Gardens Management - Working practice survey

Keeping easily maintained records will allow better practices to become second nature, says Alan Sargent.

Organised and methodical work practices pay dividends in performance - image: Alamy
Organised and methodical work practices pay dividends in performance - image: Alamy

Understand the efficiency of existing working practices when taking charge of a garden requires time. You should maintain a day book for your own private use to record what you have done. This should be kept in a locked cabinet and should include anything of importance that happened, including telephone calls and problems that may need to be referred to at a later date.

One of the most difficult work practices with which you may have to contend is the extended tea break. Does it begin from the moment that staff cease work and head for the tearoom or when they begin to drink their cuppa?

Finishing a job early and not having enough time to start another is a common work practice. You should produce and maintain a list of jobs to be done, updated as a matter of routine and placed as a work schedule on the staff noticeboard. These jobs should be set out in such a way that they are in the same vicinity, with each one allocated an approximate time to complete, so that one or more jobs can be done and crossed off when finished.

Pitching in

The more you are able, as team leader, to spend time working alongside staff members, the better. When you pitch in with the mucky jobs, you are showing that even the most menial tasks can and should be done efficiently and are every bit as important as the more glamorous ones. The ability to work tidily, to be a good labourer, is just as skilled as any other work practice.

A constant source of workplace difficulty is in getting the staff to maintain their tools and equipment. Without getting into a daily battle, a strict routine should be devised, using two types of record.

The first is machinery and powered tools. No one should be permitted to operate any machine or piece of equipment unless they have been trained to use it and are willing to maintain and clean it.

In the case of a mower, for example, each unit should have a hardback book attached to it in some way. This book must contain consecutive dates and, if possible, mileage or hours worked, showing:

- Who last used it.

- A signature confirming that the machine was in good order when taken out.

- Water/coolant and oil levels were correct.

- Initials of the person taking it out and thereby accepting responsibility for it.

Hand tools should be similarly listed on day-by-day worksheets - "tools out" in one column and "tool returned" in another, in good order and put away clean. A tip here is that if staff count the number of tools they have taken out they may more easily remember the number to be returned even if not the actual tools.

Such records are not difficult to organise and their maintenance is easily enforced, but they cannot be allowed to slip or they become useless as a working practice. They should become second nature.

Similarly, vehicle mileage records and fuel and oil used set against dates and drivers' details should become part of the routine. Time sheets and other weekly records should be handed in together, to be checked against other figures.

This may seem to be an unnecessarily onerous task, but it is a very important tool in your managerial toolbox. You should also keep a note in your diary of any important dates regarding transport - for example, MOT or tax - that can be overlooked easily.

The ultimate working practice survey is the two-way review. This process involves the production of a standardised form that should be used across the entire workforce, including part-time staff. Included on these forms should be the name of the person who is completing it along with their job title and department, date of completion or date to be completed by, and their duties as set out in their employment contract together with any other relevant information.

The purpose of the review is to have a progressive record of an employee's career path. They will be asked what they think they have achieved during the past review period - usually six months - what they would like to achieve in the next six months and how they intend to make that progress.

Help with progress

It also covers how you, as their manager, can help with that progress. What training do they think they need? This is the main opportunity you both have to address any failings or shortcomings there may be. Are there any commendations to be recorded? How can you encourage improvement?

In other words, are you, in their opinion, doing your job properly? How can you help more and in which areas? Note that this is not the forum for pay discussions or complaints against the employer or any staff member. It is a progressive document that will serve as a permanent record of how each team member has performed - or otherwise.

It is a form of agreement: "I will become more efficient if you give me the necessary training and encouragement I need."

Alan Sargent is an independent gardens consultant with 40 years' experience as a designer, contractor, head gardener, author and trainer. His book, Head Gardener's Survival Manual on running a garden effectively and efficiently can be ordered via

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