All about people

Employees are the main ingredient to growth at H&M Landscaping.

April 17, 2013
Kristen Hampshire
Design/Build and Hardscape

Lately, Mark Mazzurco feels like a father in his business – not because of age (41) or because he’s herding employees from one job to the next, or because he’s handing out checks or teaching his people about setting goals and showing them how to watch the money. It’s none of those things, really.

It’s because of what happens when the phone rings. Mazzurco picks up, and the call is not always for him. He’s passing the line off to others in his “house.”

“Before, it was like, ‘Is Mark there?’ Now, the phone rings all the time for Lee and Ed and Mike … that is when you start to develop this microcosm inside the business where your people have their own relationships with clients,” Mazzurco says of growing a core of colleagues he can trust to run H&M Landscaping every day.

“The only one thing in business that appreciates every day is people,” he continues. “If I buy a truck worth $50,000, several months from now it will be worth $40,000, or less. But if you train and invest in your people, they will only appreciate over time.”

Mazzurco has worked hard over the last 25 years to foster a culture of teambuilding at H&M Landscaping, based just outside of Cleveland in Newbury, Ohio. In this office, he keeps extra copies of one of his favorite business books, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People. “You have to take interest in your people,” he emphasizes. “If you do that, people will work harder for you.”

This proved true in 2009 when the economy hit rock bottom and H&M lost one-third of its business. Mazzurco remembers gathering his key managers into his office and laying out the options. He could hand out pink slips and slim down the staff to bare bones. Or, he could keep his good people working and focus on trimming back overhead. He chose the latter – managers went back into the field to earn their keep. The business now runs 7 percent leaner, and Mazzurco has won back the market share he lost and expects to grow the business by 25 percent in 2013.

This is all thanks to his people, he says. “I can do their jobs,” he says. “I can muddle my way through them, but at the end of the day, I always say, ‘If you have a car, you take out the transmission and you can rev the engine all you want and it’s not going anywhere.’”

The same goes for people.

“This company is not my company – it’s my people’s,” says Mazzurco, acknowledging that his firm was recognized by Cleveland magazine as one of the top landscape companies in northeast Ohio last year. “We have the reputation we have because of my people.”

Power to the people. It takes about a month for an employee to be hired at H&M Landscaping because the process has evolved from an application into a four-step interview. The company has always issued a 100-point questionnaire to prospects. They fill out the form that asks about skillsets and strengths, that way Mazzurco can match the right people to the best open positions.

Before, Mazzurco says he always sought out the “all stars.” He looked for people with fat resumes boasting that industry experience in hardscaping, installation, what have you.

So he hired all-stars but those people didn’t always work out so well. “What we found is that our culture would run them out,” he says. “People would either fit in here, or they wouldn’t.”

From this, an important second step to the interview process was added. Mazzurco brought his team in on interviews. Today, after the 100-point questionnaire, applicants move on to an interview with would-be H&M Landscaping peers. “If they don’t fit in with the people they will interact with on a daily basis, they aren’t a fit no matter what kind of skillset they have,” he says.

Following the peer interview, applicants who move on sit down with Mazzurco. Then, a final fourth interview includes the offer. The end result of this hire-slow process is a staff that is committed to the company and that can carry out the firm’s mission.

“At the end of the day, our services are an affordable luxury to clients,” Mazzurco says. “People buy perception. Our people who are installing pavers and maintaining properties and talking to Mr. and Mrs. Smith and forming that relationship – that is what this business is all about. Our clients want to deal with people they can relate to.”

Target practice
. The people at H&M Landscaping are committed because the company gives them reason to “take one for the team.” Mazzurco opens the books and shows the staff where the firm stands financially. He sets budget goals each month for his employees, and they work to meet those targets.

Laying it all out on the table promotes healthy competition. Everyone on the team is in the game to win – and the reward for their labor is the company’s success, which trickles down to them in the form of profit sharing, job security, benefits and overall satisfaction.

“If you were playing football, you wouldn’t cover up the score board for three quarters and expect the team to know what to do,” Mazzurco relates. “What we found is, most of the time you give good people targets, they like to hit them.”

Every month, H&M Landscaping holds a goals meeting. Sales goals are posted along with other measures Mazzurco likes to make public, such as the crew with the best safety record. “We plan, but we track the plan,” says Mazzurco, a numbers guy. “We make adjustments as we go, which is important. We give people attainable goals, track them and mentor them through that process so we can to where we want to be faster.”

For example, if Mazzurco knows he has 40 hours to complete a job, he’ll set a goal for supervisors to wrap up the job in 35 hours. “Generally, the team will come in less than that, and if they are a bit over, that’s O.K. But if you set a goal of 40 hours and they come in at 42, then you are behind.”

Also, mentoring is a big part of helping people grow along with the business, and the core group of managers at H&M has been loyal to the company. Mazzurco wants to create career paths for people. This is accomplished through detailed job descriptions and “steps” employees can work up toward as they gain experience from landscape technician to foreman 1, 2 and supervisor, which includes a sales role.

“I challenge my people to have mentors,” Mazzurco says, adding that it is important for him as an owner to have mentors he consult with to share ideas. “One of my mentors says it best: As a good leader, you need to learn how to calibrate your expectations.”

Mazzurco shares an example of this. One longtime employee – he’s been with the firm for more than 15 years – had been promoted to supervisor. At the time, the guy was overwhelmed by the new position. After a couple of months, he met with Mazzurco and told him he loved the company but the supervisor role just wasn’t for him. Mazzurco said, “I’ll take that part off your plate and let’s see if we can concentrate on things you enjoy.”

Essentially, the foreman had been bumped up the ladder before he was ready. And Mazzurco had to “recalibrate his expectations.” Eventually, this person took on a supervisory role, and today he thrives in this position and is a key leader in the company. Mazzurco learned that while it’s important to set goals for your people, that communication and openness must exist so they can thrive and grow at their own pace in your organization.

And as for keeping pace, the business is doing just that in spite of a few tough years when clients decided to bench their design/build projects because of tight budgets. Mazzurco says that the economy has pretty much bounced back as far as he can tell. In fact, H&M has gained back the market share it lost in 2009 and then some.

But it’s not just the numbers that please Mazzurco. Every day he drives to work and pulls into the property where H&M is located, he is reminded of the success his company has realized – a dream his late father, who passed in January, had for himself. “He had bought the property we are sitting on, but it never worked out for him,” Mazzurco says of his father’s cabinet-making profession.

“As a business owner, I feel like I’m helping my dad kind of meet his aspirations,” he continues. “We have a very large company working on this property here, and that is what he always wanted.”

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