May 7 2019 11:10 AM

A healthy and supportive company culture is the grease that reduces friction and distractions and keeps things moving smoothly.

During the ’80s, rocker Danny Elfman recorded the high-energy tune, “Who do you want to be today?” The song provokes the listener with the question: “Who do you want to be? A tough guy?

A punk? A fashion star or somebody on TV?” That question, applied to your landscape business, should cause a moment of introspection.

Have you thought about “who” you want your company to be? What your company represents and stands for? How you want your employees to feel? What you want it to be known for in your community and by your clients? How your staff should behave toward one another and toward your clients?

In short, what is your company culture? Can you define it and write it down? Could you explain it to others? And most importantly, do your employees and clients understand and experience that culture — and is it something they indeed value?

Like many in the green industry, I never planned on a career in landscaping. It just sort of happened. I started out working as an estimator at a commercial landscape company. One thing led to another, and a few years later our company, Landscape Development Inc., was founded.

Back then we just started creating landscapes and didn’t give a whole lot of thought as to who we were or what we wanted to be. That was about 35 years ago, and today we’re one of the largest privately held landscape firms in America. But it wasn’t always a smooth ride getting here.

Thirty-five years represents a lot of projects, employees, clients and opportunities to learn from our mistakes. We’ve seen that just about everything that can happen does happen — to our crews, our projects, our clients and our company.

In the early years we made huge mistakes in hiring. At times, our crews worked unsafely, our projects turned out mediocre and our employees grumbled discontentedly. And we, the misdirected management team, would get frustrated, because it seemed as if no matter how many rules we set down, or how much we willed to do things the right way, something would still slip through the cracks.

When this happened, we managers would often blame the employees. In truth it was we who had missed the mark in not being purposeful enough about developing a well-accepted, well-understood culture of respect, accountability and excellence.

Today our company is far, far different. Things mostly run smoothly up and down our departments even with 1,100 employees and all the challenges of managing a large, diverse operation.

We experience high employee morale, deliver superior quality work and enjoy an enviable level of client loyalty and satisfaction. We have great employee retention and are viewed as an employer of choice in our service areas. This all feels very rewarding, especially when compared to those early, error-prone days. At last we’ve become who we wanted to be.

I’m often asked, “How do you hold it all together? How do you consistently maintain quality? How do you ensure that your employees keep doing the right things, day after day, especially when the unexpected arises? It can’t just be because of rules alone.”

The answer to all those questions is “through the establishment of a solid company culture.” The key to our firm’s longevity and success lies in our realization years ago that building and maintaining an uplifting and well-embraced company culture would be the backbone of our strength, resiliency and reputation over the long haul.

A healthy and supportive company culture is the grease that reduces friction and distractions and keeps things moving smoothly. It begins with a set of defined core values. It lies in knowing what you and your employees want and what your clients value most and then creating the language, the systems and the accountability structure to express that culture in all you do.

You’ll be surprised at the energy and efficiencies you create when your people feel uplifted and empowered, knowing they’ll be respected and rewarded for doing the right things for the right reasons.

Gary Horton, MBA, is CEO of Landscape Development Inc., a green industry leader for over 35 years with offices throughout California and Nevada. He can be reached at