After years of hiring for skill and not attitude, Jeffrey Johns, president of Coastal Greenery in Brunswick, Ga., found that the company’s morale had plummeted. There was an overall sense of negativity that was infiltrating the culture and as a result, he was feeling the squeeze in both quality of work and profitability. In order to get a hold of the problem, Johns says he had a take a step back and re-evaluate all of his employees and their positions.

It all started with a growth spurt. Following the recession, Johns says the company began to see rapid growth that required hiring more employees. As he brought people on board, he focused on skills and experience — but he didn’t give a lot of attention to attitude. In retrospect, Johns says he wishes he had paid more attention to “company culture.”

“As landscape professionals we often tend to overlook culture, and that’s where I went wrong,” Johns says. “Many of these individuals didn’t want to work as a team. They thought their way was best. That really began to hurt us.”

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By 2014, Johns says the company morale had hit an all-time low. To solve the problem, Johns says he took a “backseat” and began evaluating positions one-by-one. Instead of creating “job descriptions” for each position, he began working on “job expectations,” and he started talking to employees about the company culture he envisioned. Sixteen people ultimately left, willingly, as they weren’t buying into the new “vision” that Johns says he was preaching.

“As we began replacing those employees, something amazing happened,” Johns says. “We began developing a culture of positive attitudes like I’ve never seen. I believe what is propelling us so far right now is the positive culture of the workplace. The employees we have now are ready to take it to the next level. They’re open to learning and coaching, and they’re team players.”

Currently employing 63 people, Johns says that he no longer hires for skill or experience over attitude.

“I can train somebody to cut grass, teach them how to do a quality control audit, or teach them the names of plants,” Johns says. “What I can’t teach them is attitude. I can’t make them be adaptable or willing to learn. That’s something that a person either comes in with or doesn’t, and I’m making it more of a priority to focus on that.”

With core values and a vision in place, Johns says the company culture has completely turned around.

“We’ve now laid the groundwork for what we expect out of our employees in terms of attitude and values,” Johns says. “We talk about those things every morning in our huddle and I have my team members constantly communicating about expectations. As a result, in 22 years of business, this is the best company culture we’ve ever seen.”

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