How I Do It: Cultivating a Successful Company Culture - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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How I Do It: Cultivating a Successful Company Culture

Photo: Ideal Landscape Group

In 2017, Ideal Landscape Group, based in St. Louis, Missouri, really started putting effort into cultivating their company culture.

Their efforts to create a better culture paid off as this year they were named one of the 2022 Top Workplaces in St. Louis by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. To be considered for this list an employee anonymously nominated the company at the end of 2021 and then Ideal employees responded to a survey in March 2022.

Photo: Ideal Landscape Group

Out of the 2,500 companies invited to participate, 183 companies made the list and Ideal was in the top 50, at number 44. They were only one of two landscaping companies that made the list.

“I am immensely proud of our employees that have made this happen,” says Dave Buckel, president of Ideal. “It’s like I am removed or standing overhead looking down because I know I am not capable of this level of success all on my own. It is truly a team effort.”

Refining Their Culture

Ideal Landscape Group has around 120 employees on staff currently. When director of operations, Silas Dill, came on board in 2017, he started working to remove the bad apples from the production team and bring on those with a good attitude.

“We always say a good attitude and good work ethic are the only two requirements to work here,” Dill says. “We don’t ever ask anybody for experience. We have a ton of experienced people on staff that can show people what to do. A good attitude and a good work ethic are two things that you can control every single day. You can’t control your experience; that takes time.”

Photo: Ideal Landscape Group

Jeff Cassani, director of sales, says when he joined the team in 2019, he started doing the same thing in the sales department.

“If sales is fighting with production, your culture doesn’t matter,” Cassani says. “It’s gone. So we have to gel in order to bring it down to the crews and team members.”

Cassani says the bad apples typically weeded themselves out as they didn’t fit the company culture and didn’t want to be there.

“The bad apples are the ones that come to work every day bitter,” Cassani says. “They’re always complaining. No matter what you do for them they are going to complain about something. They have issue X. You fix that for them now all of sudden, issue Z is there. They’re never happy.”

Ideal focuses on hiring people with a positive, winning attitude, as it is something you can’t teach. Dill says you can be fooled during the interview process, but the key is removing toxic employees once they’ve been identified. He says he’d rather run short with a good team than hire someone who’s not a great fit at the company. They do provide employees an opportunity to improve, but if they don’t, they will go separate ways.

The staff goes to dunk owner Dave Buckel.
Photo: Ideal Landscape Group

When it comes to defining their culture, Ideal sums it up as fun, positive, humble and caring.

“I truly think people enjoy coming to work at Ideal and want to be here,” Dill says. “We’re just trying to be a little different in that regard in St. Louis. I think we pay very competitive, but at the end of the day, we can only pay so much. We’ve got to do some other things that help push us along too.”

Everyone on staff starts the day fist-bumping each other. Dill says while it started as something silly, every employee fist bumps one another because they like working together.

“We do monthly barbecues,” Cassani says. “The owners don’t have it catered in. They’re outside cooking for everybody. They’re mixing in with every employee, doesn’t matter who you are. They’ll stop and have a conversation with you.”

The company is also not just focused on the numbers and works to build their people up and encourage them.

Photo: Ideal Landscape Group

“The focus we try to have is you can also hit those numbers by focusing on the people first,” Dill says. “If your people are happy, your people enjoy working there, the numbers are naturally going to happen.”

Cassani says Ideal’s owners will do anything they can to help and that trickles down to the employees who do the same. Both the owners and crew members genuinely care about one another.

“What sets us apart is that any employee will drop whatever they are doing to help a fellow employee,” says Leanna Buckel, vice president of Ideal. “They will give up a vacation day, buy lunch for someone who has no money, offer them a place to stay, buy gas for their car, sit with someone whose wife passed suddenly, and hold their hand when their child is sick. Those are the employees we have and want because that is what makes a workplace a wonderful place to be.”

Ideal Landscape Group’s owner opts to cook the food for their company barbecues instead of catering the meal.
Photo: Ideal Landscape Group

Another way they unify their team is by not offering commissions. Dill says the sales team doesn’t get commissions because they didn’t want them selling projects that the production team could not perform. Instead, bonuses are provided that offer a common goal and keep everyone moving in the same direction.

The staff has the shared values of wanting to win, teamwork and leadership.

“Nothing works without the teamwork,” says Justine Howell, marketing coordinator for Ideal. “Our leadership is not just the people who are in the office. It’s the people who lead their crews and even the crew members are considered a leader here. We want everyone feel empowered to step up and do what they think is necessary to get the job done.”

Maintaining Their Culture

Ideal maintains their company culture as they grow by making sure they’re bringing on new team members with good attitudes and work ethics, but being a good fit applies to their clients as well. Cassani says they want to work with clients who want to become partners and care about the finished product, not the bottom dollar. Maintaining prominent properties also helps attract quality employees because they want to work at a place that takes pride in their work.

Photo: Ideal Landscape Group

“You sell quality stuff, quality employees are going to come,” Cassani says. 

As for how they retain their staff, Dill says it comes down to how they treat their people. They work to keep their equipment new and fresh and recognize employees for their successes. Ideal has a top crew member award that’s given out based on a number of factors, including attitude, production and quality. This employee receives a $50 gift card.  

“If you do these gift cards once a month and then you wait four months and do them another month inconsistency can destroy any culture,” Dill says. “So, we try to stay consistent in those things.”

Ideal also purchases work boots for team members if they stay for a whole year. Dill says he got the idea from a previous employer.

Photo: Ideal Landscape Group

“One of our top crew leaders was offered another job, paying more money than we were offering,” Cassani says. “He told them no, and they asked him why and his response was, ‘Because they care enough for me to buy my boots.’ That was $100 bucks we’ve ever spent.”

Howell says their employees feel like they’re truly valued at Ideal.

“Treat them well,” Howell says. “It sounds simple, but it’s the most effective thing and I think that’s what we all try to do. Because we know how impactful it is.”

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.