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Profit Power: How to ensure culture is more than a buzzword at your company

June 15, 2021 -  By

Editor’s note: This year’s LM150 content centered around how a strong culture helped LM150 companies prosper. Catch all of our LM150 content here.

(Photo: gustavofrazao / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

(Photo: gustavofrazao /
iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Every company has a culture, but how do you make sure your culture is more than just a buzzword at your company?

Even though I wrote the book on this topic, Become A Destination CompanyI also polled a group of my clients to gather fresh anecdotes to share with you about company culture.

Based on this feedback and my notes, I found that a strong culture is based on seven pillars that you can implement:

1. Put values into actions

All great cultures are built on this foundation: Using core values to hire and fire employees, and to give feedback. During a performance review, discuss your values, what the employee is doing well and where the company can also do better.

Discussion about values should pervade every meeting, as a way to give life and meaning to your values, don’t assume everyone “gets it.”

Ted Lucia, president of Lucia Landscaping, has created a mantra of “one team” as his company’s most important value and has created a separate logo to highlight it. This mantra finds its way into every interview, team huddle and everyday conversations between employees.

Wade Vugteveen, head of operations at DeHamer Landscaping, says “family first” is one of his values. He gives three mandatory Fridays off a summer to promote their family-first culture.

As Element Outdoor Living owner Blair Walton and LanDesign owner George Tucker said, good culture is about the little things — the respect you give employees and they give each other in every interaction.

Do you live by your values in the rush of spring and the heat of summer? You must also put values to work on your clients’ property. Treat clients with respect and don’t put up with subpar quality from crew members. Redo work when necessary.

2. Make recognition part of company life

I can tell a company’s culture by its use of wall space. Are walls empty, or full of positive symbols and photos?

Arnie Arsenault Jr., owner of A. Arsenault & Sons, has a high five board where all client compliments are posted. His company also has an app where compliments are shared among all the employees and where employees can comment and give each other high fives.

Breaking bread with employees is a classic way to recognize your employees and show you care. Food and eating together underpin all great company cultures.

The best-performing companies put on a food-based event at least monthly, mixing food and games to build bonds. One contractor I know goes to the extreme of impromptu lunches, cookouts, breakfasts and free food every day (a fully stocked fridge, cereal, snack bar, fresh fruit, juice, etc.).

Gerry Bower, president and CEO of TLC Total Lawn Care, said just because his culture has taken on a life of its own doesn’t mean he can take it for granted. He finds when he takes extra time to recognize his staff’s good deeds, their pride grows and stays high even through tough periods.

3. Use team meetings for teaching and accountability

Culture lives in the interactions of people and teams. Meetings are a perfect vehicle for teaching culture.

Mark Hutten, president of Hutten & Co., uses weekly meetings to collaborate and build strong teams, with revolving topics such as training on company standards, strategic planning, monthly goal progress updates, simple monthly financial and KPI metrics and recognition for a job well done.

Team meetings, like football huddles, are your stage for setting the tone.

4. Make it personal

Your employees want to know that you truly care about them.

Seth Kehne, president of The Lawn Butler, shows he cares and wants to keep his employees safe and healthy by providing the opportunity for employees to get vaccinations at work, not just during COVID-19, but also flu shots in the winter.

As one client told me, “I reach out on an individual basis to our team members. I am careful to reference past news/events/concerns that have been mentioned, showing them that we care, we listen and we are genuine.”

Molly John, co-owner of M.J. Design, said she takes time to talk to team members, getting to know more about them personally. She said this shows employees she cares about their well-being and family. “I let them know that the work is important, but they are more important,” she says.

5. Walk the walk

As an owner, Molly John said she is willing to do what she asks of her team. No matter how busy you are, your people love seeing you on job sites. Get out in the field and work alongside crews in the beautiful sunshine (or pouring rain).

Sean Baxter, president of Lawn and Landscape Solutions, takes his job as owner very seriously. “Leading by example of who you want the company to be is important. I wear our gear each day, I bring my lunch, I strive to be on time to employee-related meetings,” he said. “I use positive language about other employees and clients when talking. If I make a mistake or do something that may be offensive to someone, I apologize for it no matter who it is. This is how we show over time what we are made of!”

Greg Semmer, president of Semmer Landscape, shared, “It starts at the top with owners and executives creating an atmosphere of we and not us vs. them. It’s more than talk. It is creating a team atmosphere every single day where everyone is just as important as the next person.”

6. Use aspirational language

You can reinforce the culture you want by the nouns and the vocabulary you use that sends the right signals.

Loriena Harrington, owner of Beautiful Blooms, gave some examples:

  • Instead of employee, use words like team members, associates or co-workers
  • Instead of a job, call it a career, or profession or passion.
  • Instead of a customer, call them clients, supporters or even fans.

Look at your company terms and language, do they align with an aspirational culture?

7. Be a great place to work

Lastly, culture doesn’t work when the company is not set up to excel:

  1. Know what your competition is paying and make sure your pay rises to the level of professionalism you want to attract.
  2. Ensure your company has clear lines of authority and modern human-resource tools and practices.
  3. Use career paths so ambitious people can build a dream career.
  4. Offer clear roles and solid training so you can empower and trust your people.
  5. Motivate employees with a compelling company purpose that every employee can get behind when they come to work — a purpose larger than making a paycheck.

Marcus Kerske, owner of Gardens of Babylon, says he looks to make decisions based on his main vision for his company. “I want everyone that works with us to say ‘this is the best company I have ever worked for,'” he says.

Your challenge: pulling it together

Barney Naylor, founder and president of Naylor Landscape, said improving his company culture included identifying, defining and promoting his company’s core values. It also meant removing people that didn’t fit the values and adding a few that did. He said making a few policy changes created a profound improvement in the culture. “After that, it was like, get out of the way and let it grow! It didn’t change overnight, but it did change, slowly getting better every day, every month, every year,” he said.

Use these pillars to identify where your company excels, and where it can improve. Find one step you can take to make your culture stronger tomorrow.

You know you are doing a good job when your people are showing up most days with a smile on their face, happy to be at work at your company.

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Jeffrey Scott

About the Author:

Jeffrey Scott, MBA, author, specializes in growth and profit maximization in the Green Industry. His expertise is rooted in his personal success, growing his own company into a $10 million enterprise. Now, he facilitates the Leader’s Edge peer group for landscape business owners—members achieve a 27 percent profit increase in their first year. To learn more visit www.GetTheLeadersEdge.com.

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