PP 164: Jeff McManus, Speaker, Author and Director of Landscape Services at The University of Mississippi

Jeff grows plants, he grows people and he grows ideas… Wow!

In this episode, Jeff shares how he and his team turned the campus at UMiss from laughable to award winning by growing weeders into leaders. Jeff shares what the interview process looks like at UMiss, his journey with personal development, and how his team building practices, aka Landscape University, are now being taught to external organizations.

.@jeffmcmanus chats with @thekimsutton about turning weeders into leaders: http://www.thekimsutton.com/pp164 #podcastClick To Tweet

Episode Transcription

Kim: Welcome back to another episode of positive productivity podcast. This is your host, Kim Sutton and today I am thrilled to have Jeff McManus.

Jeff is an author speaker and the Director of Landscape services at the University of Mississippi. He grows plants, he grows people, and he grows ideas. Jeff, right away that is still phenomenal. I love that. Growing plants, growing people, and growing ideas. Wow.

Jeff: Yeah. Just like Kim, I love to grow things so, that’s just part of my passion and it works well and I get to do plants and people.

Kim: I have no problem growing the ideas or the people, but plants? I have a black thumb. Yeah.

Jeff: I have to get you to one of my bootcamps and brown thumbs to green thumbs.

Kim: That sounds incredible. Jeff, could you share a little bit of your backstory with the listeners? Tell them how you got into where you are today?

Jeff: Oh sure. Well, I started here in 2000 at the University of Mississippi and we had a ragtag force of all 31 people are all champ. We had big orders to become one of the prettiest campuses in America, that we wanted to recruit top students, and athletes, and faculty, and staff to the university and we knew based on studies that, landscaping played a huge role in that and our campus was not there. We were— we were probably in last place laughing– laughing place. We were just in a place that wasn’t good. And so we had to take this rag tag team toxic environment and somehow figure out how to make them into national champions. And that’s– that’s what our story is about and that’s a little bit of what I’ve gotten to do and we’ve won five national championships in landscaping now and being one of the best the best when it comes to overall campus beautification and it’s really not in how you grow the plants, it’s how you grow the people.

Kim: Yeah. I know you say that you grow leaders into leaders, which is fabulous. Can you touch upon them a little bit for us?

Jeff: Well sure. It’s all about the attitude and a weeder, is an attitude of a person who is really not fully engaged. Maybe they are just for a paycheck, doesn’t think that their life provides value to a far bigger purpose or they don’t have the passion and excitement for what they do. And so when I wanted to do is get people who are motivated on the inside you know that intrinsic motivation really that’s the deep dive in getting people excited about coming to work wanting to be the experts. And so I started off on an experiment to see can I really develop leaders from the mindset that we had of. We had a lot of leaders at the time and we, and we have. We’ve now developed a culture of leadership where men and women here see themselves not only as a landscape leader, but they also see themselves as mentoring the college students who work with us and even their own kids. They see themselves as a bigger role. We’ve tapped into the core value of their life, that their life has purpose and meaning and work is just a part of that. It’s a way to facilitate that and to help other people.

Kim: What did that journey into wanting this– wanting to make this transition happen look like for you? Were you doing personal and professional development on your own? What really prompted it?

Jeff: Well, I’ve always been growing and my self, my own personal developed because I listened to a lot of books and I listened to speakers, Ted x talks and I’m constantly on the growth pattern go into seminars. I’m probably a personal growth junkie and so, I really enjoy the process and I wondered if I could get my staff engaged in developing as well. So really, we have these things called leader to leader meetings where we walk our staff toward wisdom and we expose them to teaching and training in these type of things that deal with personal development. So we tapped into that. We started it, it would take one hour each month and we do that with our staff in small groups. And boy is it. It’s been like, growing oak trees you know initially and you don’t see a lot. Yeah. You just know that you’ve planted the acorn and then something pops up good and then eventually it becomes a real tree and starts providing value and shade and producing oxygen and that thing just kept growing and we’ve been doing it for six years and it’s– it’s pretty good size now. The culture has truly changed because of the personal growth.

Kim: That’s something that’s amazed me along my path of this business is how it’s not just actually about the team members, but about the leaders within the organization as well. I mean leaders create leaders. I started as a V.A. and I was always surprised at how many people didn’t want advice, or insight or any feedback. They just wanted to give a task to get it done and move on. Because they were the expert and they knew best or at least that was their mentality. And the clients that I’ve had, who I’ve seen thrive the most, are those who are really trying to build their team and let their team know that their ideas and contributions are really well accepted and appreciated. Is that something that you’ve experienced?

Jeff: Yes. Kim, I think you’re spot on. I think– I think that that’s what we’ve seen is when you’re truly trying to grow other people and value them. They know that they feel that, they’re in. What happens is is the trust level goes up you begin to trust each other because you’re working to make each other successful. And I want my bosses, all campus to be very successful. I want those that answer to me to be extremely successful. And I know that it will take care of everything for me if I can make those two groups very successful. The trust though is the critical part that we’re all going the same direction. There are no hidden agendas that were openly communicating but, it really cultivates a culture of trust. When you’re doing exactly what you’re saying and inviting people to the table, let them voice their opinion. Asking their opinion before you voice your opinion, and listening to it because you’ll learn a lot especially from the people on the front lines are actually engaged in the process.

Kim: Do you have any statistics on what your turnover rate was, before you started this initiative, and what it looks like now?

Jeff: It’s pretty much been honestly the same. I mean, I would love for you– I loved to tell you that it’s dropped but we’ve had a relatively low turnover rate but, it seems to stay consistent. And I’ll tell you why, is we constantly tell our folks: “don’t settle for a J-O-B be for a job, pursue your dreams. Do what it is that you feel like you’re wired to do”. So I’ll give you an example, we had a gentleman who was working for us as a student worker. He was going to school and he got his degree in criminal justice and he applied to work with us and grounds for full-time work. And when we interviewed him, I said “Look, I’m so happy you’re applying. You’re a great worker. We’ll benefit from having you here. But don’t settle. Don’t just take this job because you get a good pension, and it’s a steady paycheck and the good hours, and don’t put the golden handcuffs on you, and then you throw away that a four year degree that took you six years to get into criminal justice and that’s your passion”. So, he appreciated that and he kept working. We hired him. He worked for us, for probably two years until he got his dream job and we were like, “man, that’s awesome”. We were so happy we got him two more years and at the same time he got to do something he wanted to do. So, we have little stories like that, that happens where people are constantly promoting or doing more and getting themselves better. So, I think that’s why our turnover rate is still about the same is probably right around 8 percent.

Kim: I don’t know what a good turnover rate is? To be totally honest. I don’t know if that’s good or bad but it sounds really awesome to me. I just–Well I guess it was about a year ago, I applied for a position doing customer support actually in an organization that I really wanted to be a part of. I wanted to get my toes in the water so to speak. And I actually got on a call with my mentor, who is the owner of that organization and I will always appreciate the fact that he said, “I have no doubt, you would do a great job in this position. However, I know there’s something better for you to do within the organization. So I’m not going to give you this job”. And I feel very appreciative. Just using your verbiage. I do feel like it would have been a job at that point. So, I love going back to the story that you’ve just shared how he did actually stay around for two years because often when we are just in that job, we don’t even stay around that long. I’ve been there myself. But clearly, he appreciated your values though.

Jeff: Well, it’s also how your attitude toward your job is. Some people quit work and as soon as they find a job. Now think about that for a minute you know, they get the job but then, they don’t really engage. If you’re not excited about it, you’re not productive, you’re costing the company money. And so, we want our team to be fully engaged. We want them to love this type of work. Listen, we’re outside of work and in the hot sun we’re working and poison ivy or cleaning up messes that other people make and I literally pam try to talk people out of work in the forester and the interview process. And I really question, why they want to be here? Because I want people who really want to do this.

Kim: My husband works for a family-owned retail shop and they have literally found employees sitting on the bathroom floor. Jeff, I have no idea why anybody would want a bathroom floor. Even in my own house, I don’t know that I wanna sit on the bathroom floor.

Jeff: Yes.

Kim: It’s not the same.

Jeff: I agree.

Kim: I think you get the point. I’m going to— Sitting on the bathroom floor, playing games on their smartphones.

Jeff: Oh dear.

Kim: We’re having such a problem getting people to show up on time that they actually started offering incentive bonuses to people who could show up for a whole week of work on time. And my husband is a manager at one of their locations. And he got so fed up though, because they were still having the issue of people showing up late that he finally laid it down with his direct boss or not direct boss but the owner and he said: “why are you— why are you giving bonuses to people who can’t do their job right”? Because they want to, whereas people who were already doing it you know aren’t being acknowledged and it just turned out it was like the light bulb came on for his boss like, “yeah you’re right”. So, I’m not saying this is the way to do it but he actually did send out a post to everybody because they use Facebook to communicate saying, “we want you all to be here. If you can’t be here on time, you have basically two shots and then you’re out. And we won’t have any problem finding somebody who does want to be here and do a good job”.

Jeff: That’s right. It all goes back to the three Cs. It goes back to: “Are they competent? Do they have character? and, Is there chemistry”? It is a chemistry line-up of your core values, line-up with each other. And those are the three things that are highly important when you’re hiring people.

Kim: What does your interview process look like? And I know you just said that you do try to talk people out of working for you.

Jeff: Well we try to standardize, I mean just like any other company would that so that we can do it quickly and we run through committees. We have a committee of people, we try to get a lot of our frontline staff involved in the process because they’re going to be working with the people so they’re on their own wanting other committees that they meet with them. But we’ve found that the longer we take with a candidate, so a person interviewing for that job might come today. But let’s have them come back again in a couple of days and interview with some different folks as well. And let’s have little different questions and maybe we even take them out in the field, and we walk through a few things, and just visit a few areas, and we get to know that person, and get to hear them talk. We also introduce them to our landscape values, our landscape creed, that we came up with, that we developed and we asked them to go through the creed. What does it mean to them? What does it mean when we say lead by example? What does that mean to you? We want our front line staff to hear the answers to that to see if this person’s chemistry is a good chemistry for what we’re trying to do here on campus, because ultimately we’re trying to recruit people who are going to make this campus so pretty that we’re recruiting the next doctor who’s going to heal you know, come up with a cure for cancer. You know we’ve got important work to do. We don’t need people who want to sit on the floor and play on their telephones and smartphones.

Kim: So, clearly your work in the last couple of decades has proved to be well worth it at the University of Mississippi. Can you share more about what that journey has looked like? Even for how the campus looks, and then I actually want to jump over to more about you as the author and speaker. I have never been to the University of Mississippi. So, what has this whole process looked like as far as not just changing? Well, I guess you changed the look of the team and how the team performs somehow. What about the way that the campus looks?

Jeff: Well, we’ve taken the campus from a—I guess, we have a lot of pretty trees and the buildings are nice to where we came in. And we were actually able to get some one time funding for landscaping where we came and upgraded around the buildings and made it look like somebody loved the buildings and loved the landscaping that there was ownership. And that was the big part is this— We didn’t get a ton of money to do things online that why we really didn’t get a lot of money for about three years. And so what we had to do, is just do the basics but make it look clean, make it look loved, make it look like somebody had pride of ownership. So that when people drove by they go: “Hey, somebody is taking care of this you know, there’s no leaves in the area, there’s no– there’s no litter. The place looks nice, it’s a fire ant hill”. You know, we have a lot of fire ant hills here and there it’s sort of a nuisance there. They’re being taken care of and just put that pride back into it. It has to show by beauty, it has to show by the reflection of the environment that we create. There’s a statistics out there that says, “62 percent of prospective students will make a decision in the first few minutes of a college visit if they’re coming in based on the appearance of the campus”. So, I’ve got a few minutes to connect with that mom and dad. With that future student to get them excited about coming to Ole Miss, so we call that, “the wow factor”.

We’re always going after the “wow factor” places where people drive by and they literally go: “Wow that’s nice. I like that at my house”. Or something like that. That’s been the challenge but it’s been the fun and I think we’ve done pretty good. We’ve gotten the five awards national championships so I think the campus has really turned around.

Kim: You’ve actually got me thinking now about, how this can be used at our houses and also in our businesses even just our presence on social media or on our Web site. I know it’s not exactly the same, but put that pride into your Web site into your online persons. Don’t let the weeds be there and make it look and make people feel welcome and love it and want to know more.

Jeff: True.

Kim: The extent of my landscaping right now, is that there are only a couple of weeds.If anybody was drive-by my house quite honestly, they would see that my children found the bucket of chalk and decorated my drawn store.

Jeff: Well good for them.

Kim: Yeah, but it’s life.

Jeff: Right.

Kim: So, there’s a family portrait on draw store.

Jeff: Love it.

Kim: Unless the rain goes horizontal, it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.

Jeff: Well, that’s good. We know gardens, if you don’t do anything with a garden, eventually something will grow. And it’s usually things that we don’t want to grow, weeds and things that were not really particularly fond of. So, you have to be proactive, you have to be organized, you have to be positive— positively, productively engaged in the process. So, we want our teams to be that way. And I just found that if we work on building them, they’ll take care of building a great great campus and they do and we, we use this thing called “Landscape University” that we developed and it’s a way that we take our staff— new staff and our existing staff through training, through our standards. And it’s a way that allows us to scale quickly and quickly get a new person to a high standard to knowing what to do and how to do it. We created this whole landscape University several years ago and managed it and it has really saved us tons and tons of time in the way we do things.

Kim: Are you teaching this to other organizations as well?

Jeff: We are. We teach this. I teach it. I do, that’s part of my professional consulting that I do. It’s been funny because other people recognize that it’s not just a landscaping tool, it’s a tool to use in the workplace and so yes, I’ve been fortunate enough to get to teach other people how to do that in their own businesses.

Kim: Yeah. I can definitely see how it would be so useful from large corporations even down to small businesses like mine so, think something good.

Jeff: Will it get you as an owner. You get your hands around your business and then you have peace about, “OK this person is going to go through a process and learn step by step the things they need to know”. And you don’t have to sit there and stress out and go: “Oh my goodness! Did we teach him about this? or Did she learn how we’re supposed to do this? Oh my goodness! Who’s going to teach them all that”? And you know, you feel like you have to do all the teaching or somebody you’re one qualified person. This frees you— Landscape university frees you up for multiple people to teach it and the great thing about this is our existing staff had a lot of input into the classes. So, it became their program where they embraced it and really took ownership in Landscape University as their own.

Kim: So, you said Landscape University is a big portion of your consulting. How did you transition into speaking and becoming an author? Was that something that even started before the role that you have today?

Jeff: Well, I’ve always enjoyed speaking and taking people to the next level. I like to see other people become successful. And so, it’s I guess it’s in my DNA and I have talked to my— it’s part of the vision of Ole Miss, is going out to help communities, and help states, and our country to become the best it can be. So, it just really fits in well with our already vision here. So, I get to do that and explore those opportunities where I can help others and I think one of my big role models growing up though was Zig Ziglar, really enjoyed him as a speaker in his storytelling and of course he’s from Yazoo City Mississippi right down the road from us here and really just always felt like he had a great impact for positive change in our culture. And I think in a lot of ways I want to emulate him in that way.

Kim: If you had to pick a favorite TEDx Talks, and a favorite book, or perhaps I should say, the most impactful. Would you be able to do that?

Jeff: Sure. The book that I read the most is— most often is “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. That’s one of my favorites. Just wisdom from the ages and from the nineteen twenties and thirties. The disciplines that he talks about. And then, the “TED Talks”, there’s several TED Talks that I’ve really enjoyed, but I think Simon…

Kim: Simon Sinek.

Jeff: Thank you, Sinek. How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Yes it’s one of my favorite.

Kim: Yes. That is by far my favorite. I only read Think and Grow Rich. This year, it took me way too long to read it. Listeners, if you haven’t read it please listen to it.

Jeff: Did you like it?

Kim: I did. Actually, the only part I didn’t like about it, was that the copy I had didn’t have page numbers. So, I couldn’t refer to anybody what page I was reading when I wanted to say, “hey, read this”. It’s phenomenal. I loved though how he was talking about having his internal board of advisors you know, who would be on that board of advisors and it really got me thinking about who would be on my board that I would talk to regardless of whether they’re alive or deceased. But who would be on my board. Who would be on your board Jeff?

Jeff: Well,I was gonna ask you the same thing. But quickly, the people that I put on my board so far have been Dwight Eisenhower, Jesus, Ronald Reagan, who else— Napoleon Hill, Margaret Thatcher, Les Brown were some of the ones that I put on mine and Abraham Lincoln. I haven’t finished my board though, because I like to add new people.

Kim: I have to admit that I can’t answer who I would put on my board because although I’ve thought about it and I will say Jesus. Jesus was on my board but, that goes along with the saying: “What would Jesus do”. I really don’t know who else that would be, I know who mentors are that I look at for inspiration today. I look at Brendon Burchard, and Danielle LaPorte, and a whole ton of others. But looking back at the past, I don’t know this is going to sound goofy but, a lot of people have always told my mother that she looked like Amelia Earhart and I love. I don’t know much about Amelia Earhart except for I know she was a pilot. Right?

Jeff: Yeah.

Kim: OK. I can see the pictures, I just want to make sure she wasn’t just on the plane. I am smart and I love that she was doing something just so outside of her time not the flying but, for a woman flying but I think regardless of whether man or woman just being brave enough to take that step outside.

Jeff: So true.

Kim: Yeah. She’s a step into the unknown. I’m going to have to challenge myself now to really start thinking about who I do have on my board or, because it will sound silly to people who haven’t read it. I don’t want people to think that we’re just talking to ourselves but looking inwardly and deciding you know. How would those people move forward?

Jeff: It’s a great book, it’s a great exercise, it forces you to slow down. And it begins to make you think, and meditate, and to draw upon the wisdom that you’ve heard from those that you’ve read about it and learned about in history. It’s a discipline. It truly is a discipline, it’s not a flippant exercise that you can just sort of go through and it’s something that I’m still working on. I have not mastered it as Napoleon Hill has, but it is definitely something fun to work through.

Kim: Jeff, what did you want to be when you were growing up?

Jeff: I want to be a forest ranger. You want to sit in one of those big tall towers and overlook all those pretty trees in the forest.

Kim: If you could do anything different, would you want to? Would you go back and become a forest ranger, or do you like where you are?

Jeff: No.. I’m glad I didn’t become a forest ranger. That would have been kind of a boring job now, but I would have enjoyed it for about a week and just hanging out up there. But I understand I do a lot of paperwork now so, I was really glad I didn’t go that direction. But now I really like the career choices. I mean, it’s interesting that you know failure is a great teacher and many times my path has been guided by what looked like failure but really were just closed opportunities of direction, totally new directions that I needed to go in. So, I was a marketing major, failed marketing class and college. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t enjoy much about the whole process but, I truly enjoyed horticulture and found that, that was just a good fit for me and glad that it happened that way.

Kim: What was your first job?

Jeff: Well, my dad made sure I worked all growing up so I mean, I was driving tractors before I was 12 years old and chainsaws and those type of things so I knew how to work. But my first real job that I was at work and when my dad is, I work in a canning plant in Douglas County High School in Georgia where people brought in their vegetables, fresh vegetables, and things and we would run them through a canning process. And cook them for them in the hot heats– heat this these big steamers will just heat up really really really well. Oh, she’s very hot. And man I’m telling you, that room was just unbearable. And then it plus, you didn’t have air conditioner at all. But yeah, that’s what I did my first, I think seventh grade or eighth grade summer maybe Ninth Grade Summer.

Kim: Oh wow. I never even knew there were places like that specially even in schools.

Jeff: Yeah. I don’t think there are many around anymore.

Kim: No. As your children have been growing up but, what insight have you given them as far as choosing the path that they want to follow?

Jeff: Yeah. Who you hang around with will influence your entire life. If you choose to hang around people of bad character, they will pull you down to their level. If you choose to hang around with people with good character, good morals, goals, you value growth, you will become more like them. And that is probably— one of the number one values we talk about a lot is who you hang around is very important. We talk a lot about faith and that being real that it’s not just on a Sunday morning decision it’s part of who you are, it’s your DNA. It becomes you and you can express that in a lot of different ways. It’s not about rules. It’s about a relationship.

Kim: That is huge. Specially faith and I’ve been amazed to watch even just my littles, who are 2 and 4. They actually get frustrated with me when we’re in the car and I’m singing along to K-Love. We listen to K-Love everywhere except for, when I’m listening to a podcast. However, they get frustrated when I sing. Listeners, you’ve heard me say once and I’ll say it many more times. I won’t sing on an episode if I can help it because I know I’ll get a dozen plus unsubscribes immediately. That’s how bad it is though. My kids tell me to be quiet so they can listen to the songs on the radio and they love hearing them, embrace the faith through music and beyond.

Jeff: That’s great. That’s a superway. I mean my wife Suzanne, did that often as she knows if the Bible tells us to raise our children. You know it and those ways and it’s reaping the benefits of so much of her work and raising them that way, that having the singing, the fun times, but constantly talking about the relationship with God.

Kim: Do you see a difference between growing leaders in our home, and growing leaders within the work place?

Jeff: There’s a lot of similarities and there are some differences. I mean, it’s similar that you’re trying to cultivate those seeds of greatness inside both. You want them to be inspired, you want them to go and see opportunities, take responsibilities, and not look for excuses. I mean, that’s true for both sides. You know, it’s a little bit different though because you can get a little bit more personal with your family. You can talk about your faith with your family and you can talk about those things that are truly in the core of your life. Where at work, you tend to have to close some of that off to some extent that you can’t openly talk about your faith in work and I say I think most people just respect that but you can’t talk about core values that the group shares. You know one of our core values, for us is lead by example and that works for family and for career. But, yeah there’s a lot of similarities and lots of similarities in both the home and the workplace.

Kim: I love that about core values. I’ve also seen a pair of communication between the home and in the workplace. Whether it’s the communication between my team members night or the communication between my client tonight. It has to be there, it has to be open. We have to know that it can flow both ways. And I found the same to be true with my kids and I sometimes so, you know I to remind my kids that it needs to be with respect and especially the older ones keep the sarcasm out.

Jeff: It’s true

Kim: Because we can fall into that trap. It’s a good trap but, being too much like friends. And then when work needs to get done, it’s too relaxed and it becomes a hassle. And I think the same can be said in a workplace you know, if we get too comfortable sometimes we become relaxed about our work and that’s when the weed start growing, right?

Jeff: That’s right. Yeah, the leaders always got to keep his or her eye on what was the purpose of the organization is you know, at work. I mean it’s great that we have good relationships and we get along. But you know ultimately our goal here is to create an incredible experience, an incredible campus. And so, you have to go through the steps to get that but it’s your right. You have to keep your eye on those things that are important.

Kim: Definitely. Jeff, this has been an amazing conversation. Where can listeners connect with you online and get to know more about you and what you do?

Jeff: Kim, at jeffmcmanusspeaking.com. All my social media there, love for to hear from your listeners there, and Kim, I’d like to offer I do a one-day leadership training and I want to give that to your listeners for FREE. It’s a PDF file if they want to download that from: jeffmcmanusspeaking.com/+.

Kim: Oh I love that. Yeah listeners, this will be available as well. All the resources, and tools, and books, that we’ve talked about. You’ll be able to find these links on this show notes at thekimsutton.com/PP164. Jeff, thank you so much. I know I’ll be going and downloading right away.

Jeff: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Kim, for having me and thank you for what you’re doing.

Kim: Oh, thank you as well. Jeff, do you have the last bit of parting wisdom or a golden nugget that you can pass to listeners?

I believe that, I will take a quote from Napoleon Hill from “Think And Grow Rich” that has helped me when I wanted to quit when I wanted to stop. And the quote is: “One of the most common causes of failures is the habit of quitting when one is overtaken by temporary defeat, is just temporary. Don’t stop. Keep persevering”.