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...
PP&L CAST 2015 intros

April 22, 2015

6 Breeding Companies Serve Up New Varieties At Pacific Plug & Liner

Pacific Plug & Liner’s theme this year, Labyrinth, a conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants, was perfectly topped off (pun intended) with fascinators for the women and newsboy caps for the men. The PP&L team dressed their part to act out the gothic “conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants.” Truly, the displays looked like they practically popped out of a catalog, and the costumes were a nice touch. Retailers take heed, the fully merchandised displays at Pacific Plug & Liner are worthy of emulating. We’ll let the pictures tell the story of all the fabulous variety introductions presented at  Pacific Plug & Liner’s 2015 California Spring Trials, where Cultivaris, Cohen Nurseries, Histil Nurseries, Jaldety Nurseries, Southern Living/Sunset Collection and Pacific Plug & Liner all highlighted their 2016 introductions.  

Read More
Speedling 2015 CAST intros

April 22, 2015

Speedling Inc. Presents New Varieties From ABZ Seeds, Hem Genetics, Thompson & Morgan, Vista Farms & PSI

You name it, we saw it at Speedling's California Spring Trials location in San Juan Bautista, where five companies showed off their new introductions for 2016.

Read More
PittMoss on Shark Tank

April 22, 2015

PittMoss Wins On Shark Tank

Mont Handley, president and CEO of PittMoss, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank on April 17 to try to get the “sharks” to invest in his peat moss alternative. Three investors from the TV show contributed $600,000 to PittMoss for a 35 percent stake in the company. Check out this clip from ABC’s website in which Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec discuss getting on board with the product. PittMoss is an alternative to sphagnum peat moss, made up of a mix of proprietary additives and recycled paper rescued from landfill space. Handley founded the Pittsburgh-based company in 1994. What started as a small experiment grew into a full-fledged business with the help of funding provided by an EPA SBIR grant and Pittsburgh’s Idea Foundry. Today, PittMoss is available to commercial greenhouses and nurseries from Michigan to Maine to North Carolina, with plans to grow. To learn more, visit PittMoss’ website, or check it […]

Read More
Latest Stories
PittMoss on Shark Tank

April 22, 2015

PittMoss Wins On Shark Tank

Mont Handley, president and CEO of PittMoss, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank on April 17 to try to get the “sharks” to invest in his peat moss alternative. Three investors from the TV show contributed $600,000 to PittMoss for a 35 percent stake in the company. Check out this clip from ABC’s website in which Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec discuss getting on board with the product. PittMoss is an alternative to sphagnum peat moss, made up of a mix of proprietary additives and recycled paper rescued from landfill space. Handley founded the Pittsburgh-based company in 1994. What started as a small experiment grew into a full-fledged business with the help of funding provided by an EPA SBIR grant and Pittsburgh’s Idea Foundry. Today, PittMoss is available to commercial greenhouses and nurseries from Michigan to Maine to North Carolina, with plans to grow. To learn more, visit PittMoss’ website, or check it […]

Read More
Syngenta logo

April 15, 2015

Syngenta Names Chris Freeman Senior Key Account Manager…

Chris Freeman is the new senior key account manager for Syngenta Flowers, Home & Garden's Commercial Sales business in the Americas, effective March 2015. Freeman, who joined Syngenta in 2006, carries more than 25 years of experience in the agriculture and floriculture business.

Read More
Lake Buchanan_LCRA

April 10, 2015

USDA Designates Areas Of West And Southwest As Drought …

The ongoing drought has resulted in disaster area designations in counties across nine Western and Southwestern states, including Texas, where some reservoirs are at or near historically low levels.

Read More

April 9, 2015

Altman Plants’ Online Cactus Shop Shows Strong Sa…

Altman Plants recently opened its new Cactus Shop, an online retail store that sells a variety of cactus and succulents. The store is a take-off of Altman’s original wholesale business, as the company started as a mail order catalog.

Read More
Dummen

April 8, 2015

Dümmen Group Welcomes Jim Devereux And Andrew Konicki T…

Dümmen group recently announced the addition of Jim Devereux and Andrew Konicki to its team. They are the newest members of the Key Account and Broker Support team for Dümmen, and will be responsible for building, developing and maintaining current broker and grower customer relationships.

Read More
Gov._Jerry_Brown_California

April 8, 2015

California Institutes First Ever Statewide Mandatory Wa…

California Gov. Jerry Brown announced April 1 that, for the first time in state history, action will be taken to implement mandatory water restrictions, with the ultimate goal of reducing water usage by 25 percent. As Californians are pushed to conserve more, growers will need to think about how demand for products will be affected.

Read More
DNA-logo

March 31, 2015

DNA Green Group Will Acquire Rijnplant

DNA Green Group and Riknplant have finalized DNA Green Group's acquisition of Rijnplant, meaning that the breeding and propagation activities in pot and cut anthurium, bougainvillea and heliconia will transfer to DNA Green Group.

Read More
AFE scholarship_Ryan Dickson

March 25, 2015

AFE Educational Grant And Scholarship Application Deadl…

Apply now for American Floral Endowment (AFE) scholarships or educational grants. Applications can be found online. For educational grants for 2015-2016, applications must be submitted no later than June 1. Scholarship applications are due May 1. AFE will award $40,000 in scholarships for 2015.

Read More

March 23, 2015

UF/IFAS Appoints Joseph Albano As Director Of Mid-Flori…

The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has a new directors for its Mid-Florida Research and Education Center (REC) on Apopka, Fla. The role has been filled by Joseph Albano, a research horticulturist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with more than 25 years of experience.

Read More

March 17, 2015

Pike Nurseries Implements Employee Stock Ownership Plan

Independent garden retailer Pike Nurseries has announced it will become an employee-owned company. Pike Nurseries management has combined with its sister corporation in California, Armstrong Garden Centers, to operate under an established Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

Read More
GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile & App Design Awards

March 10, 2015

GrowIt! Mobile App Now Available For Android

The mobile app GrowIt! Garden Socially can now be used by gardeners with Android-based smartphones. Now available on the Google Play Market, GrowIt! helps users find plants to fit their lifestyle and connect them with other local gardeners.

Read More

March 4, 2015

Second Annual GreenhouseConnect Will Bring Growers and …

Following a successful inaugural event in Tampa last fall, Greenhouse Grower has announced the dates of its second annual GreenhouseConnect: October 26-29, 2015. Representatives of an expected two dozen leading greenhouse operations from across the U.S. will join senior-level suppliers at Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego for several days of one-on-one strategic meetings, a growers-only roundtable, informational sessions and a variety of networking events.

Read More

March 4, 2015

Maryland Green Industry Associations Unite

The Maryland Nursery and Landscape Association recently announced that it is expanding its reach to include the greenhouse industry, meaning it has become The Maryland Nursery, Landscape and Greenhouse Association (MNLGA). The change comes as a result of the planned dissolution of the former Maryland Greenhouse Growers Association and the invitation for those members to join the existing and renamed association.

Read More
IPPS Sharing Plant Production Knowledge Globally Logo

February 25, 2015

International Plant Propagators Western Region Sets Ann…

The annual meet for the International Plant Propagators' Society (IPPS) Western Region has been set for this September. It will take place September 23 to 26 in Modesto, Calif., and will include learning sessions, tours to local nurseries, a research poster display and poster presentations, various networking opportunities and an awards banquet to close the event.

Read More
myers industries Lawn and Garden Logo

February 24, 2015

Myers Industries, Inc. Lawn And Garden Business Sold, N…

The management of Myers Lawn and Garden Group, along with Wingate Partners V, L.P. have recently acquired the Myers Industries, Inc. Lawn and Garden business. The new company is named The HC Companies, and will continue as a North American leading provider of horticulture containers supplying the greenhouse, nursery and retail markets.

Read More
american-hort-logo

February 17, 2015

AmericanHort Announces New Board Members

AmericanHort recently announced the election of new officers and members to the board of directors. Each will assume their positions on the board during Cultivate’15, July 11 to 14 in Columbus, Ohio.

Read More
All American Selections

February 17, 2015

All-America Selections Elects New Officers, Names New J…

While meeting during the Flower and Vegetable Seed Conference in Tampa, Fla., hosted by the American Seed Trade Association, All-America Selections elected new officers for a two-year term. Read on to learn about the new officers, as well as all of the new judges that were added in 2014.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower.com on your desktop, on your phone, on your tablet

February 11, 2015

GreenhouseGrower.com Relaunches With Responsive Design …

Greenhouse Grower magazine, the nation’s leader in profits, production and education for greenhouse growers, announces the launch of its completely redesigned website, GreenhouseGrower.com. The new design is the product of direct user feedback and GreenhouseGrower.com analytics, and includes responsive design for ease of mobile use.

Read More