“ Ultimately, you want your team to understand your values, believe in them, and make them your own.”
- Phil Key, president, Ruppert Landscape, Laytonsville, MD
Management team Craig Ruppert (center), President Phil Key and Landscape Management Division President Tom Barry work to reinforce company culture every day.
Ruppert Landscape has become one of the largest landscape firms on the East Coast. At the heart of the Ruppert business culture is a formal value system that is built around its employees, who CEO Craig Ruppert says are the cornerstone of the organization and the linchpin to its success.
He notes that quality work, good customer service and profitability all hinge on a company’s ability to draw quality, hardworking people into the company and then keep them engaged and happy. That’s a tall order for companies just starting out, and Ruppert says it took time for the company to formalize a business culture that it could communicate and teach effectively.
“The first few years you’re in business, you’re just doing the blocking and tackling of everyday business - keeping customers and employees on board and trying to succeed and be profitable,” he says. “It was only after we had achieved a certain level of success (about 70 employees and while experiencing geographic expansion) that we started to realize we needed to develop some consistency. At that point we began to define what made us uniquely ‘Ruppert’ and started talking about culture for the first time.”
The company’s core values are centered on its employees, quality work, customer service and profitability. Its core values have evolved as the company has grown. Today, Ruppert’s company culture is defined by a strong work ethic, community service, a positive image, commitment to safety, innovation, inclusiveness, profitability, and above all else, respect for one another.
Once you have the foundation of your culture set, the challenge is nurturing it and keeping it top of mind as you grow. That is not always an easy task, says President Phil Key, even for a company that has been in business for more than 40 years.
“It has to start at the top. Craig has devoted a significant amount of his time in the last year reinforcing our values and why they are important,” he says. “As the patriarch and founder of the company, to visit branches and attend training sessions to speak directly to employees about what we value and why helps perpetuate our company culture.”
To help keep culture top of mind, Ruppert has ensured it is systemized and measurable, which allows for accountability.
“We tend to let things slide when we get busy. You prioritize what you think are the urgent items and push the ‘less important’ things to the end of the list,” Key says. “To help, we’ve put structure around key items like training and started measuring our success in areas like employee turnover rates, employee evaluation timeliness, customer service surveys, etc. It helped us get a better handle on what areas we were doing well in and what areas needed improvement.”
Part of Ruppert’s vision statement is to “create an atmosphere in which employees can attain their personal goals through the organization, be proud of the company for which they work, proud of the high-quality work they produce, and enjoy themselves.”
By establishing expectations and programs that give its employees a clear path forward in their professional and personal growth and development, Key says employees “feel listened to and valued and that their knowledge and efforts are appreciated. This ultimately helps us attract other like-minded individuals and builds longevity in our organization.”
Show appreciation. Ruppert Landscape devotes a lot of resources to employee relations initiatives to ensure team members feel appreciated. These range from picnics, awards banquets, team-building activities, to even vacation getaways for company managers and spouses.
Recognize milestones. Employee anniversaries and birthdays are celebrated each year. Significant milestones, such as a 20-year anniversary, have been celebrated with surprises like a limo ride to tour all the jobs the person has managed, culminating in a dinner celebration; or helicopter or boat rides.
Communicate. Whether it’s a one-on-one conversation, newsletter, town hall, or during an evaluation, ongoing dialogue is encouraged.
Give back. Promoting philanthropy provides a shared value system that keeps employees productive, enthusiastic, and loyal. Working side by side for a greater good can help with team building and instill a sense of company pride.