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Equip Expo education session recap: Finding the right fit for your culture

November 2, 2022 -  By

If it’s possible to judge the importance of an industry topic based on how many people are willing to attend a panel on the subject, then count culture in the workplace at the top of the importance list. Because at Equip Expo 2022, the “Your Company, Your Culture” panel welcomed a packed room to listen to the panel discussions.

Equip Expo attendees packed the house for the “Your Company, Your Culture” panel, moderated by LM Editor-in- Chief, Seth Jones. (Photo: LM Staff)

Equip Expo attendees packed the house for the “Your Company, Your Culture” panel, moderated by LM Editor-in-Chief, Seth Jones. (Photo: LM Staff)

Panelists included Larry Ryan, founder and president of Ryan Lawn & Tree; Ken Thomas, COO of The Greenery and principal at Envisor Consulting; Donna Vignocchi, president of ILT Vignocchi Landscape and Brian Brueggemann, operations consultant with Bruce Wilson & Co.

Thomas told the room that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being of the utmost importance, culture should rate at a 10 at everyone’s company.

“People want to work at a company they believe in, they trust and they feel like has the same beliefs that they have,” Thomas said. “Culture is driven by the values of the owner or the leadership team. We work very hard to reestablish the next-gen values based on what people really believe, especially the younger people coming up.”

Take the high road

Vignocchi Landscape has been in business in Northwest Chicago for 53 years. Vignocchi said her company’s culture came from her father, who founded the company.

“One of his favorite things to tell you when you start is, ‘we always take the high road because there’s less traffic,’” she said. “We always treat people with respect. We always try to develop our people. It’s important to know everybody. If you’re senior management, it’s important to know everybody’s name. It’s important to shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye.”

Brueggemann advised the room that there is no “silver bullet” to establishing a great culture.

“It’s not one thing that you do. There’s a quote I read, it said, ‘anything of value in your life is built on trust,’” Brueggemann said. “Your culture is built on trust because it’s valuable. Connect to your staff because that is what builds a great culture where someone down the street might offer 25 cents more (per hour), but they don’t want to leave this place because these guys are like family.”

Ryan told the room that he believes many people look down on the hard-working people in the field in the industry. It is his mission, he said, to elevate those people to feel like they’re heroes.

“My commitment for the rest of my life is to see that blue-collar worker elevated, to see our industry really treat people like they’re special,” he said. “I think we’re just starting to see that in our industry. Where we miss it in the industry is we don’t focus on growing people.”

What to look out for

More than half of the hour-long panel was dedicated to questions from the room. The first question to get the conversation going was, “is there an indicator to look for in the interview process that someone might not be a good fit for our positive culture?”

Ryan took that microphone and offered advice that got many in the room to nod in agreement.

“You can’t change somebody. If you need a smiler, then you have to hire a smiler,” Ryan said. “We’ll have (potential new hires) come and just ride along with us for a few hours and see if they would like us. There are a lot of questions you can’t ask, like ‘how old are you?’ and ‘what do you do for childcare?’ It’s amazing; when they ride along with you, they’ll tell you things you didn’t even ask. ‘Oh, you’re on your fourth wife? Wow!’ You have to cast a wide net, but you have to filter out the people that don’t fit your culture.”

Seth Jones

About the Author:

Seth Jones, a graduate of Kansas University’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, was voted best columnist in the industry in 2014 and 2018 by the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. Seth has more than 19 years of experience in the golf and turf industries and has traveled the world seeking great stories. He is editor-in-chief of Landscape Management, Golfdom and Athletic Turf magazines. Jones can be reached at sjones@northcoastmedia.net.

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