Thank you to Kelly Dowell of KeldoDigital.com and Dowco Enterprises, Inc. for today’s guest post. Today, we will learn about the importance of striking a balance between automation and personalization: how to install processes and systems as you grow, but make sure the things that make your company human remain personalized. In short, how do you keep your company a great place to work? -Greg
Startup is Easy, Growing is Hard
Chances are, when you first started your landscaping company, you knew everybody’s name.
The team was small and tight-knit. You knew each person’s life story, their likes and dislikes, maybe even the names of all their kids. You’d shake hands with everyone on a regular basis, and the overall vibe of the company was more like a family than like a corporation.
If your company has grown rapidly, though, you may be experiencing some challenges.
You might not get to see everyone every day any more. You may no longer be the one in charge of hiring or onboarding new team members. And the warm, authentic personal connections—the human element that made your company such a great place to work in the beginning—may be starting to fade.
Don’t Let Growth Challenges Sink Your Company…
If you let yourself get complacent about your employees’ morale, you’ll find it’s hard to keep great talent to power your business.
Talented people are always in high demand, and employees who feel taken for granted will likely go find another job. The last thing any business owner needs is for their most promising team members to leave just as their company is growing… and they have a full roster of clients waiting for the great service they’ve come to expect!
Be just as committed to your employees as you are to your service or best clients, because your employees are what make providing that service possible for those top-tier clients in the first place.
Here are 5 areas where lawn and landscape companies need to narrow their focus on to make sure growth doesn’t ruin all of the things that make them great places to work.
Try a few of these ideas to build a thriving company culture, and you’ll see the end result in lower turnover, higher productivity, and a palpable sense of positive energy around the office.
1. Recruiting & Hiring Process
As you grow, people will be looking at your website. Having a strong visual element is important.
Make it easy for prospective employees to visualize working with your company. Have professional photographs taken of your trucks, your equipment, and your team.
Video is powerful, and so are testimonials. If possible, you might want to interview key team members and ask them what they love about working for your company. Nothing fancy is needed, just a short, simple video shot on a high-quality camera.
A strong website will make it obvious that your company is established, well-equipped, and that you employ passionate people who enjoy their jobs. A less-than-polished web presence may make it difficult to attract high-quality recruits.
Make sure the hiring process is well-organized, with clear instructions at each step in the process. Once you’ve attracted prospective employees, they should know exactly what the next step is. Your relationship with the employee starts the second you respond to their application.
One great way to set the tone from the start is to set up friendly automated emails or text messages that remind the prospect of their interview date and time and let them know what to expect and how to prepare. Clear communication from the very beginning of the relationship makes the hiring process go smoothly, and reminding prospects helps them to take their interview seriously and sets them up for success.
If recruiting and hiring top talent has ever been a struggle for your company, you can check out my online course for more information. This course goes in depth on how to find quality employees without the headaches of the “hope-and-pray” method.
2. Onboarding Process
Years ago, we had a guy who worked for us who didn’t know where the bathroom was until after his first week. He thought he had to go to the gas station across the street!
Embarrassing story for us, but these things sometimes happen—particularly in fast-paced, seasonal industries. Schedules get hectic and details fall through the cracks.
Fortunately, there are systems you can put into place to make sure that doesn’t happen.
We learned our lesson and we now have a short video that goes over all of the “first day details” for our new employees. The video shows them where to park, what door to use, and what to wear when they come to work. It lets new employees know that they must bring a lunch each day, covers safety protocols, and yes…it shows them where the bathroom is.
Creating a handbook or a video helps to standardize the communication of all these little details, and that takes away the bottleneck of information. There’s no need to rely on one of your field supervisors or an HR person to relay these basics when you can record the video once and replay it for each new group of employees. (You can ask me more about developing an online orientation training class at [email protected].)
At the same time, you want to treat new employees as individuals and make them feel special during their onboarding. One great way to do this is to assemble welcome gift bags for each employee.
There’s no need to spend a great deal of money here—you can buy inexpensive gift bags and tissue paper, and make sure each bag is ready to with safety glasses, hearing protection, a cap, all of their issued shirts in their size, etc. Label each bag with the employee’s name, and have your receptionist present it to them with a smile when they show up for their very first shift. Make it clear that you are expecting them and welcoming them to your team.
As your company grows, you may trade up to fancier bags, monogrammed shirts, maybe even put folks’ names on their caps… but the heart of the matter will stay the same: make sure you are giving your employees a warm welcome that makes them feel like an important part of your team from their first day.
3. Communication Standards
Talk with your people. Make it a scheduled, non-negotiable part of running your business.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of being bogged down with all of the responsibilities you have as a business owner, but maintaining regular communication with your team is extremely important.
Many landscape companies practice a daily Morning Stretch.
Establishing this as a daily touchpoint helps to build community and camaraderie. Morning Stretches are a great time to celebrate your mission statement and connect with the larger purpose of your company. You might even want to have a different team member take a turn leading stretches or reciting the mission statement each day, giving every person the chance to shine.
Be present and observant when you attend Morning Stretches with your employees. Focus on the people and the energy of the group, and listen to your gut. If you happen to know that one individual did something praiseworthy the day before, you might want to take this opportunity to recognize them for their great work while the team is assembled. If it looks like one employee could use some encouragement or a kind word after the group has been dismissed, act on that instinct.
In general, seek out opportunities to make genuine human connections with your employees. Even if it seems minor to you, a simple and heartfelt “hey, thanks for your hard work the other day,” can go a long way!
Another great way to foster regular communication is through Weekly 1-1s with team members. As the leader, you may only be speaking with two to four individuals every week, but you’re gaining priceless insight into the organization as you talk with people at all levels of your company.
Sitting down for Weekly 1-1s gives your team members an opportunity to collect their thoughts and bring their concerns to you on a regular basis. Here’s a sample script to get you started:
“How was your week last week?”
“What are you most proud of, and what did you do really well?”
“What were the biggest challenges you had, and how can I help?”
The questions and the conversations might seem simple, but over time, as you actively communicate with people outside of your inner circle, you will build a bridge between labor and management. By listening attentively and taking action in response to your employees’ concerns, you demonstrate that you are there for them and that you care.
Don’t wait until issues crop up to have conversations. Create a system to follow, proactively: regular, scheduled opportunities to give your employees your full attention, deliver praise, and offer support.
Make it clear that you are open to communication, capable of listening, and committed to regular check-ins. After all, if your employees are not having open conversations with you, they may be talking with (or complaining to) other people. Take ownership of the culture of the company and set yourself up for long-term success by keeping your employees engaged and making it easy and natural for them to talk with you.
4. Celebrations & Appreciation
As the team grows and people get busy with urgent projects, holding large celebrations can become a logistical challenge. All the same, it’s worth it to make regular celebrations and appreciation a part of your company’s DNA.
Figure out what your own style is as an owner—if you love to plan your company’s annual barbecues, go for it! If you tend to forget about them until the last possible second, then schedule them in advance and outsource the logistics to a trusted team member. The important thing is to find a way to get it going, and establish a tradition in your organization.
Be sure to mark major company milestones and employee birthdays with celebration, and take the time to celebrate any employees with especially long tenure at your company. Remember to move your employees emotionally when you choose the way you’ll celebrate them.
For example, you could send your star employee out for a steak dinner… or you could send them and their family on a trip to Disney World!
One of those things pulls at the heart-strings a lot harder than the other. Make rewards personal and memorable whenever you can.
In addition to these larger milestones, it’s important to remember to celebrate the little victories too. Something beautiful happens when you stop to tell someone they’re doing a great job and how the company is exponentially better because of their work, and that should be a regular part of your organization’s culture along with the large-scale celebrations.
Be creative, and give your organization’s leaders license to surprise, delight, and reward achievements in personal ways. This can be as simple as a small budget for occasional ice cream trips at the field supervisor’s discretion, or as elaborate as an in-house currency of “praise bucks” that get handed out whenever a supervisor sees a job well done, and which can then be exchanged for small prizes back at the office.
Don’t be afraid to have fun with this. You could even create a ridiculous novelty trophy that gets awarded to a different employee each week—a rubber chicken, a golden toilet seat mounted on a plaque, a framed photo of the owner in a top hat and a monocle—the idea is to inject some joy into the workday, and to celebrate your employees in a memorable way that creates a sense of goodwill, tradition, and community.
As you grow, you have the opportunity and the responsibility to create a company culture that is positive for everyone. For an excellent read on this subject with several actionable tips for helping you manage in a positive way, check out the short book “Whale Done! The Power of Positive Relationships” by Ken Blanchard. If you consciously accentuate the positive in your employees every day, then they will feel appreciated and empowered to do a great job, and they will be invested in the success of your team for the long term.
5. Continuous education/learning
Build in systemic ways for your employees to continue to learn efficiently as your company grows, instead of relying on a field supervisor to handle all of your training. This could look like holding educational events for your staff and making recordings of those trainings, or using the ready-made Greenius online training platform.
The point here is to get everyone on the same page and avoid information bottlenecks. Just as I mentioned with the onboarding video example, it’s best if you don’t have to depend on one person to get all of the little details right. This way, you don’t need to worry quite as much about losing high-knowledge or high-value employees when you have a system in place for training new recruits.
At the same time, allow for personalization. People know how they learn best, and employees love to have control over their own destiny in this area. Consider creating an annual budget for continuing education for each employee to spend as they choose. They may decide to buy a set of business books, attend a small conference, or take an online course. On a regular basis, gather the team together to discuss what each team member has been learning on their own.
Empowering people to go out and educate themselves in the way that they’d like to learn allows them to take ownership of their role in the company. By giving your employees the responsibility to go after their own education, you’re encouraging a healthy sense of pride and independent thinking, and your team will benefit from the diversity of ideas.
They Say the Grass is Greener Where You Water It
Choose to invest in your people and in making your company a great place to work, and you’ll be rewarded with a great team that you can depend on for years to come as your business grows.
Save time and keep things efficient with standardization, and maintain an individual human touch by staying in close connection and communication with your team. As you grow, do everything you can to make sure that no matter how large your company gets, every team member is celebrated and welcomed as a part of the family.
As time goes on and as you implement these strategies, you can recruit and retain top talent and become the go-to company for quality landscaping in your area.
Kelly Dowell uses technology to develop sales, marketing and recruiting solutions for lawn and landscape leaders.