“My company will never be a $50 million company. But we can have something different and leave a lasting effect on what we do and leave people better than the way we found them.”
- Mike Mason, CSP, owner of The Lawn Pro, Louisville, KY
A work in progress: Culture looks different to every company. You have to define it and then own it. After hitting a rough patch, The Lawn Pro team can smile, celebrate and look to the future with enthusiasm.
Mike Mason, CSP, is smiling now; but that wasn’t the case when one of his best employees left The Lawn Pro with some harsh, yet honest, words. During the man’s exit interview, Mason learned quickly that all was not right with the company he had spent over 15 years rebuilding from the brink of bankruptcy.
Mason had lost his best friend to cancer, and his wife was facing her own battle. Work was still getting done but it would come at a price. Mason admits he “checked out” but thought he had the right people in place to keep the business running. He was focused on the nuts and bolts and not personally engaging with the staff, who were swamped, weren’t working efficiently and had lost the desire to go the extra mile.
“It took an employee looking me in the eye and telling me: ‘You need to re-engage because the company is not being run on the values you established.’ It was a huge wakeup call and showed me how important a strong culture is. There is no way to quantify culture on your P&L, but it was eye-opening on how impactful it is on every aspect of your company.”
Starting from square one, Mason began to reinvest and reconnect with his employees; he and his management team took a hard look at making people the priority.
“We weren’t building them up, investing in them, showing them loyalty. That is a big deal for me,” he says. “I am a Christian and I see this as a ministry, a way for me to connect to people and impart positive change. I want to build something I can be proud of and make a winning situation for everyone.”
During the rediscovery process, Mason realized a key to changing the negativity that had taken hold was to look at who they were hiring. The company was growing and hiring had spiraled out of control.
“When we hit rock bottom, I looked around and realized I didn’t like a lot of people I was working with. It made coming to work miserable, and that’s not who I am or what I want our company to be,” he says. “We can teach people anything except integrity and work ethic, but we can build them up and help them buy into the importance of it. We had lost that along the way. It impacted everything - morale, financials, the culture.”
The Lawn Pro team has since revamped its hiring and onboarding process, and is much more selective in who they hire. Out of 30 applicants, they may hire one and still may swing and miss. But Mason says the effort is starting to pay off. Turnover has decreased substantially and the team is taking ownership of their work. They are excited, and working for and with one another toward a common goal.
“It has changed our company, but we still have a long way to go,” he says. “You have to know every person who is working for you, who they truly are and what they care about. If you don’t know who you are trying to lead, you can’t build them and motivate them to get where we want to be.”
For Mason, a crucial realization in what has been, at times, a painful journey is that you can never stop working on company culture and ensuring the values and beliefs it’s built on are healthy.
“The greatest compliment for me would be for someone to say: ‘I’m a better person for having known Mike Mason.’ For that to happen, I have to live it, and it has to be genuine and intentional. It’s not lip service and it’s not pretending to be something I’m not,” Mason says. “It may not always be perfect, but I want people to see that this is who I am, who I want to be and where I want our company to go...and that I want to get there with them.”