Fix your broken window

Fix your broken window

Columns - Industry Voices

Company culture is important, so take the time to decide if yours needs to be fixed.

July 7, 2014
Marty Grunder
Industry News Marty Grunder

Marty Grunder

I hope your spring has gone well and I hope you’re having success with your team. The best green industry firms understand that their culture is what drives their results. If you have a good culture, you will more readily find success. If you have a bad culture, you will struggle. So what is “good culture?” Culture is something that is somewhat difficult to define. I’m not a college professor, I’m a landscaper who teaches landscapers how to grow their endeavors, so I’ll give you my definition of culture.

Culture is what’s going on when you, the leader, aren’t around. Take right now, for instance, as I write this column. I’m at the beach with my family. However, due to the efforts of 50-plus professionals in Dayton, Ohio, I can be here and work can get done and money can get made (as long as it stops raining!). After 30 years of business, I can tell you Grunder Landscaping Co. has an excellent culture. We work very, very hard to keep it that way.

To keep our culture good, we hire to it, we fire to it, we judge our teams’ performance against it and overall we talk about what’s important each and every day. My team can be caught mimicking me saying what our vision, mission and core values are. I spend a lot of time talking about the examples I see of our team supporting our quest for our vision: To be recognized by our clients, our team members and experts in our industry as the best landscaping company in our market area.

I am quick to recognize someone for demonstrating our mission statement to a client: To enhance the beauty and value of every client’s property while exceeding their expectations every step of the way. And we meet regularly to discuss the support, or lack of support, for our core values – quality, leadership, teamwork and profitability. However, there’s also something else we do a lot of. We eliminate bad behavior or anything that gives the appearance we don’t eat, drink and sleep our beliefs.

In 1982, George Kelling and James Wilson shared something they called the “broken windows” theory. Kelly, a criminologist, and Wilson, a political scientist, found that in neighborhoods where one broken window went unrepaired, the other windows around it would get broken out as well. They concluded that the mere presence of a little bit of bad – a broken window – suggested that no one was watching or cared and it was okay to break the rest of them. New York City had a major crime problem and embraced Kelling and Wilson’s belief and worked hard to fix broken windows and stop graffiti artists and panhandlers. Crime plummeted.

I see many ways I use what Kelling and Wilson concluded and I have found it works. People always admire our fleet of clean, green trucks. And they ask us how we keep them so clean and well maintained. We do this by spending time having them washed and by getting small dents and scratches fixed as soon as possible. We hold our drivers accountable for all of our equipment. If you tear up something and you’re negligent or a frequent offender, you’re going to pay for the damage and possibly be asked to go work someplace else.

My leadership team, headed by me, doesn’t want to let up on any of this. As my right hand man Paul said, “Whatever you allow, you encourage.” (We have that on a sign in our shop.) By not allowing small things to become bigger things, we have gotten better and have enhanced and strengthened our culture.

If you were to come to Grunder Landscaping Co., you would find a very neat and tidy facility. The people in our facility are neat and tidy. You would find clean floors, clean walls, organized shelves and bins. Desk tops look like people sit at them who know where everything is. Our bathrooms are spotless, or close to it.

Why all the time and money spent on cleaning? We want our offices and shop to look like the job sites should look when our teams pull away from them at the end of the day. It’s as simple as that. I am personally amazed at how many companies I go to that have a dirty and worn out bathroom. What does that say? It costs hardly anything to have a nice, clean bathroom. Yours is only a can of paint, some new tile and a spiffy mirror away from being something that teaches. Teaches? Yes, teaches, a clean bathroom says a lot, if you ask me. It says you care about your people and respect them and want them to see how important details are to you.

So, what is there to take away from my column this month? Fix your broken windows. The broken window can be the metaphor for all the things you need to improve, many of which do not cost much money. However, they will silently teach and improve your culture. Small things lead to big things in business, the good and the bad. Get your culture improved and you’ll watch your profits do the same. Why? When you get people doing what you want them to do, even though you’re not around, success can and will find you. I promise you that.


Marty Grunder is a speaker, consultant and author; he owns Grunder Landscaping Co. See; mail