September 11, 2017
From the ‘People Power’ column in Timber Harvesting magazine
Written By: Wendy Farrand, Owner of WFarrand Consulting
“What’s the big deal? You come to work, you get the wood out, and you go home.”
Those were the exact words of an old-time logger I worked with who was totally perplexed about the need for regular meetings in the woods. Smaller crews may be able to skirt the regular meeting recommendation, but if you are a leader, and you are not holding regular structured meetings, your crew isn’t as effective, productive or as safe as they could be, no matter what size it is.
I believe that with all my heart. Things may be flowing smoothly, but without the opportunity to regularly share, set expectations and hold people accountable, you will feel the impact somewhere down the road.
Strong, clear communication is key, and not just for communication’s sake, but for the sake of a lot of other things as well, including safety, accountability, raising the bar, setting goals, motivation, team building, squelching negativity, and education.
As a leader, contractor or supervisor, it is your responsibility to bring your crews together on a regular basis to build a strong structure in which the wood can flow. Ideally, this is a structure of respect created by the professionalism that you demand from the professionals that work for you.
This isn’t a day on the beach, and heading into the woods with extremely expensive equipment, in some of the most dangerous situations, is one of the most important jobs on the planet. I have heard the job of a logger compared to that of a brain surgeon where life and death decisions are made in just a second’s notice. So, I ask, do you think a brain surgeon heads into surgery without a formal meeting with is team to discuss the task they are about to tackle? You know the answer, then why should you?
Communication can open a lot of eyes, give different perspectives and head off problems before they turn into emergencies. I know this is true, for there isn’t one logging contractor that I have worked with who hasn’t seen the positive impact from holding regular crew meetings. If leaders don’t hold themselves to the systems of accountability, how can you truly expect your employees to?
A Simple Agenda
Time is money, and so I suggest that regular meetings happen before the noise ordinances are lifted, or the sun rises. I am a big proponent of keeping the crew meeting agenda very simple while sticking to a strict meeting time. The simpler, the better, but with lots of room to share. I recommend this agenda to the loggers I work with:
>Opportunities for improvement
Just the fact that you are always looking to improve will create a structure for innovation or process refinement. You will find that once you start to honor the knowledge your crew has from working in the thick of it, they will offer ways to improve your overall operation—ways that you may not see from your vantage point.
I also suggest that if your harvest is third-party certified, that you add an educational piece to your agenda on a monthly basis, maybe opposite of your safety meeting. Educating your crew members on the standards that your company is held to while harvesting gives them additional ammunition when educating the public about the things they do in the forest to help improve the environment, and the world we all live in. Knowledge is power, and we all need to be educating the public regarding timber harvesting and the positive impact it has on our environment and economy. Everyone, not just the owners, but the crew members as well need to be sharing the truths that are happening in the woods. We are all responsible for promoting the good things we do in the woods and to help create a more positive image for our industry.
People like structure, even though they may not even know how much they do like it, but once you make meetings a regular occurrence, you will see an uptick in professionalism and a sense of caring about the company in general. When someone is task-oriented as opposed to results-oriented, there can be a lack of emotional attachment to the job and the company. Discussing the results of the week can create engagement by emphasizing the logger’s involvement in the big picture of our industry. No, it isn’t just about “getting the wood out” you are a link in a very important chain that feeds the world forest products. We can never forget to remind our loggers that they sacrifice daily to insure the people of the world get the forest products that they cannot live without.
Make sure that meetings are productive and positive, honoring your time, your crew members’ time and the time of the company. The one thing that is worse than not holding a regular meeting is holding a regular meeting that everyone dreads. Dreading a meeting means the person in charge may have not put as much thought into it as he or she should have.
Create the agenda, look it over the night before, and try to keep the information interesting and engaging. Sprinkle in a bit of praise for those who are going above and beyond for the company. Share an anecdotal story that emphasizes a point. Make it interesting and the crew members will look forward to the meeting and sharing information. One warning: an employee forum can sometimes turn into a b!^%#fest, so nip it in the bud; stop it and redirect the crew from complaining to coming up with solutions to make things better.
Don’t Give Up
If you have never held regular meetings before, you will find many loggers complaining as my coworker did when we first instituted regular meetings. He was the biggest hater of meetings, thought I was absolutely out of my mind, and complained every time we held them.
One day, after he complained quite vocally in front of everyone, I followed him back to his chipper. “I would never begin to tell you what to do with your chipper,” I huffed. “I would never try to tell you how to maintain or fix your chipper. No one on the planet knows as much about your chipper as you do, and I respect that. I respect the things that you know, that I do not, and I am asking you for that same respect.”
From that day on, until I left the company, he respected my initiatives to improve communication and engagement, so much so, that after a couple of years when I was moving on to another position, he came up to me and said, “I owe you an apology.” I looked like a deer in the headlights because I couldn’t think of anything he needed to apologize for. “You were right about all that communication stuff,” he said. I was so surprised and it warmed my heart that he said that. I think there was a little tear in each of our eyes. We hugged and I thanked him for acknowledging that.
When you know something is right, you owe it to your business to take advantage of that knowledge. It isn’t easy, but every single initiative improves the professionalism of your company, of your employees and of your industry.
Wendy Farrand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.