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Chainsaw Wisdom
Arborist of the Future
Payback Time:  Mentoring the Next Generation

I woke up the other day and reached for my phone to do the morning news/social media checks, and up popped a Facebook memory of my felling a tree from 10 years earlier. For the most part, everything went well. The tree went where it was supposed to, and I’m here today to talk about it. There were a few procedural issues I shook my head at – issues that I either hadn’t yet learned about, or I ignored the relevance of the issue at the time. This time capsule was a perfect measuring stick for how my work procedures have changed. It also struck me how minor details in the short-term can become a major transformation in the long-term. Those minor details can work for you, or against you. Your enthusiasm or reluctance to improve is the determining factor.

My interest in continuous skills improvement came as a former athlete. I’ve been fortunate to have a fair bit of exposure to other competitive athletes that are drawn into tree work, and I’ve found the athlete mindset to be a consistent driver of positive change in the workplace. Change such as elongating tree worker careers, effective injury management and rehabilitation, higher productivity, increased happiness on the job, and most importantly on effective risk management. How we incorporate athletic-style coaching tools onto our playing field is not difficult. One coaching tool that could be introduced today is reviewing video of your work procedures with the help of a mentor. Video is a great resource for identifying difficulties, deficiencies or inefficiencies that you might not have noticed while it was happening, or you might have forgotten what happened as work carried on. Once the difficulty is revealed, strategies to overcome the difficulty are a lot easier to produce. If, for example, you found yourself in a tricky spot while work positioning for saw handling that ended up using up a lot of time and resulted in a poor falling notch: Why not ask how the task could go smoother next time?



After the video review, you can take your primary difficulties, deficiencies, or inefficiencies, and create quantitative measurements to use as a training tool. These measurements need to be defined carefully for consistent quality results and as such will become key performance indicators (KPIs), which are a fundamental to the high-performance athletics coaching world. KPIs are easily applied to individuals and teams in tree work (see the screen capture above for a basic KPI example chart on tree felling), and they take very little time to track. KPIs are ideally percentages (from scores or ratios) because they can be charted from a spreadsheet, allowing you to visualize changes in your procedural performance as you add more data (repetitions). Once you’ve defined your qualitative measurements and performed an initial benchmark (demonstrated to the best of your ability), it’s time to practice, review, add more data for a clearer picture of your average performance, and repeat.

The first step towards an athletic approach to professional development is recognizing that there is a need and want for improvement. Video review, KPIs, benchmarking, and target-setting can and will take your individual or team performance to the next level.

 - Gary Oaks