Peak performance: Three keys to growth for GreenEarth Landscape Services

August 4, 2017 -  By

Shawn Knight (left) and Jeremy Durgan, co-owners of GreenEarth Landscape Services in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. Photos: Andrew wardlow,

The owners of GreenEarth Landscape Services are ‘scaling up’ by focusing on culture, communications and key metrics.

Jeremy Durgan isn’t afraid of an uphill climb. Literally. His personal goal is to summit all 53 of Colorado’s Fourteeners—the mountain peaks with elevation of at least 14,000 feet.

Professionally, he and his business partner Shawn Knight have a 10-year goal of expanding GreenEarth Landscape Services to 16 branches between Florida and Alabama by 2027. That’s not a small feat for the Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.-based company, which currently has two branches and will generate about $8 million this year.

Their ascent hasn’t—and won’t—be easy, but when you consider the balance these two partners have struck, the plans they have in place and the processes they’ve outlined for executing them, it doesn’t seem insurmountable.

The crux

Durgan and Knight met more than a decade ago running parallel businesses. Durgan’s company was focused on landscape maintenance, and Knight’s favored installation. They’d worked together on a few projects, and they both wanted to grow their companies. Rather than becoming competitors, they decided in 2007 to join forces and become GreenEarth Landscape Services.

“That point was when the fun really began,” Durgan says. “We started at zero and put a new plan of attack in place to where we could be an organization that didn’t have a regional name or wasn’t stuck. We knew we didn’t want to get into commercial work and compete against Brickman and ValleyCrest. We wanted to own a niche in residential and boutique HOAs.”

That’s also when the hard work began—and not necessarily the type of labor the owners expected. In the beginning, they focused on doing quality work, Knight says. “At first, that’s OK,” he says. “That’s what gets people their start. But the hard work comes in when you realize that working with your people and giving them what they need can’t be done by just you—it has to be ingrained throughout your organization. That’s not an easy thing to do.”

The partners came to this cultural epiphany gradually over the years through various efforts and outside resources.

Early on, the duo connected with Ed Laflamme, a consultant with The Harvest Group. In 2012, they signed on for a six-year agreement with LandOpt, a licensing organization that provides coaching and systems to landscape companies.

“At that point, we had no account managers or sales reps, and they were able to coach us to put those things in place and help us build our financial plans,” Knight says. “Those two things were big changes for us.”

About two years ago, Durgan and Knight were on a hiking trip kicking around how to implement the concepts they’d read about in the Verne Harnish book “Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It…and Why the Rest Don’t,” a revision of his “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” book.

“We knew we needed (the Rockefeller Habits), but we needed somebody to help us put it in place,” Durgan says. The Rockefeller Habits are three things Harnish says successful firms get right: priorities, rhythm and data.

A few Google searches later, they connected with entrepreneur and business coach Andy Bailey, founder of Petra Coach, which helps clients implement the Rockefeller Habits, among other things.

“We knew it was going to be a roller coaster, but it’s been one of the best things we’ve done as a business,” Durgan says. Getting the entire team moving in the same direction was essential to this process, and it required a cultural shift within the business.

“Our No. 1 goal was to scale, but the staff was all on different pages,” Durgan says.

It hasn’t been easy, but they’ve made progress by defining their core purpose and values, implementing consistent communications and incorporating key metrics for accountability.

Cultural shift

Everything starts with GreenEarth’s core purpose—creating opportunities for growth—and core values, which are:

  • Grow with each other;
  • Responsive communication;
  • Own it;
  • Win and lose together;
  • Take the extra step; and
  • Humility and respect.

Before identifying these items, Durgan says his team members, if asked what the company does, would have said “cut grass and plant trees.”

“Now, they’ll tell you that we create opportunities for growth,” he says. “They’ll tell you about our core purpose and core values and that cutting grass and planting trees are just a byproduct of us creating those opportunities for growth.”

Getting to that point was a crossroads for the business. In the ever-competitive labor market, these components have become a key part of the hiring process, Durgan says, especially when it comes to adding managers and sales staff.

“Our whole goal is to find as many A players as possible,” he says, detailing the hiring process for managers.

First, candidates fill out an online application, which includes an optional question. Applicants who choose not to answer it are disqualified.

“If you’re not an A player, you’re not going to fill it out,” Durgan says.

The next step is a call with the office staff, which includes a six-question interview. The interview questions are based on the company’s core values. For example, “Tell us a time when you had to use humility and respect with a coworker.”

Other culture-focused activities they’ve incorporated include creating a quarterly theme for the team to rally around. One quarter, for instance, GreenEarth focused on “180 degrees of culture,” where every team member had to share a story about witnessing another staffer embodying one of the core values for a total of 180 anecdotes.

“Once we reached (180), we did a companywide field day, which was a blast,” Durgan says. Another reward for achieving quarterly theme goals was extra hours of paid time off.

“People think it’s big stuff that makes a culture, but it’s really just the simple things and consistency that make the difference,” Durgan says.

Communication structure

One of the Rockefeller Habits is establishing a communication rhythm, and for GreenEarth, that includes daily huddles, weekly huddles and quarterly planning sessions.

These meetings have been essential to getting the company’s two branches—which operate 35 miles from each other—on the same page.

The daily huddles are quick updates where leadership team members review each person’s top tasks, help needed from others and how they are tracking on their goals. Weekly huddles are a time for team members to share their highs and lows, both personally and professionally.

By the numbers Helping frontline staff understand how they affect the firm’s overall performance has been a big focus. Photos: GreenEarth Landscape Services

“Now, we’ve transferred that down to our crew teams, who share their information in morning huddles,” Knight says. “It opens up communication throughout the organization, and that’s been great for us.”

Quarterly planning sessions with Bailey are another vital component. During these meetings, managers decide what the company’s priorities are going to be for the next 90 days and identify the quarterly theme.

Performance management

Over the years, GreenEarth has increased transparency and its focus on performance management.

About eight years ago, the company began pursuing the path toward open-book management, inspired by the book “The Great Game of Business” by Jack Stack. Durgan says the way the company has handled open book management has gone through some changes and challenges but has been worth it.

“There are no secrets at GreenEarth,” Durgan says—down to how much employees make. Team members know if they want to make more money, there are up to nine state certifications and licenses they can get, which the company will pay for.

“The only hitch is you do the studying on your own time,” Durgan says.

Employees are also eligible for incentives based on the key metrics GreenEarth tracks. The company created a spreadsheet in English and Spanish so employees can track their payouts by quarter if the team meets its goals.

These measurables—which were chosen because the entire team can affect them, Durgan says—are net profit, client retention percentage and the number of days in accounts receivable (A/R).

These items are monitored in real time in a goal-tracking software called Align. They are rated as green, yellow or red—or “super green,” which means the team is knocking it out of the park and will max out their bonus potential.

At first glace, A/R seems like an office-only problem. That’s not so, Durgan says. Today, the goal is to get paid in 20 days or less. The company settled on this metric after it realized that its cash-related struggles were often due to internal problems. For example, a customer could be refusing to pay because of a miscommunication about a few plants that weren’t installed. Maybe the foreman forgot to note that his crew was two plants short, but the project manager billed the client for the plants anyway, which left the client thinking, “Where’s my two plants?” To prevent concerns like this, GreenEarth implemented a job completion check-off sheet. The ultimate goal is to raise awareness about how frontline employees can impact A/R and the company’s performance.

“That increase in our cash cycle is important in performance,” Durgan says.

GreenEarth’s owners say these initiatives and their own ability to focus on culture and attract new people is what will get them to their high point.

Knight says, “I feel like we’re in a good spot, we’re concentrating on the right things and looking forward to going forward.”

Photos: Andrew wardlow, (Top), GreenEarth Landscape Services (Bottom)

This article is tagged with and posted in Cover story, Featured, July 2017
Marisa Palmieri

About the Author:

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

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