BOSTON – Five more years of green industry growth? That’s what John Kennedy, owner of John Kennedy Consulting, Sykesville, Md., predicted for the green industry at New England Grows (NE Grows). The popular business guru said the resurgence in the industry’s fortunes brings new challenges to company owners.

KennedyAs the industry raced to get “lean and mean” during the 2008-2009 recession, in some cases it got “anorexic”, he shared with an audience of about 170 green industry business owners here. Suppliers and nursery growers cut back on product, and business owners, in general, pruned their staffs to survive the recession. Now that business is reviving owners are faced with the difficult prospect of finding and keeping good employees. Kennedy pointed to 2013 as the start of the “real” recovery.

The biggest challenge for owners to meet the demands of the recovery will be to get everybody within their companies working teams to implement “meaningful change”. Often this requires that owners recognize the need for “cultural change” within their companies, and begin taking steps to institute “change that will last for a long time.”

The competitive pressures that owners face today (pressures that will accelerate as the economy grows) demand that they “create a solid and unified force of people and energy focused on accomplishing the same mission,” he continued.

Kennedy spent much of his time with the NE Grows audience (he also hosted a more relaxed and intimate “unplugged” Q&A after his hour-long presentation) explaining why and how owners can engage employees to improve their companies’ cultures.

Too often owners attempt to do too much in terms of managing employees rather than training their employees and giving them ownership of their particular job roles. Once owners start investing more time and effort in engaging employees meaningfully, they will get a clearer picture of who is contributing to their companies success and should have a larger role ongoing. They will recognize the “two out of 10 employees” that are willing and able and will become the future leaders of their companies. They will also see the malingerers that will have to be cut loose.

All  companies run better when they get rid of malingerers. “Cut the cancer out of your business,” advised Kennedy. Instead, focus on empowering the “willing and able” employees, and give them more responsibility. As for the “willing and unable” employees, give them more training so that they too, become “willing and able.”

Recognize too that money, as important as it is, is just one of several vital motivators in getting buy-in from employees, said Kennedy. When employees are surveyed the respond this is what they want from their jobs: 1. Appreciation, 2.”Being in on things,” 3. A certain amount of flexibility and 4. Job security. Kennedy said these “wants” have not changed over the past half century, at least.

He added that too often business owners spend so much time attempting to “think outside the box,” they neglect what is “inside the box”, i. e. their employees. Only by engaging and empowering employees to take responsibility for their unique roles can owners create real and lasting positive change within their organizations.