felt utterly trapped in the project. And while this is an extreme case, difficult clients are everywhere, and most of us will, at some point, have to deal with them. The good news is you can often connect with these people and even turn them into loyal fans.
Sure, there may be the occasional need to fire a client, but for the most part, you can salvage the relationship. It’s just a matter of mastering some basic relationship rules and putting them into practice.
Here are seven types of tough clients you need to be aware of and the strategies for dealing with them.
The insecure client
These clients are unsure of themselves and it manifests as them being unsure of you and nervous about failing or looking bad. They are difficult to work for because they micromanage you. They find it hard to trust outsiders and won’t let you build relationships with their boss or other executives in their organization—they keep you for themselves. Insecure clients may also have difficulty trusting you to do new and different things for them, and they review your work over and over.
The prescription: Build more trust and reduce their perception of risk. This means investing in more face time, reassuring them about your product or service delivery, showing them what you’re doing at key stages of the engagement, increasing communications, and demonstrating utter reliability and consistency.
Convince the insecure client that you should go together to see their boss, so that you will also have a relationship with him or her. Explain how this will ultimately help them and the program you’re working on together. You need to frequently reassure this type of client and give them a sense of control.
The boundary pusher
Clients like this perceive no boundaries around you and your work. They will call and email you at all hours of the day and night, expecting an immediate response. They don’t distinguish between something that’s truly important and urgent and an issue that’s just a simple “to do.” They invade your personal life and leave you feeling swarmed and even overwhelmed.
The prescription: It’s best to explain your boundaries at the very start of the relationship, especially if you suspect this may become an issue. Say (or write), “On workdays, we respond to emails within four hours unless it’s clearly urgent, in which case we’ll get back to you within the hour. If something comes up over the weekend, unless it’s an emergency, we’ll respond Monday morning.”
If you didn’t set clear boundaries early on—or if you did, but the client is ignoring them—you can still alter their behavior without direct confrontation. Simply answer the email you get on Saturday on Sunday night or Monday morning; or, write a one-liner back that says, “Steve, I’ll respond first thing Monday when I’m at my office.”
Also, regularly prioritize with your client. Just say, “Mary, right now my priority is getting that analysis that we discussed in shape. Can this wait until Thursday?”
The do-nothing client
There are some clients who just never move ahead and get things done. You meet with them, you talk, you agree on next steps, and so on—but then, nothing. This is more of a frustrating client than a “difficult” one. In fact, you might have a very good and pleasant relationship with a do-nothing executive. Still, you need to produce, and that requires the client to move ahead.
The prescription: Explore what’s behind your client’s inaction. Is it insecurity and fear (see type one)? Are they hemmed in by a boss or another executive who is blocking them from taking action? Do they work in an organizational culture that is risk averse and prizes survival above all? There are many different reasons why a client doesn’t act, and you need to diagnose why so that you know how to address the inaction.
Ask yourself if you might be able to work with them to reassure them about your approach—perhaps even having them talk to another client. Can you help them manage the stakeholders that may be getting in the way? Can you increase their sense of urgency by illustrating the costs of not acting?
Also, ask yourself if the problem or issue you’re addressing is truly an urgent, important one. Maybe the client’s priorities have shifted. If so, you need to know that so you can help the client accomplish something that does provide value.
This client thinks they know more about what you do than you and is constantly telling you how to do your job. They give you way too many suggestions in areas that are really outside their expertise. They are overly directive.
I’ve had clients, who themselves were terrible at group facilitation, try and tell me how to facilitate a training workshop. I’ve had others try and impose their own models for client loyalty, having just hired me to give them mine.
The prescription: Reestablish your respective roles. If gentle rebukes don’t work (“Through many years of doing this, I’ve found this is the most effective approach…”), you have to put your foot down with a know-it-all client. Confront them. Tell them they have hired you because of your expertise and experience, and that they need to give you the proper berth to exercise it on their behalf.
Twice I have had to say to clients, “When you buy a Mercedes-Benz car, do you tell the salesman that you want to travel to Germany to inspect the production line and make suggestions to them about how to assemble your car?” Then I’d say, “I didn’t think so, because you know Mercedes is a great brand and understands how to make cars. Similarly, you need to let me do my job for you and not advise me on my own expertise.” In both cases, the client laughed and backed off.
Mr. or Ms. Aloof
Some clients treat you like a vendor and resist all efforts to build a real relationship. They are often very professional and can be perfectly pleasant when you’re with them. But it’s a purely arm’s-length relationship, which seriously limits how much you’re able to help them achieve.
The prescription: Learn more about the client’s agenda and help them accomplish it. You may not truly understand their priorities—their underlying needs and goals. What’s important to them right now? What are they trying to accomplish this year? Everyone has a hot button—have you discovered what it is for this executive? Once you do, you’ll be in a better position to help them and go “above and beyond” the letter of your contract.
Also, try and find out how your client views the relationship. It may just be that he or she feels the relationship is perfectly fine and doesn’t need it to be anything more than what it is. And that may be good enough for now.
The insatiable client
This client feels the work is never, ever good enough, and they also micromanage you—although for different reasons from the insecure client. Their behavior can absolutely wear you down. You never feel like you’re succeeding. These people have carping, critical personalities and can’t give out compliments—who knows, maybe they grew up with overly demanding parents themselves!
The prescription: Carefully calibrate expectations at the beginning of each engagement or transaction. IT firms have “service level agreements” (SLAs)—maybe you need to go deeper into specifics around the type, quality, and format of your output for the client.
Don’t become overly needy about getting compliments and positive feedback. This is a client, not your spouse, and as long as you’re doing a good job and achieving the agreed-upon goals, you shouldn’t worry about getting a constant stream of praise.
They have personality and emotional issues and treat their people—and perhaps you—terribly. Everyone who works for them hates them. Who knows why someone acts like this? There are many possible reasons. The tyrant could be a good-hearted person who happens to have an anger management issue, or they could be genuinely mean—like my client from years ago.
The prescription: If the client is nice to you, but tyrannical with their team, you may be able to coach them and influence them to change their behavior. Unless you’re specifically in a coaching relationship, however, they may not be open to that kind of personal feedback. If the client is treating you or your colleagues badly, consider moving on.
Life is too short to spend time in abusive relationships, be they at work or in our personal lives. Occasionally you may be able to have a frank discussion with a tyrant that results in improvement, but generally if bad behavior is that extreme, the person will not be able to hide their true colors forever.
In summary, when faced with a difficult client, you should consider these four steps:
- Assess. Diagnose why the person is acting that way. What’s behind the behavior?
- Make an action plan. Identify remedial actions you can take to address the underlying dynamic (e.g., if a client is micromanaging you because of insecurity, what steps can you take to build greater trust?).
- Confront. If appropriate, confront the client with their behavior (e.g., point out that they are second-guessing your expertise and experience and ask them to stop).
- Finally, fish or cut bait. Decide what your boundaries are, and if you’ve really had enough, move on and focus on more fruitful relationships. You won’t need to fire a client often, but doing so can be extremely healthy, not only for your business but for your own sense of self-esteem and well-being.
Just knowing you have a plan to deal with difficult clients can bring a huge sense of relief. Relationships may feel complex and mysterious, but, really, they’re subject to some pretty simple rules. When you learn them, and put them into practice, it can shift your work and your career to a higher level.
Andrew Sobel (and coauthor Jerold Panas) wrote “Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships” (Wiley, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-58568-9, $25.00) and the accompanying workbook, “Power Relationships Personal Planning Guide.” For more: www.andrewsobel.com.
Greenhouse Management recently spoke with Elena Baraldi, an assistant professor in the department of agricultural science at the University of Bologna in Italy. Her main area of focus is post-harvest diseases, especially fungal diseases.
Baraldi and her colleagues recently published an article for the British Society for Plant Pathology about VvAMP2, a defense against Botrytis cinerea growth in crops.
GM: Can you tell us about the botrytis research you conducted? How did you get started with that?
Elena Baraldi: In this article, we focused on the peptide, VvAMP2. These are proteins that are present ubiquitously in all the plant kingdoms, including humans and animals. The molecules are able to act directly against foodborne pathogens and in some cases, also against bacterial pathogens.
VvAMP stands for Vitis vinifera anti-microbial peptide. We called it VvAMP2 because the VvAMP1 has already been discovered and categorized.
Animals, mammals, humans and plants have this peptide. And this particular one was interesting because it was a little bit different in terms of its physical and biochemical properties. Particular biochemical structural features make VvAMP2 regional. In this paper, we were intrigued by the peptide, we managed to see where these peptides were the most abundant in the grapevine tissue, and we show that it was very much abundant in flowers and also in berries, in the fruit.
GM: So berries and flowers also have this peptide?
EB: Yes, flowers and berries were rich in these peptides, whereas this peptide is not as abundant in all the other grapevine tissue. And so we use microscopy technique to [visualize] these molecules inside the flower. And we saw that this was actually very abundant both in the male and female flower components, possibly suggesting a type of function during the flower fertilization. Then we looked at the proteins of these peptides and we tested the activity against different fungi, or fungal pathogens. We saw that it was very active and it was quite specific in the activity against Botrytis.
GM: Can the peptides be utilized to protect other crops from botrytis?
EB: Yes. Botrytis is present in all the plant kingdoms. Many other types of defenses have been found in other crops. But this specific one was found only in grapevine and one other source. In our earlier studies, for example, we got a couple of the same things from peach, from peach flower and peach fruit, but these were different. They were structurally different from these VvAMP2.
GM: What other crops does Botrytis cinerea affect?
EB: That is a very aggressive fungal strain. It affects over 200 kinds of crops. This is one of the major causes of economic losses in every crop around the world. So that’s why we also study in several research labs and institutes. It’s why all the types of molecules that display this kind of inhibitory activity against this fungal straing are all very interesting for biotechnologies.
GM: How will your research play a part in defending crops against botrytis?
EB: This is the very early stages of possible applications in the world of crop protection. When you find these kinds of molecules, then you think, “Is it possible to maybe artificially synthesize these molecules and make in a reasonably cheap way and produce this molecule to be used as a botanical?”
This could be very convenient because [the molecules] are inspired by nature. They are molecules that are present in nature and they are not for humans, for animals and for the environment, and so we basically overcome all the problems of pollution and toxicity. The first important question to be answered is, “Is there any possibility to produce this molecule in an active way and in a cheap way so that this could be used in normal agriculture practices?”
The road is quite long because producing this kind of peptide is very expensive. There aren’t set procedures in the lab that allow the production in large quantities. So the next step would be to [gather] research from a pharmaceutical company then possibly [determine] how to synthesize these peptides in a cheap way. If you apply this kind of molecule instead of the normal chemical, then you have the advantages that I listed above: the pollution, toxicity and the protection of your crops against very important pathogens. The other possibility would be to use this in transgenic crops. This would be, of course, the easiest way because if you take this gene and put it in important agronomic crops and then produce a transgenic plant then these peptides will be much more abundant. Then you have protection from inside because the plant itself is able to produce this too [to rid] itself of the pathogen. But this is not allowed in Italy or in many other countries.
GM: Is it mostly in the European Union transgenic crops are not allowed, correct?
GM: What future research products will you be working on?
EB: At the moment, we are working on the same objective: to find molecules to be exploded for improving crop protection. Presently, we are most focused on other genes which seem to be involved in protection (for example, strawberries), but also other fruits against the same type of pathogens, for Botrytis, but also other fungi which are really destructive fungal pathogens for many, many crops.
OGVG, a non-profit aimed at representing Ontario produce growers, needed a more visually appealing way to communicate online with its audience. Its new website does just that by promoting interactivity, especially with its consumers.
“We’re really trying to look at our target market, which is the actual end users as well as retailers and buyers for different retailers, wholesalers, including the family- the family looking at the differences and benefits of buying Ontario-grown produce,” says Richard Lee, operations manager for OGVG.
OGVG.com, adapted from ontariogreenhouse.com, is enhanced with the bright blues, greens and red colors of its logo. The homepage pops with moving video of top stories that take up the whole screen.
It’s also much friendlier to iPad users. Instead of scrolling down an entire page to read all the content, the text boxes themselves scroll up and down, giving users more control of the experience.
Social media is also a bigger focus than before. An entire page is dedicated to engagement with an interactive pinwheel that highlights Facebook, Twitter, press releases and OGVG’s YouTube channel. The YouTube option also provides a two-minute, informational video right on the page instead of directing users out of the site.
“By reaching out to North America [and worldwide] with a website that is easy, clean, innovative and fresh, it gives the consumer the opportunity to see our product, see our recipes and see what you can do with these vegetables,” Lee says.
OGVG is part of the popular trend of creating recipes that include a company’s produce for consumers. The new site implements these recipes on an easy-to-view, easy-to-print platform. Storage tips adjacent to descriptions of the specific vegetables also give the user better snapshots of the product, a feature the old site lacked.
“It’s nice to see that the consumers are taking pride in what they’re choosing to put into their bodies,” Lee says. “So they’re identifying the benefits that greenhouse-grown produce has over some of the other suppliers of the world, and they’re embracing what we have to offer.”
But just because the site is complete doesn’t mean the work is done. To keep things interesting, OGVG will continue to hire chefs to create recipes from the produce so consumers have something fresh and new to look at when they periodically return to the OGVG.com.
“They’ll see the promotions of the increased production of tomatoes at certain times of the year, peppers at certain times of the year, and know to go to the retailer and request Ontario,” he says.
JEV Marketing & Communications out of Windsor contracted the deal with OGVG for ogvg.com. JEV worked hand-in-hand with Lee, the marketing coordinator and marketing committee of OGVG, to complete the project. It was a lengthy process, as there was a lot of back-and-forth with the drawing board between the 10-12 people working on the re-design.
“We have a strong-minded sector where they’re creative, they’re innovative and everyone has their own ideas. So somewhere in between, we had to agree to put it on paper and that’s where the creation of OGVG.com came from,” Lee says.
In order to re-design, Lee suggests surrounding your organization with a team that understands your industry and your goal, and once you do, you can choose the person or company to best deliver on those goals.
“When you have those good people participating and providing valuable input that has that common objective of trying to reach that goal, you have a winning team,” he says. ”You have the best minds contributing to something that’s bettering the whole group.”