Keeping Your Strategic Plan Alive

Keeping Your Strategic Plan Alive

Written by Kevin Martlage

Over the past year, ArboRisk Insurance has published numerous articles about how to strategically advance your company. Primarily we have focus on developing a strategy around supporting  your team, your leaders, and the business culture necessary to successfully advance your tree care company. In an article ArboRisk published on October 28, 2021, “Why is Strategic Planning Important”, I wrote about the importance of developing a strategic plan that not only validates the “why” of your organization, but also the steps you can take to achieve the “why” and your goals.

An impactful strategic plan is one that helps to ensure your current path is sustainable, profitable, and most importantly helps you achieve all that you can as a company. When developing a strategic plan, you must ensure you have clear goals in place for the next 1-3 years as you continue to build your company and your team? If not, you will certainly end up somewhere in the future, but is that where you want to be and have you achieved all you can achieve as an organization?

Before we talk about how to keep your strategic plan alive and relevant,  I’d like to recap the process we recommend following as you develop a strategic plan. When leading organizations through the strategic planning process there is typically focus on five key areas:

  • Confirming the “Why”
  • Reviewing performance and current state
  • Identifying what is possible and where we want to go
  • Determining how we will get there
  • Implementation and monitoring

The outcome of the strategic planning process is several short term and long-term goals that will help the organization achieve the overall mission, or “why,” of their organization. Additionally, you then must develop an operational plan and budget that supports the goals that have been identified. This is done in numerous ways, but usually by focusing on the following key questions that will help you dive into your company to see what is needed to achieve each goal:

  • What resources are necessary, and do we currently have those resources?
  • Do we currently have the staff needed to make these goals happen?
  • What are some potential roadblocks that we need to proactively identify?
  • What are some other outside resources and knowledge that we may need to engage?

Whether you go through the strategic planning process internally as a team or have someone help facilitate the development, every organization is then left with the question of “now what”? As an organization you have spent time developing this iron-clad strategic and operational plan that will take you to the next level, but other things always seem to get in the way of making it happen. Those things are what I like to call unintentional noise which always seems to interfere with the implementation and effectiveness of the plan you just spent time creating. So how do we eliminate the unintentional noise and effectively implement and carry out your plan?

A Harvard Business Review article, “4 Common Reasons Strategies Fail” published June 24, 2022 outlines some reasons why strategic plans fail. Specifically, it notes:

“…60-90% of strategic plans never fully launch. The causes of derailment vary widely, but execution consistently bears the blame.”

I cannot tell you how many organizations I have worked with, and have worked for, where the strategy was not understood, and therefore never fully executed across all levels of the organization. In some instances, the developed strategy and operational plan is not even understood among the leadership team that developed the strategy in the first place. All too many times a strategy is developed, and the plan gets put on-the-shelf  to be dusted off 3 years later or when it is determined that the organization is not heading in the right direction. When it is finally dusted off, it is realized that the answers were right there all the time. If the plan would have been followed the organization would be closer to where they now think they should be than where they are. This may sound extreme, but it happens all the time and creates lost time, extra expense, negativity towards the business culture, and a negative impact on your ability to serve your customers. So how as an organization do you ensure execution and delivery of the strategy that you and your leadership team so carefully developed? The answer starts with communication and understanding.

Every company has their own resources, budget, team and “why,” however how they keep their strategy and operational plan alive can be the same regardless of the size and direction of your organization. Here are a few steps I recommend you consider for implementation to ensure you keep your plan alive once developed:

  • Communicate your plan to the entire organization and ensure their understanding
  • Determine operational champions/leads for each functional goal to assist with oversight
  • Develop, communicate, and review key performance indicators (KPIs) for each goal
  • Review expectations and confirm understanding of key deliverables
  • Integrate KPI monitoring, updates, and performance review into all staff meetings
  • Align meeting agendas to include strategic plan performance and general updates
  • Align impact areas and KPIs to each specific job or functional position within the organization
  • Integrate strategic categories and updates into your annual review process
  • Review the validity of your plan annually and adjust as necessary ensuring changes are communicated and understood

The more you can integrate some of these items into your standard operating procedures, the more effective they will become in helping to keep your plan alive. Integration of some of these items can be easy depending on your company. For instance, can you create a standard meeting agenda template that always includes a strategic plan performance and impact update? Depending on your IT capabilities, can you create a KPI dashboard that is updated in real time and aligned with the strategic categories and goals of the organization. How about a weekly or monthly, CEO/Owner newsletter, webinar, or lunch and learn focused on strategic plan performance and updates.

How you approach keeping your plan alive is up to you and your company leadership. However, the most important thing is that you implement the plan and then keep it alive through consistent and intentional communication and follow up. Ensuring that a solid strategic and operational plan is kept alive will help your organization continue to have the support and ability to achieve your goals. Communication is key in this phase of implementation and monitoring. The entire team must be aware of the plan that was created to ensure that everyone is driving to the same place on the map and understand where they are on that map. It is up to the leadership of the organization to ensure that a clear understanding of the plan is in place and that everyone on the team is aware of how they impact the plan daily, weekly, monthly, and annually.

If you are interested in learning more about how strategic planning can enhance your organization,I encourage you to look at our Thrive Risk Management Strategic Planning packageIn just four short weeks we can help you identify who you are as a company, what you want to become, and what strategic milestones will be needed to achieve your goals and ensure your team is all driving to the same destination.

Taking Your Team to New Heights by Planting a Tree

Taking Your Team to New Heights by Planting a Tree

Written by Kevin Martlage

In a 2019 Gallup Article, “This Fixable Problem Costs US Businesses $1 Trillion”, Gallup reported that voluntary turnover costs businesses $1 trillion dollars annually. In addition, the cost of replacing an employee can range “from one-half to two times their annual salary”. 

To put that in perspective, a full-time employee making $60,000 per year would cost an estimated $30,000 to $120,000 in sourcing, training, on-boarding, and hiring costs to replace them. The interesting thing about the Gallup Poll and their findings is that “52% of voluntary exiting employees said their manager or organization could have done something to prevent them from leaving their job”. So over half of those people who left an organization said they did so because of something their manager or organization did not do. That is incredible to think about and I am sure the costs have increased in the past 3 years since the publication. 

So, what can we do strategically as business owners and leaders to ensure we find the right employees and then ultimately support them as they become leaders within our organization, and we reach new heights as a team? The answer is simple. Go plant a tree. 

As a leader in the tree care industry, you must always ensure that you, and your team, are knowledgeable in understanding what is necessary to meet the needs of your clients while expertly taking care of their trees. This takes on a lot of different forms including Plant Health Care (PHC), pruning, planting, and removal. Let’s take planting a tree for instance. Anyone can certainly go outside, dig a hole, place the tree in that hole, and fill the hole while hoping that the tree makes it. However, if you follow the guidelines outlined on the Trees are Good Website for planting a tree you quickly see that there is much more to the process than just digging a hole and planting a tree. Specially, they recommend you consider the following:

  • Identifying the right tree to plant
  • When to plant
  • Planting stress
  • How to properly plant the tree (there are 9 steps outlined in this section)
  • Right Tree – Right Place
  • How to mulch the tree 
  • How to avoid any potential tree and utility conflicts

All these things are very important for an arborist to consider when planting a tree. By taking into consideration these things you are ensuring that the tree will establish the appropriate root system and continue to grow and flourish as part of the canopy and ecosystem in the environment in which it was planted. So, what does planting a tree have to do with hiring and retaining great people? The answer lies within the basic considerations we review when planting a tree. 

I have written before about how developing a career path for your employees is like planting a seed and then caring for it through the germination, seedling, sapling, growth, and nurturing stages Outlining a Career Path for Your Team” – ArboRisk Insurance Weekly Tip January 14, 2022. The same analogy can be made when hiring, on-boarding and then supporting your new and existing team. However now the tree (your new hire) is grown, and it is time to transplant it into its destination. 

Let’s use the considerations for planting a tree as outlined on the Trees Are Good Website as a template. Below, I have outlined the steps to consider when planting a tree and then included questions to consider for the hiring, onboarding, and growth process. These questions are designed to help you ensure the best applicant is identified, hired, and integrated successfully within any organization. 

  • Identifying the right tree to plant
    • What is the position we are hiring?
    • What skills are necessary?
    • Do we have a developed job description that outlines the requirements for the position?
    • What organizational and business culture traits are we looking for?
  • When to plant 
    • When does the position need to be filled (immediately, 30 days, 60 days, etc.)
    • How will we post the job announcement and manage the applications?
  • Planting stress
    • What will the hiring and interview process look like internally and externally?
    • Who needs to be involved, internally, in the hiring/interview process?
    • Who is going to review applications and schedule the interviews?
    • Who will conduct the interviews?
    • What stress will this cause on the organization to find the right applicant?
  • The Right Tree – Right Place
    • How will we identify and assess the applicants to find the right candidate?
    • What are the non-negotiable traits and skills that we must have?
    • What questions are we going to ask each applicant?
  • How to mulch the tree
    • Do we have the proper offer letter developed?
    • What paperwork needs to be done once they accept (i.e., payroll, HR, etc.)
    • What does their first day look like?
    • What does their first 90 days look like?
    • Do we have an onboarding plan?
  • How to avoid any potential tree and utility conflicts
    • Are expectations clearly defined?
    • Are they aware of your organizational culture and how they can impact it?
    • How do we ensure that they are avoiding any “organizational culture hazards” during their first 6 months?
    • How will be ensure that they are growing and flourishing in their new environment?
    • How are we going to ensure they do not leave?

This may seem like an odd analogy when it comes to hiring and supporting your new hires. However, I would argue that if you were planting a $60,000 tree, you would take these steps and more to ensure that the tree was planted perfectly to enable its growth and sustainability. So why would you not do the same for each person, both current and future, within your organization. 

Leadership in today’s economy is not easy. Supporting your team, ensuring you have a hiring and on-boarding plan, and making sure that your team feels supported and engaged is the X factor that will set your tree care company apart from the competition. I encourage you to continue to focus on your people, both current and future, so that you are not part of the more than $1 trillion in expenses seen globally by companies who are losing employees because of things they could have identified and changed to ensure they stayed. 

If you are interested in learning more about effective hiring, recruiting, on-boarding, and overall leadership development and planning, please check out the Risk Management Packages located on the Arborisk Insurance website. If you need more assistance with hiring and recruiting, contact ArboRisk to learn more about their Thrive Risk Management Hiring & Recruiting Package or the Leadership Development Package.

Tom Dunn

The Value of Stay Interviews

The Value of Stay Interviews

Written by Sheila Beaumier

Should I stay, or should I go now?

Yes, those are lyrics from an eighties song by The Clash, but they run through employees’ heads everywhere daily.  

Employees often dedicated more time weekly to their employers than to their families. For most, work is necessary, and they want to feel trusted, valued, and appreciated. While that seems basic and reasonable, it often does not happen. Why? The why is not so easy. The employer-employee relationship takes work, listening, and communication like every relationship.

For decades many organizations have conducted or attempted to conduct an exit interview with outgoing staff. When you think about it, once you are at that point, when the staff member is leaving, what you learn is too late for any action you may take to affect the outgoing staff member. When you realize three of your staff have left because they did not feel they had the tools to do the job, you will likely create a plan to be sure your other staff members have the tools to do the job. As for the three who left, it’s too late. 

What if you make a slight shift and conduct stay interviews instead? In the stay interview, you have a chance to listen and incorporate the feedback to impact your existing staff, and in turn, the organization retains people. When your folks see this, they feel valued, listened to, and appreciated. When you conduct a stay interview, you find out why people stay and what makes them consider leaving. You have a chance to use the data you collect to improve retention, improve communications, and take action on what is important to your staff. In these meetings, you are building trust and improving communication by merely holding the meetings. When you take action on what you learn, the trust strengthens.

Stay interviews don’t have to be complicated, but you do want to be sure you do them individually and within a short period. Setting the stage for the stay interviews is essential; you don’t want to show up on a site and start pulling people off their jobs and asking questions. So, be sure your management team and your staff know in advance that you will conduct these interviews, what they are, and why you are running them. Ensure your staff knows this initiative is meant to help you understand what is working for them and what they want to see change. Stay interviews generally are twenty minutes to half an hour, but the time frame depends on the number of questions and how much sharing takes place. 

Tips for a successful stay interview

  • Put on your down-to-earth hat, be friendly and make everyone feel comfortable.
  • If you can find a location where folks feel more comfortable, all the better. I am a big fan of picnic table stay interviews, with food, of course, just not in the wintertime in Boston.
  • Don’t use this time to toot your horn. This interview is a time for you to be genuine and show genuine interest in learning and listening.
  • Plan your questions ahead and ask everyone the same questions. Do not ask questions that can be answered with a yes/no response.  
  • Maybe ask:
    • What is your favorite part about your job?
    • If you had a magic wand, what would you change and why?
    • Do you have the tools to do your job?
    • What can I do to help you be successful?
  • Be sure each person knows that you have appreciated their time
  • Keep notes
  • Look for themes
  • Create action plans or involve your staff in the creation of the plans
  • Follow up and let people know about the action plans and implement them.

Are stay interviews for every organization? The truth is no; they are not a good idea for every organization. For example, suppose you have not cultivated a culture of trust and are unwilling to act on what you find out. In that case, it is better to avoid them because if you aren’t going to take action or involve the staff in taking action, you have just ignored your folks and further eroded their trust and they will continue to mumble the lyrics, “Should I stay or should I go”.

If you need more help with stay interviews or assistance with hiring and recruiting, contact ArboRisk to learn more about their Thrive Risk Management Hiring & Recruiting Package.

What is Safe?

What is Safe?

Written by Travis Vickerson

In the tree care industry, we speak a lot about safe work practices, safety first and working safely. Yet if we truly stop to think about it, what is safe?

It’s a rather hard thing to define without using the word safe somehow which then brings us back to attempting to define it as well as each derivative of the word. I would like to challenge you that safe is a construct that we have placed as an overarching objective in tasks and work we do. Yet safety is ultimately the outcome from those tasks. Whether or not something was done safely can only be assessed after the event is over and no negative outcome has occurred or had the potential to occur. Just because you don’t have an incident doesn’t mean you worked safely; you could have just gotten fortunate to avoid a mistake that might have had potential for an incident.

What we really mean when we talk about safe work practices and safety first is that we are wanting people to perform tasks in a manner that avoids incident and potential for incident.

This means doing things in the correct sequence or within the procedure prescribed for that task. That said, the hardest thing for most employers is to know what skill level workers have in doing things in the correct sequence or as prescribed in a procedure of a task. At Noble Oak Safety and Training, we feel the best tool any employer can have is data on the abilities, proficiency and lack thereof with employees. Far too often we see incidents occurring that are not really about lack of safety, but rather about lack of ability or trying to work beyond a person’s actual ability. We place workers on job sites and are given tasks that may or may not fit their abilities to perform work in the correct sequence or with the correct understanding of a procedure or just simply are outside of their skill level.

So how does one define an individual’s skill level? I believe in using a scoring system derived from jobsite observation of skills. This skill evaluation of employees performing tasks allows the employer to get actual data on the individuals abilities, proficiencies and needed areas of improvement. This means the right workers can be placed in the right job sites that fit their skills and employees can be given a clear and concise pathway for improvement.

Remember, employee retention is based on employee happiness and satisfaction and often we find the most satisfied employees are ones that feel they are being invested into. Training is one of the most common ways to invest in someone. Even though it may be hard to see a return on training, having a pathway of improvement can provide tailored training options that speeds up your return rather than simply providing broad training that may or may not meet the needs of your people.

To summarize we must start treating all the work we do as steps in the process to achieve safe outcomes rather than just an objective to accomplish. Stop saying have a safe day and begin making safety an outcome of everyday by infusing proper procedures for tasks, correct sequence of actions and right skills for the right job.

ArboRisk is pleased to partner with Travis Vickerson and the team at Noble Oak Safety and Training to provide Arborist Skill Validation Assessments as well as direct team or individual skills training for our clients. If you have any safety training questions, please reach out to an ArboRisk team member directly and we can get you started on our Thrive Safety Package or connected with Travis.

Tom Dunn

Coffee with a Cop: Traffic Violations

Coffee with a Cop – Traffic Violations

Written by Jim Skiera

Do you know what specific traffic violations are more likely to get your employee(s) pulled over?

The initial thought for this article was to talk to an officer about reasons drivers are stopped while driving vehicles commonly used by tree care companies (chip truck, bucket truck, dump trucks with trailers, etc.). We also wanted to find out what violations cause officers to tag vehicles out of service. Out of service violations become very costly for the business when you add up fines, repair bills, court and legal fees, and downtime that leads to lost revenue. 

To gain insight I spoke with six different officers from multiple police and sheriff departments in the Denver metro area. I started each interview with the same question: 

Of the commercial vehicles that you’ve pulled over in the last month/quarter/year, what suspected violation caused the pull over? 

The consistent answer from each of the patrol officers was they don’t treat commercial vehicles and drivers any differently than passenger vehicles. The officers I spoke with stated they primarily look for drivers of any vehicle committing the moving violations that regularly cause serious accidents and injuries. 

The top five infractions that are most likely to get a patrol officer’s attention and get a driver pulled over are:

  • Speeding: by far the top violation that gets drivers pulled over is speeding. More than 40% of all traffic stops are related to speeding. It is also the number one reason for serious accidents. Statistics show for every 100 speeding tickets issued there are 14 fewer auto crashes and five fewer auto accident-related injuries.  
  • Visible Equipment Violations: Broken or inoperable lights, broken or missing mirrors and other inoperable safety equipment required for drivers to communicate with or see other drivers on the road.
  • Cell Phone Use While Driving; Distracted driving is unsafe driving.
  • Following Too Closely or Improper Lane Changes: These two violations cause accidents by not allowing for proper braking distance and or response time of other drivers to safely avoid collisions.
  • Hazardous or Erratic Driving: Failure to stop, swerving in and out of lanes, drifting over the centerline, etc. are signals that a driver may be impaired, possibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs, falling asleep at the wheel, or texting while driving.  


The first officers I spoke to were Patrol officers of which traffic stops are one of many responsibilities of theirs. When they do make a stop, the time spent with each driver is limited and they are not trained to do commercial vehicle inspections. They have limited experience with tagging vehicles out of service. Following one of my interviews, it was recommended I speak to an officer that performs roadside commercial vehicle inspections if I wanted information on why vehicles are tagged out of service.

I eventually was introduced to Deputy Chad Davey of the Douglas County Sherriff’s Office. Deputy Davey is responsible for Commercial Motor Vehicle Inspections in Douglas County. He sets up mobile inspection sites around the county, on county roads and highways and all commercial vehicles are required to stop to be inspected before they can proceed. 

Officer Davey follows an inspection protocol that is used for all inspections. The first part of the inspection is about the driver. He checks for current and proper license, vehicle registration, insurance, drug or alcohol use and driving logs. The second part is a complete vehicle equipment inspection.


Question: What is the most common infraction you see with tree care related commercial vehicles during roadside inspections?

Answer: Deputy Davey said he could not specifically say there was a “most common” issue with tree service trucks. He said inspections are comprehensive and he has inches of paperwork of violations. Check the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) website of North American Level 1 Inspection procedures. 

He did give a few examples of common violations he finds with tree and landscape vehicles pulling trailers. The first is nonfunctioning electric emergency trailer brakes. Two things are common, one the battery for the brakes is not working, or the brakes themselves do not engage when tested. He said it’s common for drivers to just check to make sure everything is hooked up, but they don’t check to see if the emergency braking system works. Deputy Davey said probably half the drivers he meets during inspections don’t know they need to test the trailer brakes.

Another common violation is breakaway chains that are damaged from being dragged or are not rated to accommodate the weight of the trailer. He said chains on trailers get damaged. If an inspector sees the chain is worn more than 1/5 its diameter it’s a problem. He also said when chains are replaced, they need to be replaced with chains of the same rating, and often are not.


Question: What can a driver do to avoid being pulled over and having their vehicle tagged Out of Service during an inspection?

Answer: Roadside Commercial Vehicle Inspections are mandatory so you can’t avoid being pulled over. What you can do is limit your chance of being tagged out of service by performing daily inspections, completing inspection reports, maintaining your driver’s license and certificates and other required documentation, and keeping vehicles in safe working order. Have required documentation stored somewhere it is easily available when asked for by the inspector. 

Another recommendation for business owners is to include training about what is included in roadside inspections, so drivers understand what the inspectors are reviewing during an inspection. This should be specific to the vehicles employees are using and the state, federal and local restrictions for those vehicles.

Managing the risks for your business is an ongoing task. One area of significant risk is with your fleet and the drivers using the vehicles in that fleet. Preventing incidents that cause damage, injuries, and costly downtime requires commitment by all involved. It starts with the owner providing well maintained and properly operating equipment then complimented with qualified and licensed drivers trained to use and maintain the equipment efficiently, effectively, and safely.

If you have specific questions about roadside inspections, contact your local law enforcement department. They can assist with inspection checklists and regional laws and regulations. If you need help with driver safety and/or fleet management, contact ArboRisk to learn more about their Thrive Risk Management Safety Package!

Tom Dunn