Culture checklist

Words of Wilson will teach you each month to better understand, develop and manage your most valuable resource – your people.

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Most landscape business owners talk about culture the way most people talk about diet and exercise. Every CEO knows that the organization needs to be more fit and functional, but changing workplace behaviors to get there is as easy to put off as a New Year’s resolution to get back to the gym. Willpower is simply not enough.

Over the last decade, owners have become more aware of the advantages a high-performing culture offers. What’s less clear is how to achieve it. Defining what makes some cultures thrive and what tears others apart is knowing that: 

  1. Cultures aren’t fixed; they are changing and evolving and unique.
  2. They are vulnerable to constant market and human variables.
  3. They are defined by the cumulative traits and behaviors of employees.
  4. The best way to change workplace behaviors and habits is to make change less difficult. Let’s explore.
1. Culture as perpetual motion machine.

Your business culture is not easy to pin down. It is subject to constant whims from diverse stakeholders, fickle customers, economic swings and generational attitudes, which all impact your company’s unique rhythms. Keeping your culture from being manipulated by any one of these elements can be managed by recognizing that, like the unfit body, frequent recalibration is required to keep your culture in better shape. And the secret to cultural strength is equally universal: discipline, consistency and elevating culture to its rightful place as the driving force of your business. Make caring for it a top operational priority.

2. Cultural drift.

Avoiding drift starts with being more careful about decisions. While one bad decision, such as a bad hire, can be singularly disruptive, when combined with recurring poorly executed plans or ideas, your company will veer off course and be more difficult to turn around. Slippage can be halted by having leaders and managers – in fact your whole team – who completely buy in to your purpose and behave in a manner that supports it. When purpose is embedded into your organizational fabric, everyone can self-correct on a daily basis. Giving culture a voice at your planning and strategy table, in the hallways and at the water cooler will empower everyone to act accordingly.

3. Employee behaviors.

Make sure that you and your leadership team are united in walking the walk – that the values your company holds: codes of conduct, ethics, standards and practices, vision and mission statements, training programs and incentive/accountability systems – are clearly defined. Understand the behaviors and personalities needed to execute your mission and vision. If sense of urgency is an important behavior, interview for that trait. Use your role modeling and these tools to identify what your company stands for and why, and what is acceptable and what is not.

Be strategic about hiring people who are compatible with your values. When people are not value/behavior-aligned, or toxic employees are indulged, the whole organization suffers. Employing people who value your values should be every owner’s No. 1 goal.

4. Workplace adjustments.

As your company gets going on cultural improvements, it’s essential to build in measures to manage the process. Enacting a system of penalties and rewards can help filter and shape workplace behavior. So can terminating cultural misfits and chronically negative employees. I have seen a number of companies that have all the makings of a great culture but allow difficult employees to sabotage unity, cohesiveness and effectiveness. These misfits are often in key positions and hard to replace.

Often owners protect these employees due to their loyalty and past contributions, while at the same time, are frustrated with their company’s financial results. They work around the misfits but rarely hold them accountable. While it might be a painful decision to make in the short term, getting rid of the people who aren’t aligned with your values will pay off over time.

Bruce Wilson is principal of green industry consulting firm Bruce Wilson & Company.

March 2017
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