Bob Maffei, owner of Maffei Landscape Contractors in Mashpee, Mass., is an inveterate reader and follower of business books. He relies upon them to set his business course. His most recent inspiration, Mark Murphy’s “Hundred Percenters,” has given him the mantra of Cascading Goals.

“It’s our buzzword for this year,” says Maffei. “It is our catalyst for change.”

Maffei believes that labor is the industry’s biggest challenge, and Cascading Goals addresses that issue. Just turned 40 and about to be a first-time father, he says he is beginning to understand the “kids today” mentality.

Each Maffei crew consists of a master craftsman, a craftsman and an apprentice, and is organized within specific divisions and assigned a truck hauling a trailer outfitted with the necessary tools for the work it is going to perform, whether it be mowing, edging, mulching, installation or bed maintenance.

“I sound like my granddad, but you see kids that have never even used a shovel or cut a lawn. My mission is to try to find a way to empower and incentivize the labor force,” he says.,

He is a proponent of Theory Y, that employees want to do the right thing and that they should own responsibility for a job well done. Full ownership of performance, he goes on, follows from the lowest stance, the denial of all responsibility for a task. It progresses through blaming another for any problem and then excusing oneself, and eventually having anxiety about not having done one’s best.

That can be overcome by breaking tasks down into components so no one is overwhelmed by the task at hand, he says. To this end, a task must be framed and defined before the work begins and then quantified into deliverables that are easily understood. In this way, employees achieve full responsibility for their performance.

Seven deliverables

The Maffei field guide does just this by explaining and quantifying seven basic deliverables into objective measures of performance, so that standards are clear and employees can take full ownership in reaching them.

The first deliverable is that all work must be at or below budget, given that budget can mean materials used or a measure of time spent on a task. Those who come in right at a given budget earn Bs, and earn pay raises that equal cost of living; those who beat budget by 3 percent earn As and see financial rewards and added responsibility; and those who go over budget by 3 percent earn Cs and are told to improve. Ds are fired.

“It’s better to do that for them so they can find a work culture that works better for them,” says Maffei. “Our bids, especially maintenance bids, are derived from production rates, and if employees don’t meet the budget, they can blame either the bid or their execution. But they had better be able to quantify it if they want to point to the bid as the problem.”

The second Maffei deliverable is high quality, without a call back from the customer.

The third is that all work is done safely, with no accidents.

The fourth is development of the staff, both of oneself and of those below you. This means constant learning of new skills, both landscaping skills and people skills.

The fifth is the proper care of equipment.

The sixth deliverable is effective customer communication, which can be quantified by issues that come up and by the amount of upselling that can be accomplished. Finally, staff is graded on proper paperwork and internal communication.

Cascading Goals, the basis for this system, is built on the firm’s ability to quantify performance objectively throughout the entire company, says Maffei. Responsibility cascades down through different layers of management.

“Everyone knows how their own piece fits into the pile,” he says. It all works, he adds, based upon measurement, be it of hours of labor, expenditures or sales outcomes.

Imagine, for instance, he says, a hypothetical sales department where the vice president of sales has a goal of $10 million to meet; so his five sales directors would each have $2 million, and each four-person sales team under them would be responsible for a half a million per person, and so on. Drilling it down and turning to quantifying labor for a landscaping firm, a three-person crew would be responsible for, say, 130 hours a week – and any individual who was not meeting his obligation would be kept accountable by the other two.

“Our organizational chart matches our employee chart. I can track our expenses through every single group,” says Maffei.

Thus, when it comes to equipment, each of the 40 or so trailers contains the exact same equipment, all individually color coordinated so each tool has its own home. The responsibility for the tools starts at the top. Managers sign off on the tools that ultimately become the responsibility of the guys in the field. In this system it is never difficult to determine who is responsible for which tools.

In the off-season Maffei’s teams recondition all machinery, using detailed checklists that define every step. “My grandmother could go through and follow it,” says Maffei.

The efficiency/quality ratings of winners and losers across the company are posted regularly. “They can’t argue with this, because it is objective,” says Maffei. “We tie the team and company goals together by cascading them. A win for the company is a win for the employee, with winners earning raises and bonuses, improved responsibility and autonomy, even better equipment. Some of it, we are still working out, but we know where it is going.”

Learning curve

Maffei founded his landscape company in 1991 when he was in high school. By 2007, it was doing about $8 million in business a year. That slid to $5 million after the recession year of 2008.

“We went through some hard times, and I learned some things,” says Maffei. “I learned how to make a decision to do this. I found that people had to change their behaviors in order to fit into the new economy. We learned to produce hard-working people. They had to be loyal to my vision. I had some good people, very competent people. In baseball terms, they could hit a 95 mph curve ball. But they were not good clubhouse guys. They had to learn to be loyal to the team.”

He says it is difficult “to get people in line to produce the culture you want. I had to learn to get rid of those guys. It was the hardest thing for me to learn. I could have made excuses to leave certain guys on but it would not have been the right thing.

“GE’s Jack Welch advises to remove the bottom one-third of a company, and doing that is painful. But that is how I had to change, I had to mature and put in people who were in alignment with our goals.”

It’s not all about firing, he adds; some employees realize they are not in the right place anymore and move on to be successful elsewhere.

Maffei’s next goal is to reach $10 million, and to open branches in Harwich and Plymouth, and, also, eventually in Martha’s Vineyard.

“As Jim Paluch says, ‘Hard on profits, easier on people,'” says Maffei. Paluch, a motivational expert in the green industry, is one of his favorite industry gurus, as are Bob Coulter, a human resources coach, Kevin Kehoe, a financials whiz, and Ken Hochkeppel, CFO of Ruppert Companies.

Other favorite guiding lights are Jim Collins, author of “Good is Great,” who speaks of a culture of accountability, and Michael Gerber, author of “The E-Myth,” which explains that true entrepreneurs are the managers who focus on process and procedures, rather than the technicians whose expertise is found in a specific skill set, be it landscaping, auto mechanics or hairdressing.

“You need to get your talent in line with your entrepreneur,” adds Maffei about the company’s current direction. “You can’t teach a commitment to excellence. It’s good for customers, for employees and profits.”

This article is from the 2014 Green Industry Guide. Read the rest of the digital edition here. You can find products, brands, companies and dealers in the industry on the main homepage.