How managers can move their organization from reactive emergencies to planned activities
Angela Testa, senior vice president of operations at American Campus Communities, strengthens operations without compromising a healthy work environment
What makes a grounds care department successful? Managers might not agree on the answer to the question. But successful departments share one characteristic — they enhance the appearance of their facilities. Three such organizations, recognized by the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) for exemplary performance, offer strategies managers can use to streamline operations and enhance their facilities.
Adjusting to Changing Demands
Grounds care departments are likely to face challenges when their organizations experience rapid growth or change.
For example, accessibility has been a problem in some areas.
“Instead of being able to get into some areas with a pick-up truck, we now have to use a golf cart to do tasks, such as empty trash cans,” she says.
The university also added large perennial beds and hills that require different techniques and strategies for mowing, fertilizing and pruning. Some new landscaped hills are 30 feet tall and feature 2-to-1 pitch slopes.
Faced with such changes, the department often had to find more efficient ways of working, Gratsch says. Part of the solution was to specify equipment designed for specific grounds care tasks.
“Instead of cutting ground cover with a hand shears like we used to do, we use long shears that are on a pole shaft,” she says. “We also bought a four-cycle mower that workers can use on steep hills. We raised the frame on it so we could cut as much as possible.”
Thanks to the mower, a four-person operation now has become a two-person operation, she says.
Equipment and operational changes also required the department to expand employee training.
“We now have a landscape that is much more intense and requires employees to have more skills,” Gratsch says. “You just can’t have employees behind a mower and have them cut a nice flat lawn. Now, they have to prune and fertilize ground cover on a steep hill.”
Responsibilities, such as maintaining rooftop gardens, also require specific training.
Green roofs “can be difficult to maintain because the drains can get plugged if you add too much water,” she says.
In short, efficiently adjusting to landscape and equipment changes has been essential.
Says Gratsch, “One of the keys to our success has been having competent and dedicated employees who are willing to learn new techniques.”
Quality: An In-house Strategy
Walt Bonvell, grounds foreman for Xavier University, attributes much of his department’s success to its ability to complete tasks in-house. By enhancing employees’ skills, the department has been able to increase quality and lower outsourcing costs, even as its workload has grown.
Sticking to the Basics
“If you can’t do the basic things right, you can’t excel,” says William Monan, assistant director of landscape services at the University of Maryland–College Park. “It is easy for a department to get excited about a new project and neglect the day-to-day stuff.”