Seven Reasons You Need to Complete a Staffing Level Study in 2017
A few months into a new job I was called into a meeting with my boss, the university architect, and the landscape architect for the new science building going up on campus. They showed me an incredibly ambitious landscaping plan with 10,000 square feet of native plantings in six different zones, each coordinated with expected sun/shade and soil moisture levels. Each zone had a dozen or so unique plants. “It will be maintenance free”, I was told (wait for the kicker) “…once it establishes in a few year”. Until then, I would have to aggressively hand-weed the area, apply compost, and closely monitor soil moisture.
They encouraged me, said I had made great improvements in our operation and noted how we were becoming more efficient, and they had faith that I could take care of this new building. I wasn’t so sure. I knew in my gut it was too much for us. I had no way to communicate that to the men before me though, especially being new and not having a complete understanding of what I already had to take care of. I left that meeting knowing I had to be ready next time I was asked a similar question. I had to know how exactly how many man-hours a week that design alone would cost me. I had to measure exactly what my shop did, how frequently we did it, and how long it took. Next time I would be ready with a working staffing level study.
What is a Staffing Level Study?
A proper staffing level study answers three questions; What do you want done? How well do you want it done? and How long will it take to get that done? A proper staffing level study will not only tell you how long it takes to get current tasks done (you likely already know that) but can help project answers to the third questions as the answers to the first two questions change.
7 Reasons why you need a Staffing Level Study:
To Understand What Your Grounds Department Does
In grounds operations, we often ask our staff to do many different tasks. Some of those tasks are easily understood and measured; mowing turf, spraying pesticides, planting annuals. Other tasks fall under that dubious, “Other duties as assigned” line in their job description and can take up more time than you realize. When I complete these studies, managers are often surprised to see how much time their team commits to the miscellaneous tasks. Compiling a complete list of duties can help an organization ask whether or not these tasks are essential and if they belong to the grounds and landscaping staff.
A good study will also measure your entire campus. You will know how many square feet of annual beds, perennial beds, turf, athletic turf, shrub beds, tree rings, asphalt, concrete, and pavers you care for. You can also measure items like retaining walls, curbs, irrigation heads and valves, trash containers, or any other item your team spends time maintaining.
To Understand How Long It Takes To Maintain Your Grounds
This is where the study starts to get fun. For every item you listed in step one, you measure how many man-hours you spend on each task in a given time frame. Once you start measuring how long it takes to do everything on that task list, you can start seeing where you spend your time (and where you should be spending your time).
To Understand Maintenance Levels
Maintenance levels communicate the amount of care and expectations your institution places on specific tasks or areas of campus. A Level 1 would indicate the highest level of care, like a front entry flower bed. A Level 5 would indicate little to no maintenance activity at all, like a wooded back lot.
Once you know what you do and how long it takes, you can begin to define levels of service and attach time commitments to each level. You can define what the highest level of maintenance would be, the lowest level of maintenance, and everything in between. You can then assign levels to specific areas of your grounds or operation. For example, you may decide that at the highest maintenance level your team will police annual beds three times a week. At Level 2 your team can police once a week. That frequency can drop to once every other week at Level 3. Level 4 and 5 would not have annual beds, so no time commitment would be attached to those levels. If it takes 4 man-hours to police all annual beds, you know that:
Level 1 = 12 man-hours/week
Level 2 = 4 man-hours/week
Level 3 = 2 man-hours/week
Level 4/5 = 0 man-hours/week
To Justify Increasing or Decreasing Staffing Levels
You saw this coming. Now that you have a complete list of what you do, how long it takes, and the time commitment it would take to move to another maintenance level, you have the data to make some informed decisions. What if you added one more full-time staff member? What could you accomplish. Now you don’t have to guess. You can work with your data to figure out exactly what tasks will fill that additional 40 hours per week. On the flip side, if you loose a team member, you now can make an informed decision about what tasks can be adjusted.
To Justify Increasing or Decreasing Maintenance Levels
Of course, if you are adding or subtracting time (and not adding or subtracting tasks) you will be adjusting maintenance levels as well. This becomes important as you make hard decisions about where to spend your time resources. Increasing levels in one area will decrease levels in another. Do you want to give more attention to the main entrance, athletic fields, or tree care? That time will have to come from somewhere. Now you don’t have to guess. Find the hours in your study and make an informed decision.
To Communicate Your Operation to Administration
These last two points are where you cash in. A facility manager at a major state school once told me to never go to administration without data – it’s like showing up to a gun fight with a pocket knife. Now you have ammo.
You can now show administration exactly what it is you are doing. Trust me, they won’t realize you do half of the things you put on your study.
And they’ll be blown away that you even have the data. Most of us report to a CFO or a COO. These people LOVE data. You just started talking their language.
Now when they ask you to increase your mowing frequency you can tell them exactly how many man-hours that will take and you can show them how that negatively impacts other areas of your operation. You won’t be caught in the situation I described at the beginning of this article – set up to fail.
To Understand the Impact of New Projects
Finally, when your boss tells you the wife of a trustee wants to plant a rose garden around the administrative building (I’m not making that up) you can tell your boss exactly how many man-hours you will need to maintain that garden at Mrs. Trustee’s level of expectation. Obvious Hint: This is a good time to ask for more help. And when you do, make a reasonable request backed up by your data as to how those extra hours will be spent and the benefits your institution will experience.
Sounds like a lot of work? Is it worth it?
I’ve seen this work first-hand. Multiple times. I’ve created positions when my peers told me my school wouldn’t hire anyone. I’ve defended my decisions as a groundskeeper to lower maintenance levels in some places so we could increase our level in another. I’ve been able to scale back over-ambitious landscape designs. And I’ve seen administration finally listen to groundskeepers because they were finally speaking the same language. It is indeed worth the work.
2 ways to complete your Staffing Level Study in 2017:
1. Do it yourself
The best place to start is APPA’s Grounds Guidelines book and GroundsOps software package from Hunter Consulting and Training. Buy them together here.
Pros: I’ve used this book early in my career and worked with Hunter Consulting in the past (although I’ve never used the GroundsOps software). The book is a great foundation for capable and motivated managers who have the time to complete their own study. Employees who invest the time and energy to complete their own study will likely become invested in maintaining it going forward.
Cons: Your staff still has to do the footwork inputting the data and maintaining a software package that will likely become obsolete at some point. The data provided is somewhat generic and can be difficult to adjust to your specific site. You may have to measure your own times for specific tasks and use your own data anyway in order to be accurate. Recording all of the intangible tasks that your grounds staff completes throughout the day may also be difficult to include. At $455 for non-members (and you should definitely become an APPA member) you can’t afford to buy a book and software package that collects dust on a shelf.
2. Hire a Consultant
Pros: Get someone who can both understand the nuances of quantifying operational data and communicating the meaning of that data to groundskeepers and administration. This will make the whole process go faster, smoother, and with clearer results. I have also gathered data from other institutions that I can compare to your operation as well as industry standards. Plus, you are likely understaffed (which is why you are considering a staffing level study to begin with). When are they going to find time to learn the processes involved and complete this study? A consultant can get this done quickly with little disruption to your staff.
Cons: The only drawback to bringing someone to your site is that your staff might not own the results. I work directly with groundskeepers and administration to communicate the benefits for everyone in completing an accurate study of the grounds operations. Once staff members understand that a study can help justify their jobs and help administrators understand the challenges they face every day, they get on board fast.
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