15 Minute Yard Departure

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

A business owner from Texas called me the other day to talk about his Gross Margin results.  Like all landscapers, this business owner has seen his direct labor costs and material expenses skyrocket lately.  While implementing several effective cost containment initiatives throughout the past 18 months, the numbers-based business owner has seen his hourly average wage, ObamaCare expenses, workers’ compensation premiums, and PTO costs climb steadily.

Fundamentally strong, the prescient business owner decided to go back to the basics to reduce unwanted costs.  First stop:  Yard departure.

For the purpose of pretext, the business owner tracked the amount of time each vehicle left the yard each morning, by watching the activity through the yard surveillance cameras for one week.  The average departure time was 37 minutes.

All landscapers know the maximum yard departure time is 15 minutes.

At a management team meeting, the owner shared his findings as well as the stated 15-minute goal.  Dutifully, he assigned this goal to his managers.  

After a week of watching his managers “encourage” drivers to leave the yard in 15 minutes or less, the results were still above 31 minutes on average.  During the next scheduled management team, the owner presented the disappointing results to his direct reports.  To a person, the managers resisted accountability by averring that it was impossible for the company vehicles to get out of the yard in less than 15 minutes.  Claims that the crews are “too busy,” “there is too much going on in the morning,” and “it is better to be safe than sorry” were offered en masse.  Rather than debating the luddites, the resolute owner had a better plan.

For the next week, the owner stood at the yard gate with a clipboard and a watch, tracking each vehicle’s departure time, making eye contact with every driver as the vehicle left the yard.

By Day 3 of that week, every vehicle left the yard within 15 minutes.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.