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Three years ago, Leo Berbee’s Bulb Co. in Marysville, Ohio created Berbee’s Best, an online retail store. Berbee’s Best now accounts for roughly five percent of the business.
Below, Mattie Berbee, the company’s marketing and outreach director, answers questions about Berbee’s Best.
Greenhouse Management: Why did Berbee decide to open an online store, and how did the company go about setting it up?
Mattie Berbee: We obviously knew that moving forward, online is going to be more prominent in the way that people shop. We get a lot of calls [to] our wholesale [division] asking to buy things, from homeowners that maybe had heard of us through talking to other people that know of the product. And while we will always accommodate, we were not in the business at the time to sell to homeowners — we’re a wholesale business. So, with that we asked, ‘How can we make this easier?‘ Instead of turning people away or sending them to their local garden center that may be a customer that sells our products, we figured why not try to take a part of the market for ourselves? This fall will be our third official season [selling online].
GM: What were some of the challenges in developing this part of your business?
MB: The challenge has been saturating the market. We knew we had some demand for [our products] because of the calls we would get or even people that shop in our garden center that say, ‘I want to send this to my grandma who lives out of town.’ We were able to accommodate those requests, but it’s now about, ‘How are we going to make this a thriving business and not just something to accommodate a few requests that we get?’ I would say [that] has been the biggest challenge [and also] learning how to reach a broader audience without spending all of our money on marketing.
GM: Is it a challenge for Berbee to ship online orders at reasonable prices?
MB: It’s not a money maker. We are losing out on some orders because we tried really to stick with these flat rate options. We based the shipping on the quantity ordered or the dollar amount that was solely based on just pulling people in. Myself included, anytime people shop online nowadays, they wait for the free shipping deal, whether it be spending so much and get free shipping or flat rate, $5 shipping. We tried to stick with that flat rate model and knowing that shipping something to California from Ohio is probably going to cost a little more than shipping something straight in Ohio. But at the same time we had, we knew we were going to lose a little on some and gain a little on the other [end].
This interview was edited for style and clarity. Editor’s note: To listen to the full interview, list to the Hort Report podcast here
Not so long ago, most people in the workplace received feedback once-a-year during a performance review. An employee didn’t expect a development plan, a career track, or anyone to take an interest in his or her professional growth. That responsibility was often a solo activity. In fact, as recently as a couple of decades ago, there wasn’t a great deal of help on the road to career success, and most people didn’t complain. It simply was what it was.
But times change, and norms evolve. The practice of once-a-year feedback is fast becoming an anachronism and as out of place in the modern office as the fashions people once wore when holding those annual reviews.
The reason the average worker has evolved to expect a steady diet of attention and conversation is debatable and perhaps worth scholarly inquiry. In the meantime, however, a demand for dialog exists and must be answered.
So, why should managers take action, what does it take to establish and maintain an ongoing give-and-take, and how can managers balance the constant conversation with their own workplace responsibilities?
How to establish and maintain a dialog
Once you’ve bought into the notion that routine conversation is a must, the next step is knowing how to guide interactions.
Take an interest. Very little builds engagement as well as a manager who seems to genuinely care for people, promotes their success and has the ability to develop them. This is not an annual affair. Rather, you’ve got to have a range of formal and informal conversations throughout the year. To get started, ask questions, and pay attention to the answers.
“What are you working on that’s exciting to you?”
“What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?”
“If you could eliminate parts of your work, what would you stop doing?”
“What used to be interesting to you that’s now become mundane or boring?”
“If you could try something professionally with limited chance of failure, what risks would you take?”
“Tell me a little about what first attracted you to this organization. Has anything changed about how you feel about your work here?”
“How do you feel about our interactions? Do I give your development the right amount of attention, and do you receive the right amount of feedback?”
There is no limit to the questions you could ask. The key is showing a sincere interest in the answers, withholding judgement about what you’re told, and taking action when you can.
Be observant. As a manager, your job is to focus on the work that gets done and how it gets done. When you pay attention and are specific with your feedback, you show you’ve spent time to notice what’s working and where opportunities exist. In other words, it’s important to communicate to people they matter to you.
“Tim, I thought the graphics you used on those PowerPoint slides were very strong. You chose the unexpected, stayed away from heavy text, and did something a little different than what we are used to seeing.”
“Gina, I’d like to talk with you about the report you submitted this morning. Specifically, I want to discuss the proofreading process you’re following. I noticed a few errors, and I want to see if there is a way we can reduce the mistakes. If we could increase the accuracy of the reporting, I think we would improve our department’s credibility. Is now a good time for you, or should I schedule something for this afternoon?”
Find the time for planned dialog. There is no clock fairy or magic solution to time management and fitting feedback and development conversations into a regular workload. It’s an effort that requires discipline. To ensure planned dialog happens, you need to put formal meetings on a calendar, schedule them at regular intervals, show up on time and put the smartphone away.
While increased levels of informal feedback and scheduled conversation can seem overwhelming at first, the more often a manager engages, the easier it is, the franker the discussions become, and the greater the understanding between the employee and the manager grows.
With whom should you be having conversations?
One of my favorite workplace comics is a Dilbert cartoon where Wally asks the boss, “When will my raise be effective?” The boss answers, “The same time you are.” Poor Wally. Maybe he just doesn’t understand his job duties. How can Wally be effective if he doesn’t know what duties he is required to perform? Answer: He can’t. How can Wally get a grip on his job duties? Answer: A job description.
Accurate and detailed job descriptions are a vital part of an organization’s HR infrastructure. As companies develop, roles become refined, duties are more defined, and the organization obtains a better idea of the background skills, abilities and experiences necessary for success in the position. All of this should be captured in the job description.
Job descriptions play a vital role in many HR-related practices and, when properly written, can help bolster the company’s position when faced with work-related injuries, discrimination allegations, overtime exemption questions and other serious matters.
Comprehensive and well-worded job descriptions affect several key HR practices, such as:
- Medical leave, FMLA, safety, and workers’ compensation — Any time an employee is injured on the job, requests a medical leave or encounters a medical condition that could impact job duties, the job description can be used by the physician to help determine any limitations or work-related restrictions. Often, these decisions are based on a conversation between the employee and the physician, with little or no input from the company. Physical and mental demands may be under- or overstated by the employee, leading to inaccurate work releases that either prolong the medical leave or raise the risk of reinjury. Job descriptions that accurately describe the physical and mental requirements for the position reduce liabilities by eliminating the potential for erroneous assessments of work limitations.
- Compensation plans and rates of pay — Job descriptions that clearly state the essential job duties and background qualifications for a position (e.g., required or preferred education level and prior experience, skills and abilities) are necessary to obtain market rates for comparable positions in compensation surveys. They are also essential to conduct meaningful point-factor analyses for compensation plans. Without accurate and sufficiently detailed job descriptions, it is difficult to determine an appropriate pay rate and to ensure internal equity.
- Department of Labor (DOL) and EEOC compliance — Job descriptions that accurately reflect and define the exempt nature of a given position can help the company meet the DOL’s burden of proof pertaining to overtime provisions. Additionally, job descriptions can help defend the company’s position related to hiring the most qualified candidate, equal pay or other discrimination allegations related to promotions, transfers and terminations.
- Recruiting and hiring — Comprehensive job descriptions can be used to develop creative, accurate job postings. Detailed job descriptions that include the education, background skills, abilities, knowledge and prior experience required for the position also help managers develop meaningful interview questions based on job-related criteria. This, in turn, can impact the quality of the hiring decision and the candidate selected.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance — The Americans with Disabilities Act protects qualified individuals with disabilities who can perform essential job functions with or without a reasonable accommodation. Job descriptions that accurately outline the essential job duties, specific qualifications and physical and mental requirements for the position help managers make accurate decisions related to a candidate’s qualification for a position, his or her ability to perform essential job functions and the potential for making reasonable accommodations before or after hire.
- Training and development — Comprehensive job descriptions can be used as training tools to guide new employees. They can also be used as a baseline for managers when they evaluate performance, identify opportunities for improvement and refocus employees. Additionally, job descriptions can be used to enhance safety training and awareness.
- Organizational development — As companies grow, updated job descriptions provide direction to hiring managers and are useful guides to assess productivity, spans of control, efficiency, staffing levels and alternatives for reporting relationships.
To be effective, job descriptions should be accurately worded, legally compliant, detailed enough to provide a meaningful explanation of the essential job duties and written in a fashion that supports the organization’s culture, mission and philosophy. Just like hiring, there is an art and a science to writing effective job descriptions.
The best job descriptions do not describe how the job is done, nor do they define the performance standard required. The best job descriptions focus on essential job functions by clearly and concisely describing job duties, using a verb to start each sentence (e.g., “monitor,” “complete,” “oversee,” “coordinate” or “prepare”). They also include the following components: position summary (overall purpose of the position); minimum education or certification level required; background skills, abilities and qualifications (specify if required or preferred); essential job duties; physical and mental demands; typical work environment; equipment used; reporting relationships; and a disclaimer pertaining to employment at will.
Here’s an example of verbiage outlining the background skills, abilities and qualifications portion of an office manager job description:
“High school diploma required. College coursework in business or related field preferred. Minimum of three years’ experience in a supervisory administrative position required. Must be able to demonstrate successful track record of running an office, including supervision of employees and knowledge of payroll, accounts payable and receivable, profit/loss, and budgeting. Must be proficient in computer operations, spreadsheet applications, and data entry. High degree of accuracy required. Aptitude for numbers and strong analytical skills required. Must possess integrity and ability to maintain confidentiality. Professional image and ability to communicate with diplomacy and tact required. Must possess ability to operate general office equipment. Must be organized, flexible, friendly and exhibit a willing-to-please demeanor. Must possess strong written communication and follow-through skills.”
Get the idea? Writing job descriptions is time-consuming and takes a fair amount of detail, writing ability and job knowledge. If you’re not comfortable producing job descriptions that will (1) support your business (legally and otherwise), (2) communicate effectively with your employees (or potential employees), and (3) promote your organization’s culture and business objectives, get some help. Otherwise, you could end up with a bunch of “Wallys” at your business.
Jean is president of Seawright & Associates, a management consulting firm located in Winter Park, Florida. Since 1987, she has provided human resource management and compliance advice to employers across the country. She also consults with employer-members of trade associations, including, among others, The Garden Center Group. She can be contacted at 407-645-2433 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: The information in this article is not legal advice. For legal advice, readers should consult with an attorney.
Do as I say, not as I do! Yep, I’m guilty of throwing that classic one-liner out to employees, probably because I heard it so often as a kid. It’s probably also because I typically take a nonconventional approach to much of what I do, an approach that’s dependent on my personality and experience, and that may not work for others.
As business owners and managers, we all have reasons for doing specific tasks our own way, while expecting employees to do it another prescribed way. If there is rational method to the madness, that’s fine. But when it comes to the fundamentals of how you run your business, how you treat people who work for you, and how you interact with customers, are you walking the same talk you expect of your employees?
It can be challenging, as a people manager, to always model the behavior you want your employees to exhibit. Especially if you’re used to doing things your own way. Tempting as it is to go rogue when you want the rest of your team to fall in line, teamwork always starts at the top. Expecting your staff to work better as a team isn’t realistic if you don’t guide and participate in the teamwork.
Get your hands dirty
Do you as an owner or manager feel responsible for all the details of your business operations? What I mean is, do you pick up trash when you see it — or even take out the trash — or do you call someone over to do it for you? When you see a dry plant, do you yell at your grower to stop what they are doing and water, or do you take a moment to water it yourself?
Sure, you are super busy, and you pay people to do specific jobs for you so that all the work can get done. And you might not always be in a situation where you can stop to pitch in. But everyone is always watching. In this industry if you don’t prove you can get your hands dirty now and then and perform tasks that your lowest-paid employees do for you, you aren’t going to inspire much trust or respect. Walking your talk also helps to organically train staff to take care of such tasks without being told or supervised.
Walk the talk
If you as an executive or general manager expect your salaried mid-managers, sales reps or growers (or any other staff) to work long hours, but you’re in and out at your leisure, you’ll breed contempt. If you demand courtesy to customers from your staff, but you’re regularly rude to them yourself, you’ll breed insecurity. If you aren’t consistent with your job expectations for employees, but always expect consistent results, you’ll spend a lot of time re-hiring.
When you hold company procedure or culture training meetings, do you as the owner or top management show up? Or do you skip the meeting because “you don’t need it”? I’d bet you money your employees might think otherwise. Your absence at such gatherings also sends a clear message about company priorities. If you expect employees to abide by new training methods and policies, be present and engage at the training sessions.
When I give talks on company culture and recruiting, one of the most common comments I receive when I talk to attendees is “My boss (who is often the company owner) really needed to be here to hear this…” They know full well that unless the ears at the top are willing to listen, positive change will rarely follow. Just because you hold a management position, or are responsible for running daily operations, doesn’t mean you have full control over company culture. Company ownership typically dictates that dynamic — good or bad.
Just as you must set clear expectations for each employee regarding their job duties and goals, so must company owners when it comes to creating a viable company culture. If you don’t establish the core company values, then personally embody and model those values, it’s going to be tough to get everyone else to fall in line.