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Grow with Grunder: Focus on your people first

March 22, 2019 -  By
Person organizing calendar (Photo:


I am just back from Grow! 2019, the annual conference I lead for ambitious landscape pros. This year, we were fortunate to have Eric Chester — a leading expert on driving performance in the workplace — deliver the keynote address. An endlessly entertaining speaker, Eric had us leaning in to listen, learn and laugh about all the ways we should be building engaged teams and all the dumb stuff we’re doing instead not to. His main point: Leaders of great companies recognize that the employee — not the customer — is No. 1, and they focus their efforts on taking care of their people. They recognize and reward team members for what they’re doing right, instead of looking only for what’s wrong. When you take care of your team, your team will take care of your clients.

Yet, I know from all the landscape professionals I’ve coached over the years that many of us are just not very good at doing this. Despite our best intentions, it can be hard to focus on your people when you are juggling all the challenges of running a small business and clients’ seemingly incessant demands. I have struggled with this too in running Grunder Landscaping Co., and that’s why I’ve had to get very intentional in my approach. Here are the two simple but key tactics that have helped me the most in putting my people first:

Use your calendar. I live through my calendar, mapping out my days in great detail. If a task isn’t listed there, it’s very unlikely I’ll remember to do it. That’s why I track all the birthdays and anniversaries of the 65 people I work with in my calendar. It ensures I recognize each of them on their special days. I track all the thank-you notes I write to them there to ensure I don’t overlook anyone. I block off time for team appreciation events, whether it’s the season kickoff we’re about to hold, Friday afternoon cookouts in the summer or our annual outing to the baseball park. I set reminders for myself to leave doughnuts for our crews or to stop by job sites with Gatorade to replenish them on especially hot days. And I set aside time each week to review what I’m doing to ensure my team knows I appreciate the hard work they do. I don’t leave any of this to whim or chance — it’s too important not to plan for.

Be specific and sincere when you recognize your people. I have observed many owners compliment their people by telling them, “You did a great job!” Now, I believe these owners’ intentions were good, and giving a compliment is a start. But when a compliment is generic, it may come across as phony or patronizing. Think about how much more meaningful compliments are when you specifically call out what your team members did to warrant them. Not only do they know you noticed the extra effort they undertook, but they are also far more likely to repeat it. So thank them for edging the beds perfectly or for pruning the Japanese maple exactly as needed or for handling a difficult customer with calm professionalism. And if a client compliments you, be sure to pass it on to the team member or crew who are likely the ones who truly earned it.

As I am always telling the green industry owners I coach, your external customer service will never exceed your internal customer service. Treat your people right, and they’ll treat your clients right. No matter how busy you get in the coming season, don’t lose sight of this simple truth.

See you next month!

Marty Grunder

About the Author:

Marty Grunder is president and CEO of Grunder Landscaping Co. and The Grow Group, based in Dayton, Ohio.

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