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Seven Steps to Building a Winning Team of Employees!

by Frank Crandall

A major issue facing many small businesses, especially horticultural firms, is attracting quality employees and then finding ways to retain them. Lack of good employees will limit the growth of your company; however, hiring the right employees will provide you with the opportunity to assemble a winning team. With a team of dedicated, talented, and motivated employees, there are no limits to what your business can achieve.

Gathering an award-winning team requires a sustained, focused, and year-round commitment to attract, hire, and retain valuable employees. It is not an easy or quick process, but the results will be worth it. Building your team will also require the letting-go of certain employees who do not share the values of your company or who display overt (or covert) negativity that affects team morale and client relations. Even though many times the “bad apple” employee is a good worker and dependable, behind the scenes they are destroying the morale of your company…which you may not find out until it is too late.

Adding to the Company Family

The main goal in hiring is to look for talented, motivated, and exceptional people who share your firm’s values; can align themselves with your management philosophy, mission, and vision; and will thrive personally and professionally within your company culture. For many small businesses, hiring an employee is like adding a member to your family, and the selection process needs to be designed to ensure a match between employee and your company.

Although there is no magic formula for building a winning team, I have successfully used the following seven steps.

Seven Steps to Building a Winning Team

1. Establish a positive, friendly, supportive company culture. Successful companies demonstrate a team spirit and have a family-like environment. Their company culture is a reflection of established values backed by a positive, friendly, and supportive lifestyle. By hiring employees who embrace your mission and values, the team can flourish, and contribute to overall company success.

A dictatorial management style may undermine your company's success.

The owner sets the tone for the business by fostering the friendly, supportive environment. Acting as a coach (rather than a dictator), the owner can motivate, encourage, and set up employees for success rather than demand performance without providing the support and tools to succeed.

2. Implement a participatory management system. Primary to an employee’s continued success is having a role and voice in the decision-making process. Utilizing a participatory management system can contribute to a supportive culture that involves employees in important company decisions and creates a source of new ideas. With a vested interest in the company and future plans, employees can move ahead with personal expectations of success and responsibility for changes adopted.

3. Project a professional image of your company. The image of your company is important for prospective employees as well as current staff members, clients, vendors, and the community. Your company persona can be a key factor in attracting talented and motivated new employees. Building a strong brand that represents quality, integrity, and service will entice qualified people to seek employment with your company. All your team members need to be dedicated to your brand.

4. Be specific about job requirements. Having detailed, clear job descriptions can be very useful in attracting and hiring new, quality employees. After analyzing your company’s staffing needs, carefully design ads to attract the desired employees. I have found that by creating new job titles and descriptions (for example landscape apprentice, landscape craftsman, team leader and team manager), I have been able to solicit more talented, interested, and motivated job applicants. Many horticultural employees want to make this field a career and providing appropriate, interesting job descriptions and titles will improve your chances of hiring dependable and long-term employees.

5. Network to locate new personnel. Finding new employees is a year-round commitment, not just the result of placing an ad in the local paper in March and hoping for best. Network at trade shows and at your local universities. Encourage referrals from people you know, especially your own employees. They know the type of work your company does, the work effort that is needed, and the current team chemistry. You can help protect your choices by establishing a probationary period (I use a 90 day period) that allows you (and the employee) to see if the job and company are a fit.

6. Offer competitive compensation and health benefits. Instrumental to attracting and retaining key employees is a competitive pay scale. I have assigned specific pay rates to each job title, description, and level. All of these rates are in the upper 10% of comparable landscape firms in New England. Although a substantial investment, offering health insurance is vital to retaining employees. Due to substantial cost increases, I settled on a 50/50 split of the yearly cost between the company and employee.

7. Keep your team motivated! I do strongly believe that employees can be encouraged, motivated, and trained to be more productive, efficient, and valuable to your company. The best two words you can use to motivate employees to complete a project, to make a special effort, to receive client compliments, to solve a problem, or to make suggestions to improve the company are “Thank You.” I want all my employees, their families, and our vendors to know their efforts are sincerely appreciated. You will be amazed at the results generated from positive reinforcement – as opposed to their reaction to undue criticism, manager negativity, and lack of recognition.

Don't let a bad apple infect your company with negativity.

Although there are many more steps I could discuss, one final suggestion will accent the previous steps. Try to eliminate negativity from your company. The letting go of the “bad apples,” even though they may be dependable workers, will raise the morale of your company tremendously and save you from collateral damage down the road. The result will be a cohesive, highly productive team that will allow your company to achieve greater success than was possible with negative influences of certain employees.

Whereas the lack of good employees can limit your growth and success, the building of a cohesive team will allow you to tackle numerous projects and achieve successes beyond your expectations. And building that team takes time, a year-round commitment, a willingness to let some workers go for the benefit of the team, and creation of a company culture that is helpful, supportive, enjoyable, and a clear representation of the company’s values. The owner sets the tone through his or her actions, philosophy, and vision. Once a true team is developed, the main component of success is in place!

About the Author

Frank Crandall owns Frank Crandall, Horticultural Solutions, a southern RI based company that specializes in coastal landscaping, organic land care, small business consulting, writing, speaking and photography. Frank just published his third book, Creating a More Peaceful, Happy and Successful Life! For information about his services and books view Frank’s website, or contact him at