Photo: Adobestock

As we tackle the hectic spring season, it can be easy to let things such as training and policy oversight slip. So how do you help your employees better self-manage during busy times? By setting clear policies and expectations so they can meet them without constant oversight. A consistent company culture doesn’t hurt, either.

No matter who I talk to in the green industry, issues such as staffing and company culture still present some of the greatest challenges to business success and growth. Many companies are still winging it. We might be good at growing plants, but we undoubtedly have a harder time growing people. Even if you face an uphill struggle when it comes to tackling these human resource issues, starting with clear expectations is something all of us can manage.

No one likes shooting at a target in the dark. Too often, this is a major complaint I hear from employees. Because employer expectations aren’t made clear, it’s difficult for employees to know whether their performance is up to snuff. Clear policy manuals, detailed training programs, and clear formal performance review structures may not be your strong suit. To stop treading water in this department, the first step is to audit your company to review current or outdated polices, policy documentation, job duty descriptions, training platform, and performance review processes. Find the gaps and start filling them.

Results vs. actions

Your goal is to clearly define the results you expect from your employees. These are fleshed out by the job objectives and standards you outline for them in their job description, training, and evaluations. Next, in your policy manual, you need to define your expectations when it comes to their behavior and actions. That is, how should they go about getting the results you expect and how they should, or shouldn’t, interact with customers, co-workers, and supervisors in the process.

Employee buy-in

Once you’ve put all your detailed expectations into writing, the trick is to get your employees to buy in. This is where a positive and inclusive company culture comes into play. Without a good operating culture, no one is going to be concerned with actually meeting your expectations. Walking your talk comes first when it comes to setting the tone for a good company culture. If you, as the owner or manager, don’t embody the company values and follow company policy, you’ll only breed mistrust and disrespect. You have to show your staff how to perform, not just tell them. Remember, they are always watching you.

Video saves time

My husband recently went to work for a new company, one that operates globally in the IT industry. Its onboarding process was self-managed and technically impressive. I was particularly impressed by the well-executed video series to guide new employees step by step through the onboarding process as well as all the benefits. It was informative and easy to follow — and it meant that managers and HR staff didn’t have to verbally walk every new employee through a litany of policy and benefits information. Not to say there weren’t some hiccups to the onboarding process, but for the most part it was a great tool for helping employees get up to speed independently. When I was watching some of the videos, I thought to myself, “Why isn’t my industry doing this?”

Sure, I can hear you saying that you don’t have the same resources as an international IT company for these types of HR services. I get it. But you can all make video very easily and cheaply — all you need is a smartphone or a simple DSLR camera. A great place to start for new employees is a video tour of facilities to point out where everything is, as well as dos and don’ts of property safety. A video introduction to all the staff is also a great welcome. All staff can benefit from some role-playing to better understand how to handle certain customer and co-worker situations — why not put your tactics and expectations on a video? Equipment training and job processes are also great to document via video. By supplementing your written policy with some videos your staff can access online, you’ll empower your employees with more information and save yourself a lot of time.

Detail required

You may find yourself frustrated by the fact you need to outline job duties and expectations for younger employees to a degree that seems redundant. We can’t ignore the differences between the generations, and how they were raised and educated. Younger employees often come into the workforce these days with a higher expectation of guidance, support, and answers. If you’re a Gen Xer or a Boomer, these expectations can seem unreasonable and excessive. Nevertheless, you need to make the extra effort to illuminate a clear path for all your staff, then hold everyone accountable for equivalent expectations.

When it comes to policy and company culture, I’ve always taken the approach that defined boundaries are good — and certain hard rules are necessary. If you are clear about rules and boundaries, you can hold people accountable for their work. But I’m no fan of absolute limits when it comes to initiative and creative thinking. While it is your job to create clear structure and boundaries where necessary, also be sure to encourage your employees to think on their own in ways that can benefit your company.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies.