How Important Is 'Culture' in the Typical Landscape Company?

It's more important than you think—and if you aren't laying the groundwork now, it could come back to bite you when you're growing.

At the heart of every company is "company culture". Culture is the roots of an organization's existence. It is ultimately what shapes the company and its people. In the landscape industry, many big companies have powerful and empowering cultures that have helped propel them to become industry leaders. But the real question is: How much culture is needed in the typical, smaller landscape organization with six or so employees?

First off, understand that culture relates to all businesses regardless of size. Culture specifically relates to the values or ideologies of a company. Simply, it's how the company and its people will behave.

While many large landscape companies have an ingrained culture in place, small business owners often look past it, mostly because of their size and operating infrastructure. For example:

  • Company A:  Mom takes care of the books while pops takes care of getting the work done.
  • Company B:  The son takes care of the field and the dad takes care of the sales.
  • Company C:  The owner takes care of the big picture while his right-hand man takes care of what his left hand cannot.

While each of the aforementioned companies could very well perform similar types of landscape services, each will shape its culture differently depending on the cultural values and views of its owners. What confuses most small landscape company owners is this: How and when do I apply these attitudes, beliefs, behaviors and customs to my company? Should it happen when our sales hit $350,000 or maybe $1 million?

That answer is simple. These cultural cues need to be ingrained in all employees and accepted as the norm early on. Beliefs about the role of the business and how business activities fall into this understanding of culture is typically dictated by how employees interact within their own cultural boundaries set by ownership. For any landscape business owner, culture will ultimately determine what kind of customers the company attracts, the services it delivers, and its growth and profitability.

Owners need help!

A company cannot rest on one or two people's shoulders and be successful long-term. Responsibilities need to be divided up. People need to train their backups so those backups will be ready to step in in case something happens to the primary person in charge.

Building teams to share workload takes a lot of weight off the owner's shoulders and creates multiple individuals who are accountable. It also tends to result in happier employees who feel more engaged in taking the company forward. It also makes it easier to identify people who may no longer be a fit or who may not be able to keep up.

Regardless of company size, a self-reliant team is essential for a company to thrive. Employees must buy into the company’s purpose and work together toward a common goal. It is about unity. And when you get down to it, team members at all levels need to feel and act like owners. While the level of ownership might vary, team members must continually set individual goals and always work in alignment with the company’s mission.

Three core elements of culture

A mission-driven company is fueled by what I call the three P’s: Purpose, Passion and Pride. If the foundation of a great company is culture, the foundation of a great culture is these three P's.

Creating a Culture of Purpose. As individuals, we get up with a purpose each and every day. Our general purpose is to support ourselves financially, and in doing so, we must serve a purpose to those whom we work for.

Now let us look at companies whose success is perennial. They sustain themselves by generating significant, positive impact for everyone their operations touch. They are keenly aware of the purpose they fulfill for clients, employees, community and others. Purpose is integrated into the business as part of its core culture.

Creating a Culture of Passion. Passion is what drives us. It empowers our thirst for success as individuals. A company’s workforce is the living embodiment of its brand in action. If employees are engaged and energized, they bring the brand to life and deliver differentiated experiences in their every interaction, creating a tie between employees, consumers and business performance.

It is my belief that you must have an instilled culture of passion in order to have success in the landscape industry. Once you do, you are more likely to find long-term success both personally and professionally.

Creating a Culture of Pride. Pride is the result of something well-accomplished. Pride means you’ll go that extra mile for those you serve.

What do the inner makings of pride look like in a company’s culture, and how do the best companies foster it? It starts with how the employees feel and present themselves to others. Best-of-class landscape companies get it right. If they didn’t in the beginning, they do now. They introduce newbies to their culture through a variety of immersion programs and dedicated training, paving the way for clear expectations and two-way communication. These exchanges set the stage for building employee pride through creating mutual trust between management and team members.

Culture allows for ongoing success

In the end, it does not matter whether the company has six employees or 100. The fact is, company culture either makes a company or breaks it. For successful organizations, creating a meaningful company culture has impact way beyond financial performance. It is becoming the new normal, a business imperative.