Last November, I had the privilege of speaking to a packed upper ballroom at TCI EXPO in Pittsburgh on the subject of mentoring employees as an important part of a company’s “healthy” culture. We discussed the need to grow people as a precondition to growing a business. I had many crew leaders and business owners talk to me afterward about the need to “pour into their people” more – and a conviction of “I need to do more.”
There were also many who shared a frustration that young people were not motivated, “no matter what was tried,” to either grow if they stuck around or stay on long term; that is, many owners shared that a lot of young people don’t have loyalty to them as their employer and don’t seem to be career minded – “It’s just about a job.” We covered a lot of ground in that short hour, so I thought it might be important and helpful in this article to focus on two items that can almost immediately improve employee motivation and growth. The first is to establish or focus on core values. Second is to reinforce good behavior – accentuate the positive – when it occurs. Here is a recent example of “accentuate the positive” that occurred in my business.
Higher Ground Tree Care, LLC, was hired as a subcontractor to do a week’s worth of tree work at a fuel-tank farm. Needless to say, they had our company under a microscope regarding work practices, procedures, safety and so on. When the job was done, the facilities manager/superintendent pulled me aside and expressed how nice it was having our company on site doing the work. He specifically mentioned the culture of Higher Ground Tree Care – the interaction between crew members and so on.
The manager said that he expected us to be safe and do things “by the book,” but what he often finds is that companies get sloppy with what they actually do once the safety brief is done. This phenomenon is often a result of the internal culture of the company not being truly in line with those expectations or core values. After reflecting on this for a day, I decided to use this as a teachable moment with my guys in our weekly “lessons-learned” meeting. We jokingly refer to this as “donut Friday,” because the meeting is always at 7:30 a.m. on Friday and it involves donuts brought in from the local bakery.
Two items … can almost immediately improve employee motivation and growth. The first is to establish or focus on core values. Second is to reinforce good behavior – accentuate the positive – when it occurs.
In our donut-Friday meeting, we discussed how the week went, i.e., what went well, what could be improved, what didn’t go well, what needs to be changed and what lessons were learned by being “under a microscope.” The tank-farm facility had a full-time safety inspector watching my crew work during the entire job. This person’s job was to point out any and all discrepancies he felt were being violated and get them corrected immediately or shut down the work. To that end, in the past, other contractors had been kicked off the property by failing to maintain standards.
As mentioned earlier, a big part of this weekly donut-Friday meeting revolves around connecting our internal core values with what happened that week. We keep things very practical. For example, we have a core value of “having a growth mindset” and another one dealing with “professionalism.” These core values reflect the company vision that will help us grow in size, meet customer expectations, keep team members safe, attract great employees and so on. After discussing these things in the meeting, I told the crew, “I want you to remember why you did such a great job on this fuel-tank-farm job this week, and continue to execute your job with excellence in the future.”
Sometimes catching an employee doing the right thing and then focusing on that moment by rewarding him or her … can go a long way in reinforcing good habits and positive company culture.
To reinforce these points, I gave every crew member who was on this job all week a Benchmade lock blade. I said, “Every time you pull that knife out and use it, I want you to remember why we are a cut above the other guys – I want you to remember what excellence looks like.” I thanked them for being great employees and team members.
Sometimes catching an employee doing the right thing and then focusing on that moment by rewarding him or her with a gift card, or in this case a lock blade, can go a long way in reinforcing good habits and positive company culture. At Higher Ground Tree Care, LLC, the employees don’t expect this will happen every day or even every week. There has to be balance in how expectations are rewarded so they don’t take what’s being done for granted and thereby lose sight of the lesson or what’s being reinforced.
Matthew Hogarth, M.Ed., CTSP and a Certified Arborist, is owner of Higher Ground Tree Care, a three-year TCIA member company based in Granger, Indiana.
This article was based on his presentation on the same subject at TCI EXPO 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. To listen to an audio recording of that presentation, go to this page in the digital version of this issue of TCI Magazine online, under the Publications tab, and click here.