Main Motivations

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Lawn & Landscape
August 2017
By Marty Grunder

“It’s hard to do a really good job on anything you don’t think about in the shower.”
–Paul Graham

The other week I came across this quote from Paul Graham, founder of YCombinator, a leading provider of seed funding for start-ups in Silicon Valley. Graham and team count tech giants like Airbnb, DropBox, Reddit and Instacart among its successes – in other words, he’s done pretty well.

The quote jumped out at me because it so neatly distills what it means to think like an owner. As an owner, you are never not thinking about your business, even – sometimes especially – during your down time, when you’re performing a mundane routine like taking a shower. And that’s how it should be. As Graham’s quote makes clear, that’s how it has to be if you want to do a really good job and succeed.

What’s trickier is how you get your team to think like an owner – a question I often hear from those who are frustrated that their staff doesn’t seem to care about their work in the same way they do. And indeed, most don’t or won’t, for the simple reason they are not invested – literally and figuratively – in the way you are. They don’t own the business and consequently they don’t own its challenges or its profits. I take great care of my Jeep, keeping it immaculately clean and maintained, but put me in an airport rental and I don’t care so much.

That said, I also think most employees care more than owners tend to think they do, and there are concrete steps you can take to motivate them to care more. Here are my top three:

1. Give them autonomy.

No one likes working for a micro-manager. Have confidence in your team to make good decisions and then give them the reins to do it. You don’t need to be a part of every interview, purchase decision or communication. Clearly articulate your vision for your company, clarify roles and create a meaningful reporting structure that keeps team members regularly accountable – and then back off. You’ll be surprised by what your team can accomplish without you, and the confidence you’ll instill in them in the process will inspire them to do their best.

2. Focus on results, not tactics.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as the saying goes. At Grunder Landscaping, we have a sales team of three—me, our landscape architect, Brent, and our landkeeping lead, Kent. The three of us regularly discuss and share our tactics for closing deals, but we each have our own approaches, influenced by our personalities and preferences. And that’s fine—I hire people, not robots. What matters is the results, and Brent and Kent consistently meet or surpass their numbers. They care about the job they do because they’re left to do it in their own way, making it a true reflection of their talent and skill.

Anytime I catch myself thinking there’s only one way of doing something and it’s my way, I think of Pete Rose at home plate contorting himself into that weird crouched stance that shouldn’t have worked but did, for him. No batting coach would tell you to take a pitch that way, and yet Rose remains the all-time leader in hits.

3. Show them a future.

Everyone wants a bright one. Do what you can to help your team achieve theirs. Establish a compensation structure that rewards hard work. Provide paths for advancement. Foster their professional growth, whether it’s by sending them to industry conferences, signing them up for webinars or passing on articles or books that expand their horizons.

At our annual MGI conference last February, my friend Todd Pugh, founder and CEO of Enviroscapes, told us about the Growing Day he holds every year at his company. Todd invites all of his employees to the main office for eight hours of learning and barbecue. He has experts come in to teach his team about personal financial planning and how to set long-term goals. He brings in the CEO of the local hospital, who started out as the health center’s scaffolding guy, to speak about his own path to success. He hangs posters up of longtime team members that show how they’ve risen in the ranks. This, Todd explained, helps his employees see there are profitable roles other than owner and they can have a great future at his company if they work hard. “If they can see it,” he said, “they can believe it.”

Will these three steps lead your team to think like an owner all the time? No – that’s your job. But they will get them thinking more like you more of the time, and that’s invaluable to your bottom line.