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Leading Your Landscape Team

Man Having Coffee Break Whilst Working Outdoors In Garden
Landscapers need to be passionate about team building and leadership as they are about nuts and bolts or facts and figures.

By Brian Clegg

There are many challenges facing today’s landscape professionals, from keeping up with new design trends and technologies to the tried and true dilemmas of time management and weather-related issues. However, after more than 47 years in the landscape industry, the most common issue I hear about from landscape business owners is they can’t find good people to install their work.

Landscape shows abound with seminars on business-related topics, such as annual budgeting, estimating, computerizing and company profiling, to name just a few. These elements of the business are no doubt important and very necessary; in fact, one might consider them the ‘brains’ of the company, without which it could not function, let alone turn a profit. The key, however, to a truly successful landscape business is combining those brains with the ‘heart’ of the company—its employees, the people who turn the landscape design concept into reality and without whom work would never get done. Landscapers need to be as passionate about this element of their business as they are with the nuts and bolts or facts and figures.

Are good people hard to find? 

Driving through communities across Canada, magnificent landscapes are not difficult to find. Mother Nature creates some of these impressive backdrops, but dedicated and creative landscapers create most of them.

All employees of a landscape company must have at least basic training on the different elements of the business.

When faced with evidence of skill and craftsmanship, it is clear the Canadian landscape industry is filled with good, hardworking, talented individuals. The questions then become how will the industry sustain and encourage the present generation of landscapers—and, just as importantly, how will it ensure new employees have the right skills to become the experts the industry will require going forward?

First and foremost, all employees of a landscape company must have at least basic training on the different elements of the business. There are obviously many great programs and courses available through Canadian colleges and provincial trade groups such as Landscape Ontario, which can teach the fundamentals of landscaping to young and old alike. However, education alone is not enough.

Mentorship and continuing education are the other side of this equation. When I was starting out in the business, I was very fortunate to have a mentor and phenomenal teacher to show me the ropes—Glen Curran of Curran’s Landscapes. While younger landscapers may not appreciate it at the time, passing along lessons learned can be the best possible gift for an employee. I often reflect on what Glen taught me; his training has definitely served me well throughout my career, both professionally and personally. Now, as experienced professionals, it is time for today’s landscapers to do the same for their teams.

Being a positive mentor

Landscape business owners and managers must teach all their employees what it takes to be a great landscaper. Once the basic training has been established, the lessons one learns on the job can help the next generation chart their own career paths—and help grow the companies they work for at the same time. In addition to conducting business with integrity and honesty (a must both professionally and personally), the following principles can help landscape professionals build and improve their teams while strengthening their overall business.

Stay motivated

Most managers have a certain motivational style. Some take a fear- or intimidation-based approach; however, screaming at employees to achieve production goals will surely backfire over time. Others choose short-term motivators, such as pay raises (above and beyond cost of living increases).

Man kneeling on the ground next to his freshly dug garden planting a large tomato plant.
The key to keeping employees inspired is to give them a reason to want to come to work every day.

The key, however, to keeping employees inspired is to give them a reason to want to come to work every day. These motivational methods will work to encourage employees much longer than the promise of a big paycheque or the fear of being yelled at by the boss. A happy worker is a productive worker—and a productive worker is a profitable one.
Make each day fun for workers; this creates a great atmosphere on the job site and helps keep energy levels up, even on tough days. It is also important to challenge every member of the crew and, to some extent, involve them in all aspects of the project. This fosters a positive team dynamic, as everyone feels as though they are doing their part to achieve a common goal. If you get requests from employees to be moved to a particular crew, look closely at the communication style of the foreman they ask to work with. Odds are this individual demonstrates positive motivational skills. As a business owner, it is always encouraging to see leaders motivating crews. In fact, this can serve as inspiration for the business owner as well.

Stay organized

Some of the best people on a landscape crew are not the ones with the most technical skills; they are the ones who can best organize a job site and keep things running smoothly.

It is important for landscape business owners to identify these key individuals, as they can perform essential duties, such as determine project tasks and deadlines and motivate the rest of the work crew, even when the owner is not around.

Great leaders can come from unexpected sources. Look at, learn from and listen to your colleagues and employees. Often people hold back from demonstrating their leadership potential due to personality issues, such as insecurity or low self-esteem. With a little reassurance, encouragement and guidance, these employees can achieve their full potential.

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