Case study: A fundamental idea


One landscape company builds its culture by communicating company values consistently.

While Heads Up Landscape Contractors (HULC) —a full-service landscaping company providing design, construction, irrigation and grounds maintenance in Albuquerque, N.M.— always has had a strong culture, its leaders say formalizing some of its fundamentals in a program called “The Heads Up Way” has been a practical approach for training new employees and reinforcing values to existing employees.

It all began when David Friedman, a consultant and founder of High Performing Culture, came to give a presentation. The HULC leaders began to recognize the potential value of a formalized way to present the company’s fundamentals. These fundamentals, created by the company’s owner and founder, Gary Mallory, are values the management team believes in deeply and wanted employees to embrace.

After Friedman’s presentation, the HULC leaders set out to create 10 solid points that demonstrated the fundamentals, but they ended up with more than three times that many.

“As management, we spent a lot of time brainstorming about what it was that was important to our company and our culture,” says Shawn Stomp, vice president and CFO. “Our initial list actually exceeded 31, but we combined a few.” Some examples include “Think and act like an owner” and “Keep things fun.”

Every Monday morning an email goes out with a “fundamental of the week.” The newsletter shares a value with an anecdote about how an employee applied it in business or made a better decision by following the specific fundamental.

“We’re now having the ‘fundamental of the week’ stories written by individual employees—for example, an account manager sharing an experience with a client and how they applied the fundamental,” Stomp says. “Getting our people more involved with applying these fundamentals regularly has been the whole goal of this, and it’s been exciting to watch it happen.”

In addition to receiving a reminder about the weekly fundamental, all new employees receive a list of the fundamentals on a card they can carry with them. The company also created flip-over desk calendars featuring the fundamentals as reminders for office staff. The fundamentals are presented in both English and Spanish.
Stomp says that “ritualizing the concept” has helped it become an everyday part of business instead of some far-off idea. Whenever they can, managers use the fundamentals to talk about how good decisions were made—or how something could have been done differently.

“When we talk to co-workers about their performance, we can turn to the fundamentals and say, ‘Here’s what you did great—that’s in line with our fundamentals—and here is something you could have done differently,’” Stomp says. “It’s basically taken a strong company culture and made it stronger by having concrete fundamentals to which we consistently refer.”

After more than a year of discussing and refining the fundamentals, talking about them hasn’t gotten old because there are always new ways employees are applying them in business, Stomp says. Plus, the company is always looking for creative ways to reemphasize its core values.

“One idea we are considering is to create a video with an employee reading the fundamental of the week and sharing a personal story,” Stomp says. “We’re always thinking about ways we can keep it fresh and interesting as a teaching opportunity.”

Photo: Heads Up Landscape Contractors

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Casey Payton

Payton is a freelance writer with eight years of experience writing about the landscape industry.

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