Let the Concert Begin!

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I’m sure you have spent months planning the 2008 growing season — what plants will be grown, how many of each, what sizes and types of containers and when your potential customers will want them.

You also may have a marketing plan. Most companies do. Just as you look at production plans and check the plants to make sure they are on schedule, you must also check your sales plans. How many orders do you have? How many plants will be needed to fill these orders and when do they need to be available to your customers? The bottom line is you need to know everything about what you are doing.

I have often said in my columns that horticulture is the art and science of producing and selling plants. While I always thought the art part was in the plants and their creative use, I recently read a quote by artist Andy Warhol that moves the art to a higher level in a way I had never considered before. Warhol said, "Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art – making money is an art and working is art and good business is the best art."

If you accept Warhol’s logic, then we have many more artists in horticulture than I had considered. Perhaps you will agree with him that running a horticultural business does not require only a scientist, an accountant, a good marketing manager or a good businessman, but it requires someone who can put all of these elements plus many others together to be successful.

If you are an owner or manager, you have to think of yourself as a conductor of an orchestra. You have a production section, a marketing section, a business section, a development section and a planning section.

Each section must know its part. The sections have to work and play together to perform or execute the plan for 2008 just as all the sections of the orchestra have to follow the conductor to perform the musical score written for them.

If all the sections of the orchestra play their parts, there will be beautiful music and the orchestra will be successful. Similarly, if you keep all the sections of your business working and playing together, you will make the "music" necessary to keep your business humming. These examples may prove Warhol’s theory that good business is the best art.

Every orchestra needs a conductor, just as every horticultural business needs someone with the responsibility for making certain that everyone works together to accomplish its goals.

I think it would be worthwhile to review nine proven habits of winning leaders to make sure you, as an owner and/or manager, are sensitive to these points, especially in the very busy spring season. You need to develop these habits to be successful.

1. Make sure everyone’s talking.
All employees need to know what their jobs entail – what their objectives and responsibilities are – and how they need to work with other areas of the company.

2. Lead rather than manage.
In most businesses, it is impossible to manage everything, although it might work if you are a small family business. Once you can no longer handle all the details yourself, you need to delegate responsibility to others and then lead them so they can be successful. If you give them responsibility, you must also give them authority. You can’t delegate one without giving the other.

3. Keep everyone on the same page.
A good conductor not only keeps his orchestra on the same page, but on the same line and the same note. The conductor is the leader and everyone in the group understands the conductor’s role – keeping them together. The same techniques need to be used by a successful business.

4. Put good work ahead of money.
If you merely look for money and produce a poor product, you will never succeed. Great concerts with great conductors make millions of dollars. Likewise, great plants produced by great companies make great profits. Making money is the result of good work and a good leader!

5. Always think of the core customer.
Who are your major customers? What do they want and when do they want it? Make certain you keep the customers who buy the plants that you produce. True, your product line may change, but don’t lose the plants your core customers like and want. It’s similar to the orchestra conductors. They may try new music, but they still perform the classics their customers love.

6. Don’t try to go it alone.
You have to build an orchestra one musician at a time. The musicians need to work together and learn how to perform together. Likewise, you need to build your business one employee at a time. Your employees need to learn to work as a group with all parts of your business. Remember, you are the conductor, not the tuba player!

7. Earn credibility every day.
The conductor knows every part of every instrument in every piece of music that the orchestra plays. The musicians respect him or her. Every time the orchestra practices, the conductor can stop the music, make corrections and then continue. The same should be true with the leader of a horticultural business. He or she should know all aspects of the business and be able to identify problems and make decisions to correct them.

8. Never rest on your laurels.
At the end of a season, the conductor may be given many awards, financial rewards and the great appreciation of the audiences. While these accolades are appreciated, most conductors are already thinking of the next season and what needs to be done to improve the orchestra. Likewise, if you conduct a horticultural business, you can also receive recognition and financial rewards, but don’t rest on your laurels. Remember, if you are on the right track and stop to rest, someone will run over you.

9. Embrace the power of humility.
At the end of each concert, the conductor bows to the audience and then turns and has the whole orchestra stand to be recognized. He is acknowledging that the music could not be performed and enjoyed if all the musicians did not do their parts. While he conducted the group of musicians, he was not the only person who orchestrated the work. This technique is very seldom used in horticultural businesses. Yet, the power of humility can be used to great advantage with your employees and with your customers.

I hope this column sheds some light and provides some musical accompaniment to the art of horticultural business.

You have done all the planning and the practicing for your 2008 concert. Now you need all your sections to play their parts and make it happen.

Good luck, conductors! I hope you all have great 2008 concerts! Let us know how the concert ends. All the best this spring.

Will Carlson is a Michigan State University emeritus professor who has devoted his career to educating growers. He also had the vision to launch Greenhouse Grower magazine with Dick Meister more than 25 years ago.

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