July 26 2019 06:00 AM

Whoever or whatever symbolizes your company’s culture, make sure your people know what it is and that they reflect the values it represents.

My company, Landscape Development Inc., has some 1,100 employees constantly on the move up and down two states. In addition, there are some 350 vehicles spread out over a dozen locations. That’s a lot of ducks to keep in a row.

I’m often asked, “How do you hold it all together? How do you get your employees to keep doing the right thing, day after day, especially when the unexpected arises? It can’t all just be based on rules.”

The answer to that lies in our company culture. Years ago, we realized that the key to our longevity and success would come from building and maintaining an uplifting and fully adopted culture, that it would become 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. Indeed, a company’s culture can become a kind of shorthand that will help employees do the right thing in even the most challenging situations. People generally do the right thing when they have the right motivators in mind.

A good company culture starts with agreed-upon values. You should be able to make a list of the ones that are most important to your company. For us, they’re safety, honesty, kindness, fair dealing, working hard, a super customer focus, to keep growing personally and as a company, artistry, excellence in execution, respect for one another, diversity in our workplace and support for our employees.

These values and the behaviors they drive is what makes up our culture at Landscape Development Inc. We expect all of our people to reflect and live this culture in all places at all times with everyone we deal with. It defines us and provides our clients with a unique and well-appreciated customer experience.

To establish a great company culture, you need to get buy-in from your employees. It starts with hiring the right people. Use your values list as the first filter through which any candidate must pass. Values are hard to instill, so try to hire people whose personalities already reflect the behavior you want displayed on your job sites and in your offices. Hiring the right people right from the very start makes everything easier when things get tough.

Having hired right, make sure your new-hire orientation process teaches your people exactly what ethics and behaviors are expected at your company. Take your time and be specific, leaving no room for vagueness about important principles.

We’ve been creative in this regard, having written a short story that we require every new employee to read and know. It’s about a young man named Don Mario who came to America, worked his way up, and over time became the head supervisor for a large landscape company.

Along his journey, Don Mario learns important life lessons about what brings success, friendship, respect, safety, happiness and progress. Reading about Don Mario educates and motivates our employees and creates an emotional attachment to his persona. This insightful and moving story has been a deeply effective conduit for communicating our company’s values to our employees. Everyone in our company knows Don Mario; we all “get” the Don Mario spirit.

He is the symbol of our company’s values. When the unexpected arises, we ask ourselves, “What would Don Mario do?” This helps us solve problems and decide how to act when they come up. This attitude has defused an uncountable number of situations, heading them off before they turned into much bigger conflicts.

Who do you want to be in your company? We’ve taken our company culture and wrapped it into a beloved character with a story that creates a common understanding among all our employees. Remember, simply setting down a bunch of rules isn’t enough to create greatness. It takes a shared, well-exemplified company culture to produce consistency, success and a great experience for both clients and employees.

Whoever or whatever symbolizes your company’s culture, make sure your people know what it is and that they reflect the values it represents down to their marrow. If you do that, you’ll bring both sanity and success to your business.

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 ghorton@landscapedevelopment.com.