Online Only: Spreading The Word

Once when I was at a client site, an employee of that client company stopped me and said that the most astonishing thing had just happened. She had been having trouble with a piece of equipment and there was no one around who was familiar with it, so she was forced to read the users’ manual. Amazingly, the manual held the answers to her questions, and she was able to fix the problem.

Often, this is how documentation is viewed – as a last resort, if it’s any resort at all. In highly regulated industries, such as organic growing, documentation is required by various regulatory or certifying bodies. But if documents are developed only to fulfill obligations, then they’re not truly serving their purpose and tremendous opportunities are being lost.

Documents should not be trotted out for inspection when the auditors come by, then hidden in a computer or desk drawer. They should be used every day by employees. Good documentation can help you not only meet requirements, but also make your processes and employees more efficient, productive and consistent, which in turn can increase quality, profits, and prestige.

Because documentation is often seen not as an investment but as a hoop to jump through, many companies try to use their own employees to do a hurry-up job to please the certifiers or auditors. Even if such documentation is good enough to meet requirements (and it might not be), this is usually a bad idea for a variety of reasons:

• Not everyone is a good writer. Writing is a specific skill, and documentation requires particular attention to clarity, conciseness andconsistency.

• Similarly, not everyone is adept at organizing information, and organization is essential for good documentation.

• Employees’ time is better spent on the work for which they were hired and at which they are the experts.

• People who are very close to a process may not be able to document it thoroughly. This might sound counterintuitive, but those who follow a process are often likely to leave out steps that feel automatic to them but would be necessary to document for someone who is just learning. Documents that are inaccurate or incomplete are not trusted by operators, and because they are not trusted, they are not used.

An Inside Look

In the case of Elzinga & Hoeksema Greenhouses in Portage, Mich., these growers quickly learned they needed help with documentation in preparation for organic certification. One of their employees tried to write the documents yet realized he needed outside support. So Elzinga & Hoeksema hired a team of documentation experts from Prima Communications, Inc. to analyze their processes and develop the needed documentation.

The first step in building good documents is defining (and making sure everyone understands) the work process. Hiring an outside company makes it more likely that all steps of a process will be recognized and described properly. Frequently, a process that seems to be self evident is discovered to be more complicated than it appeared initially.

For example, one of the processes Prima helped Elzinga & Hoeksema define was the general cutting process. By asking a lot of questions, the documentation experts at Prima helped specify the steps in what at first appeared to be a relatively straightforward task. Now, Elzinga & Hoeksema uses a five-step document – in English and Spanish – to accommodate all of its workers and help them follow correct cutting procedures in the organic growing area.

The document isn’t a complex one, but it spells out steps that would be easy to overlook and impossible to intuit, such as using hand sanitizer frequently and discarding gloves when leaving the organic area.

As another example, during a meeting to discuss how to clean and prepare carts for shipping plants, one of the Prima documentation experts asked how the carts for organic plants would be differentiated from those for non-organic plants. This wasn’t something the growers at Elzinga & Hoeksema had considered, so Prima developed a cleaning log that includes a step for labeling carts.

In initial meetings and interviews, when seeking to understand the process thoroughly, documentation experts ask many detailed questions, often bringing up issues that haven’t been considered before. Documentation experts need to know how the process is done, as well as who does it, what the paper trail is, where the associated equipment comes from and so on, in order to make certain that critical steps and tasks are covered.

Tips For Information Sharing

After the process has been defined, documentation should drive its performance. This can be the most difficult part, and getting employees to follow documentation and take it seriously may require a culture shift. The key is to be clear and consistent about expectations. Below are several points to consider.

• Make sure documentation is physically accessible. If your employees are doing work on a plant floor, but the procedure outlining that work is stored in a computer in an office somewhere, the procedure is not going to do them any good and they are not going to follow it.

• Make sure documentation is available in the languages your employees speak and understand. Elzinga & Hoeksema have a bilingual workforce, so all documents are written in both English and Spanish.

• Communicate visually. Regardless of language, most people understand information better if it includes visual elements that illustrate and augment text.

• If you have a large set of documents, train your employees on how they fit together and what kinds of information can be found in the different document types. Avoid repeating information across documents. Write clearly and without ambiguity. Tell people exactly what they need to do and what they need to know to do it – and nothing more. Use indexes, tables of contents, sections, titling, and any other workable ways to arrange information so that it can be used easily.

• Find ways to replace unwritten rules with documentation.

• Encourage supervisors or senior employees to refer to documents when they are asked questions.

• Commit to putting accurate and complete information on the floor.

Once you have your processes analyzed and documents that accurately represent them – and you get employees to actually use these documents – your production quality stands to improve, your downtime to decrease, and ultimately, your profits to increase. What’s more, you can now use these documents for training purposes. In addition to being able to use their documents to assist with training, Elzinga & Hoeksema also got a document management system so they can easily make changes.

Now that Elzinga & Hoeksema has a comprehensive set of documents in place – which not only please certifiers but also make employees’ tasks go more smoothly and efficiently – it knows exactly how processes are supposed to run. Without the headache of having to worry about that, Elzinga & Hoeksema can put its energy toward growing, which is where it belongs.

Good documentation is an investment in both time and money. But it is one that can have big returns in terms of productivity and profits, and one that is usually worth the effort and expense.

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Online Only: Spreading The Word

  1. Elzinga continues to lead the way, to show the rest of us how it should be done. Excellent analysis of a difficult subject.

More From Finance/Operations...
Practical Software Grower Vertical

June 18, 2016

Practical Software Solutions Increases Accessibility, Efficiency Of Its Grower Vertical System

Practical Software will demonstrate Grower Vertical, its customizable and scalable enterprise management system for the horticulture industry, at Cultivate’16 in July.

Read More
Battlefield Farms Company shot

June 14, 2016

Battlefield Farms Is A Finalist For 2016 Operation Of The Year

Battlefield Farms in Rapidan, VA, is one of three finalists for Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Operation Of The Year award and winner of the Excellence In Innovation award for 2016.

Read More

June 7, 2016

Ball Seed Offers Full Mobile Ordering Capabilities With Updated WebTrack To Go App

The latest update for Ball Seed’s WebTrack To Go mobile app now includes full ordering capabilities for the industry’s largest assortment of seeds and plants. App users can also complete order fulfillment via seed count or package size, find product substitutions, get personalized “contact us” information, request plant tags, and more. “Upgrading WebTrack To Go to the full suite of ordering and management tools is where we’ve always wanted to be,” says Mark Morris, Director of IT for Ball Seed. “With this new roll-out, we’re keeping up with our customers on-the-go and providing them the information and access they need –- even while away from their desks.” The Ball Seed WebTrack To Go app lets customers: Check order status and shipment tracking 24-7 Access up-to-the-minute product inventory from hundreds of suppliers Place orders by seed count, packet size, and more Find product info, culture and photos when and where they […]

Read More
Latest Stories
Practical Software Grower Vertical

June 18, 2016

Practical Software Solutions Increases Accessibility, E…

Practical Software will demonstrate Grower Vertical, its customizable and scalable enterprise management system for the horticulture industry, at Cultivate’16 in July.

Read More
Battlefield Farms Company shot

June 14, 2016

Battlefield Farms Is A Finalist For 2016 Operation Of T…

Battlefield Farms in Rapidan, VA, is one of three finalists for Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Operation Of The Year award and winner of the Excellence In Innovation award for 2016.

Read More

June 7, 2016

Ball Seed Offers Full Mobile Ordering Capabilities With…

The latest update for Ball Seed’s WebTrack To Go mobile app now includes full ordering capabilities for the industry’s largest assortment of seeds and plants. App users can also complete order fulfillment via seed count or package size, find product substitutions, get personalized “contact us” information, request plant tags, and more. “Upgrading WebTrack To Go to the full suite of ordering and management tools is where we’ve always wanted to be,” says Mark Morris, Director of IT for Ball Seed. “With this new roll-out, we’re keeping up with our customers on-the-go and providing them the information and access they need –- even while away from their desks.” The Ball Seed WebTrack To Go app lets customers: Check order status and shipment tracking 24-7 Access up-to-the-minute product inventory from hundreds of suppliers Place orders by seed count, packet size, and more Find product info, culture and photos when and where they […]

Read More
Gotham Greens Atrium Style Greenhouse Chicago

May 23, 2016

What’s Good For The Environment Is Good For Business [O…

Investing in technology to become more sustainable “always goes hand in hand,” says Abe VanWingerden, co-CEO of Metrolina Greenhouses. “If it is good for the environment, it normally is good for business over the long term.” That connection was abundantly clear in the responses we received to this year’s Top 100 Growers Survey. VanWingerden points to three investments Metrolina has made as good examples of how technology can reduce an operation’s carbon footprint and pay dividends financially. Its biomass system burns locally sourced waste wood — a renewable resource; its ozone water treatment system cleans irrigation water, reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and improving plant quality and precision growing; and electrostatic sprayers reduce water and chemical use, and provide more targeted chemical applications. Other Top 100 Growers have found VanWingerden’s theory to be true, as well. Costa Farms’ investment in solar energy panels on three buildings at its […]

Read More
Petunia 'Supertunia Violet Star Charm' (2015 University of Georgia Field Trials)

May 10, 2016

New Southern-Centric Ornamental Production Conference T…

The 2016 Academy of Crop Production is dedicated exclusively to sharing information on advanced ornamental crop production and business management techniques for ornamental producers.

Read More
University of Florida Online Greenhouse Training Courses

April 25, 2016

University of Florida Offering Online Training Courses …

There will be five courses offered, with the first starting on May 30. Courses are available in both English and Spanish and range from beginner level to advanced education.

Read More
Sanitation programs are essential to preventing and removing food safety concerns.

April 7, 2016

USDA Launches GroupGAP Program For Fruit And Vegetable …

The new certification program is designed to help small and mid-size growers, including greenhouse vegetable producers, comply with new food safety regulations.

Read More
Young Plants Farm North Carolina

March 15, 2016

Young’s Plant Farm Obtains MPS-A Qualification

MPS, an organization that develops and manages certification for companies in the horticulture industry, has awarded MPS-A certification to Young’s Plant Farm in North Carolina and Alabama.

Read More
Charlie Hall Feature Image

March 14, 2016

Dr. Charlie Hall Will Offer Keynote Address At Farwest …

The Texas A&M economist will discuss factors affecting short- and long-term demand driving the future of the green industry.

Read More
Seed Your Future Logo

March 8, 2016

Longwood Gardens And American Society For Horticultural…

Under the direction of co-chairs Paul B. Redman of Longwood Gardens and Anna Ball of Ball Horticultural Company, the “Seed Your Future” initiative is designed to combat declining awareness of horticulture while promoting it as a viable career choice.

Read More
Florida Green Industry

March 4, 2016

University Of Florida Study Shows Green Industry Genera…

According to the study, the rise of large retail chain stores with garden departments has made plants and other horticultural products more readily available to consumers than ever before.

Read More
Great Lakes Growers Expansion

February 22, 2016

Great Lakes Growers Expands Its Production Capacity For…

The Burton, OH-based grower has added 25,000 square feet to its operation, helping it to keep up with rising consumer demand.

Read More
National Garden Bureau Logo feature image

February 16, 2016

New Officers And Directors At National Garden Bureau an…

During the ASTA Flower & Vegetable Seed Conference, National Garden Bureau and All-America Selections elected new officers and directors.

Read More
Katherine Wolper

January 24, 2016

Ludvig Svensson Hires Katherine Wolper As West Coast Sa…

Wolper says she looks forward to listening to growers and understanding the concerns, obstacles, and opportunities they face.

Read More

January 20, 2016

Tips For Overcoming Challenges In Family Business From …

Our industry is run by a collection of family businesses, and every one, no matter how big or small, has its share of management issues. But there are several differences between one that is run successfully as a business and one that allows family politics to distract from the organization’s goals. In this year’s State Of The Industry Survey, we noted that labor recruitment and succession are two areas where growers struggle. In talking with the owners of Costa Farms for this month’s cover story, I thought some of the values they have incorporated into the operation’s management structure really stood out as practices that other family businesses could use. The participatory management approach to business and team building is one that Tony Costa, the second-generation owner of Costa Farms, instilled in his children, Maria Costa-Smith and Jose Costa, and son-in-law, Joche Smith, the current owners of Costa Farms. In […]

Read More
I-9 Form

January 13, 2016

Proposed Changes To I-9 Form Important For Greenhouse G…

AmericanHort’s Government Relations and Grassroots Representative Davi Bowen says growers need to become familiar with the new form and should be prepared to make comments if necessary.

Read More

January 13, 2016

Wenke Greenhouses Buys Zylstra Greenhouses

Two Kalamazoo, MI-based greenhouses have merged after Wenke Greenhouses closed on Zylstra Greenhouses at the end of November. The additional property and facilities will allow Wenke Greenhouses to expand its young plant business, among other areas.

Read More

January 13, 2016

Costa Farms Wins With Its Emphasis On Team, Solutions, …

Based in Miami, FL, Costa Farms has gone global by focusing on strategy, systems, and vertical integration. See how the operation continues to expand through its emphasis on team, solutions, and growth.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]