Like a Boss: Being Proactive to Prevent Team Problems


Doug McDuff, MCLP, MCA, says he found out the hard way that letting a disgruntled employee problem drag on can only cause more problems in the long run. Because this particular employee was also a friend, it was awkward to address the concerns but letting them go only caused the problem to grow larger. When this particular employee began to complain to others, McDuff, who is president of Landscape America, Inc., in Wrentham, Massachusetts, says it began to create a negative attitude among the other employees. That’s when McDuff knew it had to be stopped.

“The problem ultimately got a lot bigger than it had to be,” McDuff admits. “It started off as just a bad attitude but it grew to so much more and was beginning to affect other employees’ attitudes as well. I figured my only solution was to fire him.”

But when McDuff sat down with this employee and discussed the problems, he realized it all stemmed from the individual wanting more responsibility. He had expected to be in a management role by now and was disgruntled that he hadn’t gotten there. McDuff says he realized that a conversation a long time ago — when the employee had started coming to work in a bad mood — could have put an end to it a long time ago. Instead of firing the employee, McDuff took responsibility of the situation and gave the employee the additional responsibility he had desired.

“At the end of the day this was a communication problem,” McDuff says, looking back. “Today we do things differently. We never let a problem go until it reaches the boiling point. We have an employee meeting at the first sign of trouble. That would have solved this particular problem in the first place.”

McDuff also implemented a peer review system in which employees evaluate their team members and provide helpful comments. Those comments are then reviewed with each employee — never knowing who wrote them, of course. The anonymity allows people to be honest and McDuff says that’s helpful. He says that nothing is quite as motivating as hearing from one’s own peers.

“The reviews are both constructive criticism and purely positive motivations,” McDuff says. “We’ve found that hearing from one’s team members is a really powerful tool. It’s the kind of stuff they might not be willing to tell the person face-to-face but with this system they get an opportunity to share real feedback. It’s helped prevent team problems from ever happening in the first place.”

Today, McDuff says he still faces new concerns in terms of labor as the demand for it continues to grow but the supply remains low. He is finding that employees are less loyal and less likely to commit to a company for the long term. With so many people hiring, employees seem to always be looking around for new opportunities and better pay.

McDuff says he’s in the process of “shifting the mindset of the company” and adapting to the new age of hiring and retaining employees. That has included implementing training systems that focus on fast-track technical learning. He hopes that constant training and better on-boarding will help with the retention process.

Our Like a Boss series highlights some common business challenges landscape professionals face and how they conquer them.