How Do You Get Your Team to Uphold Your Values Even When You’re not There?

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Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association
The Buckeye
November/December 2017
Business Buzz
By Marty Grunder

Every fall I invite landscaping professionals from around the country to spend a day at Grunder Landscaping Co., where they go behind the scenes of our operations and learn directly from my staff how we strive to set ourselves apart from the competition.

Of all the learning events I lead throughout the year, this one is my personal favorite. Sure, it’s great not to have to hop on a plane for a change, but more than that I love these field trips because it’s a chance for my team to shine and and share their expertise with a small group of ambitious pros who want to learn and grow. You wouldn’t think a day and some change is long enough to form much of a bond, but at the end of every trip I’m always amazed by the camaraderie that takes root among everyone who participates and their boundless enthusiasm for our industry.

At this year’s field trips I was asked one question again and again: How do I instill my values in my team and get them to uphold them even when I’m not there? It’s a great question, with a simple though not necessarily easy answer. The trick is you have to really care about the outcome and commit yourself to getting it.

First, it’s crucial to understand your company’s values aren’t your values.
I didn’t roll into the office one Monday morning and announce my company’s values to my team. I didn’t impose them from on high like a king to his subjects. Instead we had a facilitator come to our campus and interview everyone at Grunder Landscaping, asking each of us what’s important in our workplace. What words would we use to describe the way we work? What do we like? What do we not like? Through this process, we arrived together at four words: quality, leadership, teamwork, and profitability. These are our values. They’re internal to us. They‘re who we are—all of us together—and who we want to be.

Then we looked for ways to foster and reinforce these values in each other.
We had signs made to promote our core values and posted them around the office and in our shop, so they’re always, inescapably, top of mind. Once a quarter we meet as a whole team and go around the room, sharing examples of how we’ve demonstrated our values. The catch is you can’t talk about yourself; you have to shine the light on your colleagues. This exercise both celebrates and fosters teamwork, itself one of our core values. It’s fun, too. We don’t take it too seriously—there’s plenty of jokes and gentle ribbing—but the support and care for each other my team has comes through and through.

Posters and a quarterly exercise are both admittedly small steps, yet they can have a surprisingly large impact. Part of it is just sheer repetition, and the other part, I think, is because people want to be a part of something larger themselves. Values, clearly communicated and consistently upheld, provide that.

And while it’s true you can’t impose your values from your leadership perch and expect your team to internalize them, this does not absolve you from having to live them. Your team will see better than they hear, so make sure you and your management team exemplify your company’s values.

And then you have to hire for your values. 
In our industry there’s constant turnover and with it the continual need to find new team members. Labor is undeniably one of the greatest challenges landscaping companies face. But in my experience you never get ahead by hiring someone who can’t get behind your values. That’s why we make who we are clear in our recruiting efforts—whether it’s an ad or in a booth at an industry event or on our LinkedIn profile—and work to screen out candidates we don’t think align with our values. We also take care to demonstrate our values throughout the interview process. It’s the first in-person impression we make on a hire and we want it to set the right tone for the future.

To me, a company’s core values are who you are when the owner isn‘t there. When your company knows and lives theirs, you increase your team’s capacity tenfold.