6 Steps to Creating a Culture of Leaders

By turning your landscaping company into a leadership factory, you can attract better entry-level workers while also helping to solve the skilled-manager issue.

Do your employees enjoy their jobs, take pride in what they do, and see opportunity to grow?
Do your employees enjoy their jobs, take pride in what they do, and see opportunity to grow?

Jobs in the landscape industry only appeal to a certain demographic of individuals. Let’s be honest, the work is mostly hard, physical labor out in the elements. The average Joe doesn’t want that kind of job. This can make finding qualified applicants very difficult.

Even more frustrating is trying to find those individuals who have the right combination of industry knowledge and leadership skills. Since the drop-out rate for crew members is often high, the pool of employees that could be developed into leaders is very small. Leaders are developed when good employees stay with you. Good employees stay with you when they understand their potential to learn and grow.

With this in mind, here is what we recommend to increase your chances of filling your company with great employees who have leadership potential.

1. Promote the green industry during applicant searches

The first step to attracting people to work for you is painting a great picture of what we do as landscapers. Show them the bigger picture of the green industry. Most people see jobs in our industry as low-paying, dead-end jobs. We must change that perception to attract great applicants.

Help applicants understand that they’re not just mowing lawns. Show them that they’re actually increasing the beauty and value of the properties they care for. Include some fun facts about the industry in all of your help-wanted ads. Applicants who see the bigger picture are likely to stay with you longer and be better leaders.

It should be noted that the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) has launched a new program called the Industry Growth Initiative to help promote the landscape industry. Part of that initiative is designed to expand the qualified talent pool of management and labor employees to allow landscape and lawn care businesses to grow. Contact NALP to learn more about the initiative and how you can make a monetary contribution to help fund the marketing effort.

2. Make your company stand out

The battle for the best employees is heating up. Your greatest opportunity to win that battle is to make your company irresistible.

Offer intangibles that your competition can’t or won’t. Things like flex-time, recognition programs, free uniforms (and/or uniform cleaning), meal/gas card rewards programs and four-day workweeks are all attractive to applicants.

Engage your employees in ways that your competition isn't. Be the local company with the newest, or at least cleanest, fleet of vehicles and equipment. Let them see your pride in the company. Offer a modern, well-equipped headquarters (showers, vending machines, break room with a TV, etc.).

3. Promote the green industry to your current team

Once you’ve got a great group of employees assembled, you need to continue to keep them excited about the landscape profession. Make them aware of the myriad of opportunities to learn and grow.

Subscribe to industry periodicals and place them where employees can easily access them. Advise employees to visit industry websites like greenindustrypros.com to see what's happening in the industry in the way of trends, best business practices and new products. Invest in good training materials and implement a system to expose your employees to that training.

Finally, share exciting industry information and happenings during your team meetings. And when possible, take your employees to industry events such as a local nursery show or the GIE+EXPO or Landscapes educational conference in Louisville, KY, every October.

4. Create opportunities for your people to grow

Simply put, a company that isn’t growing won’t be able to promote anyone. Ensure that you are doing all the right things to keep your sales on the uptick. Employees can usually smell a dying company before the owner can. Like rats off of a sinking ship, you’ll be bleeding good employees if they don’t see potential to move up with you.

5. Take the guesswork out of raises and promotions

When I ran my landscape company, we implemented a system we called the Employee Progression Matrix. Instead of handing out raises based on the amount of time someone had worked for us, we laid out an easy to understand system that provided raises based on learning new skills and gaining knowledge.

For example, an employee at $8.50 an hour who wanted a pay raise had to pass competency tests to prove that he/she could run a zero-turn mower, a string trimmer, a backpack blower and an edger. To become a crew leader (when space permitted), employees had to pass a driving test we created, a horticultural knowledge exam and a leadership exam. The matrix eliminated the constant requests for raises and put the onus on the employees to earn more money by gaining new skills.

6. Initiate a mentor program

Once you have identified those individuals with leadership potential, pair them up with one of your trusted veterans. Additionally, create a mentor guideline handbook to ensure that each of your leaders-in-training are receiving all the input you require for them to move to the next level.

The rewards of a program such as this are two-fold. Not only does it open up the door of opportunity to your most promising employees, but it also gives recognition to your veterans. It is important that they know they are making a positive impact on their peers and in the business.

Put these strategies to work and you’ll soon have a company that can self-supply its own leadership needs, while also better attracting quality entry-level labor that knows they aren't entering a dead-end job. Growing your own leaders gives you the advantage of teaching them the specific skillsets they’ll need to help your company succeed. Importing leaders will always come with “un-learn then re-learn” hurdles. Avoid that pain by turning your landscaping company into a leadership factory.