You win with people

The Nursery Management Conference was full of ways to find and keep excellent people in your organization.

“You win with people!” That headline is a quote often attributed to legendary Ohio State University football coach Woody Hayes. He even made it the title of his 1973 autobiography.

It also was the overarching message running through the 2022 Nursery Management Conference. Maybe I’m biased. OK, I’m definitely biased. But the NMC, which took place in late September in Fort Worth, Texas, was well worth attending.

The format of these events has always been heavy on the audience interaction. We schedule a bunch of intriguing educational sessions, then allow time for Q&A with the speaker and discussion of the topic with your peers sharing the table with you. Of course, an event like that can’t happen without sponsors, and we had some great ones. I’d like to thank them for making this conference possible.

One of the panel discussions was “Post-pandemic lessons.” I was expecting tales of grower ingenuity from the early days of COVID, and we certainly had some of that, but the bigger takeaway from the session was that as a business owner, you need to take care of your people. Our panelists covered how to find the right ones and how to keep them happy enough to stick around.

Robert Saunders, general manager of Saunders Brothers, was one of the panelists and he talked about the importance of developing your people. He said that for any family-owned business, it’s crucial to be transparent in your family employment policy. You’ve got to give them a shot to lead. As a family business, some great potential employees may be hesitant to join if they think they’re just “holding a space for a Saunders.” The brothers that run the Piney River, Virginia, family farm have several policies to help with that issue. For instance, any Saunders family member needs to spend three years working off-site somewhere else before applying for a position at the family business. And if they do return and are hired, they cannot report to their dad or someone who reports to their dad. Promotion needs to be earned. If you have star performers in your organization, you can’t fake it. They’ll know.

Many of the questions the panelists fielded from the audience were about finding the right people. At Saunders Brothers, Robert said they try to capitalize on the shortfalls of other employers. Employees would tell him about their old job and say, “I didn’t feel valued.” As an employer, you have control over that. You can show them that you value their contributions in many ways: from setting up a fun volleyball match or planning a cookout to handing out a simple bonus.

Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farm echoed the sentiment. “You have to take care of your people first,” he said. “They’re the most valuable thing we have. The growing part is the easy part.”

Developing a culture that makes good employees want to stay is tough. Creating an environment in which workers believe they have a pathway to career success isn’t easy. But you’re only as good as the people that surround you. How are you taking care of your people? Share any culture-building tips with me and we may cover them in an upcoming issue.
November 2022
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