The Happy Logger – Crew Culture for Profitable Logging

Logging crew culture is a key to best Forest Value Recovery.  But crew culture affects much more than just forest harvest returns and profitability.  Safety, environmental, staff retention and financial performance all track with trends in culture and professionalism.

So why are crew culture and professionalism so rarely explored and addressed when they are so central to success?  What happens when these are given priority?

People come to the forest from trades, schools, training, or simply wanting a change.   A contractor must train, encourage and develop them to be productive and safe in a harsh environment, where rocks roll and trees fall.

A contractor needs to finance gear, find work for it and keep it running, every day.   And it is easy to think this game is all about the gear.  But the efficiencies that allow targets to be exceeded reliably, and workers to go home safely, year after year, relate to leadership and how the crew functions as a unit.

A rabble can be shaped into a successful team by the leader who understands people.  A team which gives you the best chance, of maximising forest value recovery and of meeting any other measure of success.

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One logger stood out in the forests I worked in.  His crews were the happiest, safest and most reliable and productive.   Whichever measure was applied, they usually came out on top.   They never made excuses.  They didn’t need to.

A single disadvantage of employing this contractor, was that he was able to retire young.  Naturally, he had a succession plan, with suitable team members to sell to and coach into their new business.  With excellent results.

It is interesting how it is never just one thing, when it comes to workplace culture.

I asked this contractor how it was that he produced awesome performance, seemingly while accessing the same pool of workers as everyone else.  He replied that worker selection and development are key.  But, there are times when a worker is given the clear option of shaping up, or walking ten miles to the highway, for the lonely hitchhike home.    Any who were a liability to the spirit, productivity or safety of the team were given ‘The Talk’.

The golden invitation was not, as we hear often in the forest – “My way or the highway”.  But rather – “If you want to stay – observe how we operate here, decide for yourself, and make your own standards match ours”.

This approach, it turns out, is a path to selecting and developing more happy, safe and productive loggers.  Professionals, who are dependably present with their work (more on this later).  Their boots are always laced, their gear shipshape, their commitment to self improvement is solid, and their awareness of the wider plan and personal contribution to it, is acute.  None of these are small things.

Professionals will make the most of your forest harvest for you and at least risk and cost.  As forest owners or managers, you will similarly need to select and train for professionalism and aligned culture and reward it well.  It is the only way to best results.

Many thanked Richard for ‘The Talk’ years later.  Others took the walk.  Personal responsibility and professionalism aren’t for everyone.

Planning for improved culture, inviting outside perspectives, and re-engaging your people can pay massive dividends in your forest harvest outcomes.

You may find this article by Wendy Farrand interesting. Wendy coaches logging crews to work as excellent teams. https://www.cirrelt.ca/cofe2011/proceedings/13-Farrand.pdf

What steps have worked best to improve culture in your operations?  What else would you like to try?  How far are you willing to go toward improvement?  Let me know.

James Powrie – Director – RedAxe Forestry Intelligence

James Powrie is a Freelance Forester and has worked in all aspects of forestry since starting with the NZ Forest Service in 1984.

He offers Education, Planning Assistance and Coaching for Forest Owners, Directors, Investors and others wanting to Maximise Forest Value Recovery at Harvest.

He is also available for conference sessions, operations reviews and workshops, by arrangement.

james@forestvaluerecovery.com    |   +64 272 757757    |    www.forestvaluerecovery.com

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