You’ve heard the phrase, “People are your greatest asset.” In the landscape service business, this is especially true because it takes a large number of people to do the work. For most landscape business owners, success is determined by how well they use their human capital. Companies that concentrate on employee development and appreciation and focus on their people assets are the most successful operators in the green industry.

1. Develop leadership from within

“Whether you’re a $100 million company or a $100,000 one, the green industry is a really service-driven business, and your team delivering that service is ultimately what determines your success,” says Phil Key, president of Ruppert Landscape, Laytonsville, Maryland.

“Cultivating leadership from within is a key ingredient for companies looking to grow in today’s economy,” he adds. “A big reason for our growth is our ambitious workforce that doesn’t like to stand still. We can’t accommodate their ambitions if we as a company are not growing.

“The day to day of what we do really happens at the field level between the customer and our field personnel on the job,” Key explains. “Being sure that our team has the right knowledge, skills and training so that they are comfortable having conversations with customers is a key part of our leadership development.

“We also have a strong culture of promoting from within,” he continues. “A great majority of our branch and corporate managers were cultivated within our company ranks, and a quarter of our field managers started out as crewmen or assistant field managers. In our organization, we believe that it’s more effective to get to know the business and the company’s culture from the ground up. This philosophy helps us better develop more consistent leadership within our organization.”

2. Reward great work

“Our employees are really the cornerstone of our success, so we work hard to train them for what they may face on the job and recognize and reward their contributions,” Key says. “We make significant investments in our people development, giving employees the skills they need to make educated, responsible and grounded decisions.”

Some companies provide incentives to employees who exceed their goals. Crew members and supervisors who surpass their performance goals receive a bonus. Quality of work must be included in the incentive program because faster work must also meet the company’s quality standards. Labor is our highest expense and when employees increase the amount of jobs they complete, the company becomes more profitable and successful.

Smart operators know that sharing the increases with their teams builds loyalty and creates long-term employees.

3. Training produces results

“There are leaders and followers in every company,” adds Adam Linnemann, president of Linnemann Lawn Care, Columbia, Illinois. “While we coach our followers to try and become leaders, it’s not for everyone and that’s fine. This past winter, we completed a leadership-training program that lasted four weeks with our key staff.”

Linnemann based the program on Mark Sanborn’s book, “The Fred Factor.” The message that his team learned is that even simple jobs can be completed more efficiently and faster when employees become leaders and are more productive.

“This truly makes a difference in our client’s eyes and sets us apart as an industry leader,” says Linnemann.

4. Know what employees want

Getting the most from employees requires understanding what employees want. Financial rewards drive some employees, while others respond better to appreciation and acknowledgment when work is well done. Everyone likes to hear “thank you” and “we appreciate your efforts” when the time is right.

Employee appreciation events like cookouts and pizza parties can go a long way toward showing employees the company cares. Performance tracking, status reporting and managing expectations are other important elements in successful employee relations. Of course attention must be paid to uncooperative or unproductive employees because they’ll drag down quality performers if not fired or dealt with.

People are truly your greatest assets. Making the best use of your employees is a surefire way to grow business profitably and create a respected company. Develop programs that show employees you care and want them to succeed and you’ll see their performance and loyalty increase along with your business.