Leadership and responsibility in the green industry

October 9, 2019 -  By
Footprint on moon (Photo: iStock.com/narvikk)

Photo: iStock.com/narvikk

In advance of GIE+EXPO, I’m going to depart from my normal column crammed with tables, charts and formulas to share a few thoughts on leadership and responsibility to our people and industry. If you live long enough, you get to see everything all over again. What I mean is that in business, there are predictable patterns that shape the future. As some say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

The challenge and the opportunity for leaders today is to “see” the patterns, know what to do and do it. It’s human to lose sight of these patterns when immediate needs are so pressing. This is why leadership is all the more critical right now. Someone must watch, or opportunities are missed and problems fester.

Thirty years ago, I attended my first GIE. In some ways, it was different, and in many ways, it’s still the same — except the big wheel has turned ahead three decades and the predictable patterns are taking root.

Back then, labor was more available. Today it is not. But this fact shouldn’t be surprising given the pattern that affects every industry. We are experiencing now what manufacturers did 50-plus years ago. Back then, labor shortages demanded new thinking and investment in machines to replace and enable a smaller workforce. Ultimately, those machines were replaced and enabled by robots and software. It’s the same in every industry: Labor gives way to machines, machines give way to robots and software running all of it and making it better. You can visit factories today where you barely bump into a human being, and they are far more productive than they were 50 years ago.

Leaders who saw this then and made the necessary changes in the simple pursuit of survival are still here and better than ever. And the companies without those leaders? Gone. In the auto industry, that list is sadly very long.

This same thing is happening in our industry — slowly but inexorably — for the last 30 years. That we must change is a given. How leaders respond is a choice. Fifty years ago, we landed men on the moon. Those people made that happen using less software than you have today on your phone — way less. But the software they did have made the near impossible possible. It enabled people and their machines to be better and more capable. That little computer on board enabled Neil Armstrong to land the lunar excursion module just as it ran out of fuel after he overshot the original landing zone.

It’s no different today. Software will and must make people and machines better, if only for us all to survive in a competitive industry. And while software is essential, alone it’s not enough to produce great achievements. That’s still the view of people who are daring and who have vision like those that put men on the moon.

What’s my point? The talent drought is not a short-term problem caused by politics, although that certainly exacerbates it. It’s a long-term trend. We have seen it before, and we see it today. When politicians raised the minimum wage to a so-called “living wage,” fast-food companies replaced and enabled a smaller workforce with kiosks. Change is not fun, but it’s what leaders do for their people and the industry.

Enough said. See you in Louisville.

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About the Author:

Kevin Kehoe, a longtime landscape industry consultant, is managing partner at Aspire Software.

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