GROW Perspective: What Is It You Do Again?

Jim-Paluch-post-image
Jim Paluch of JP Horizons and Come Alive Outside

We have all been asked “What is it you do again?, a question countless times, and our answer says a lot about whether we see ourselves as having just a job, or a career of which we are truly proud. Especially among those who work in the green industry, all too often the response is that they “just” work at a landscape company, or “just” work at a nursery or “just” cut grass. Whenever the word “just” comes into the explanation, the slumped shoulders and downcast eyes that typically come along with it make it easy to interpret this as, “just cutting grass until I can find something better to do.”

This mindset makes it difficult for companies and the industry as a whole to hire and retain the workforce necessary to maintain consistent future growth. It is easy to point a finger at the person answering the question and say that they need to change their attitude, be more appreciative of having a job and work harder if they want to earn more, but that has been the assumption for too many years. Unfortunately, it is addressing a symptom and not the real problem.

Rather than thinking about how an individual employee might answer the question, let’s consider for a moment how a company or the industry as a whole might respond if asked, “What is it you do again?”

The industry is very good at talking about what we do and how we do it, but has almost completely lost touch with talking about why this work is important. As an industry, the answer to the question typically revolves around what specific work is being done: Installing beautiful landscapes or growing healthy plants. The answer might then move to explain how this work is being done. With well-trained, creative, certified, professional and experienced people. This is a natural enough response, as the leaders of the green industry and the leaders of the companies that comprise it are passionate about the what and how. Unfortunately, the rest of the world is inspired by the why.

If the industry is going to continue to connect with consumers, as well as the next generation of people who will enter careers in landscaping and horticulture, we have to start communicating why this is such a vital profession in a much more compelling way. We must stop trying to tell the story of what we do and start helping people experience why this profession is an exciting and essential part of creating vibrant, healthy communities.

Change The Mindset To Focus On Plant Benefits

There is a new profession emerging within the green industry, and this profession is a shift in mindset. It is not a new association or another committee or a new set of best practices. Rather, it is a concept that reframes the work that we do by starting with why it is important. The outdoor living profession challenges companies, associations, educators and leaders to step up and claim the important role they play in helping individuals, families and communities live healthier lifestyles.

We need to radically shift the way we answer the question, “What is it you do again?” We need to start with the wide range of benefits that people enjoy from interacting with great outdoor spaces where they live, work and play. We need to stop talking so much about plants and start talking more about people, or more specifically, talking about our profession in terms of the intersection of people and plants.

“The opportunity today for the outdoor living profession is like a perfect storm,“ says Dr. Reese Nelson, professor of horticulture at Brigham Young University-Idaho. “We are living in a time when people want to connect with nature as they become aware of the health issues that have been the result of the sedentary lifestyles of the past couple of decades, and the work we do provides the opportunity for them to make the connection.”

In his book, “Start with Why,” author and speaker Simon Sinek explains that talking only about what we do and how we do it leads to the customer asking how much it will cost, or on the other side of things, employees wanting to know how much they will be paid.

When we start with the Why, helping people to enjoy the full benefits of great outdoor spaces in order to live healthier lives, then we connect on a deeper emotional level with the customers we want to do business with and attract the type of people we want on our team. As the work is perceived to be essential for public health and wellness, then the value placed on that work will increase, causing clients to be willing to pay for it and attracting employees who desire to make a difference as outdoor living professionals.

The solution to the image problem that has plagued the green industry for so long will take a collaborative effort by every company, association, vendor, educator and individual wanting to make a difference. Companies must become more actively involved in their communities, connecting in ways that form partnerships with other professions and organizations to put an emphasis on enjoying outdoor activity over indoor entertainment.

Provide Tools To Help Your Community Connect With Nature

The programs and tools produced by Come Alive Outside offer a great place to start. Come Alive Outside is an organization dedicated to creating the awareness, intention and opportunity for people to live healthier lives outdoors, and was founded as a way to make it easier for companies within
the green industry to start playing a more active role in the public health of their communities.

The associations that want to make a difference in the future must position themselves as a catalyst in this transition to a profession that the world appreciates for the deeper value that it creates in our cities and towns. For decades, industry associations have provided education and training to help industry practitioners get better at what they do and how they do it. Now is the time for associations to move swiftly to support this emerging profession with fresh ideas and perspectives that inspire members to communicate from a deeper emotional basis with both their employees and their customers. The vendors must become actively involved in working side by side with outdoor living professionals and allow themselves to become better educated and committed to the purpose of helping people live healthier lives outside. The educators in horticulture and landscape design at both the high school and college level will need to step out and engage with prospective students in new ways, remembering that our profession is about the intersection of plants and people.

“What is it you do again?” The answer to that question not only determines the future of your company and the green industry, it also determines the future of our families and communities. There is a great need, now more than ever before, to create opportunities for people to interact with nature near the places where they live. The need is growing and the problems caused by this disconnect are becoming more serious. The choice is yours — will you continue to “just” grow plants or cut grass, or will you choose to embrace your role as part of a profession that is making the world a healthier place to live?

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