Transform your workplace

A positive company culture starts at the top and starts with basic communication.

Brad Stephenson, left, started in a labor position at New Castle Lawn & Landscape and is now the CEO.
Photo courtesy of New Castle Lawn & Landscape

Brad Stephenson started at New Castle Lawn & Landscape as a laborer about 17 years ago, eventually working his way up into management and then ownership.

“That wasn't because I was the best out there,” says the now CEO and co-owner of the company based just outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “It’s because I created teams. I built teams around me no matter where I went. And that is crucial.”

New Castle was one of the winners in Lawn & Landscape’s Best Places to Work contest in 2022, and Stephenson shared some idea on how they earned the award during a recent webinar, “5 keys to transform your workplace.” Here are some direct takeaways from the webinar. You can view the full presentation by visiting

Don’t assume all is well

You at least have to start asking questions to understand how your culture is in your company. Walk around, do the four corners, feel what's going on. As owners, we always think everything's great because we have these four people that are around us. But if you walk down the line, you'll realize that there's some things happening you don't even know.

Silence distractions

One of the biggest things that drive me nuts is the Apple watches. If you have an Apple watch, it's great, but if you're going to be meeting in a one-to-one, take that Apple watch off. I had a salesperson that every time he was talking to me, he was constantly looking down at his watch. Every time somebody emailed, every time somebody texts, he was constantly looking at it. So, when he's going out and meeting with people and selling work, I guarantee he's doing the same thing. You don't want to be distracted. You want to be focused on the person and you want to be listening to what that person's telling you.

Explain why

I had somebody come into my office and he shut the door behind him. He told me I made the dumbest decision I ever made in my life. I'm like, okay, that's fine. Let's talk about it. But I was listening to how he felt and what it came back to is I wasn't telling him the why behind things. We changed some things around, but I never told him why we were doing it, so he didn't know. It's really important to know the why behind things.

If you're a foreman, say it's 12 o'clock and you're telling Johnny, “Hey Johnny, I need you to wheel that wheelbarrow of stone up this hill and be done by two o'clock.” He doesn't know why you have to be done by two. He doesn't know that there's a either a funeral or a wedding at four o'clock. Maybe if he had that information, maybe he would do that job a little bit quicker. He would know that there's a purpose behind it.

Photo courtesy of New Castle Lawn & Landscape

Set goals

I have some people that say they're not goal setters. If you're waking up in the morning and going to work, that's a goal. We look at these goals and it's these big things – they don't have to be big. You could start small, but you have to help your people set goals. Set goals that are true to them and who they are in order for them to grow and really buy into what they want to do.

Individual communication

It really comes back to how people receive information and how people learn. Like myself, I'm a visual learner and I'm an outward processor, so I might be processing things, and somebody's still stuck on the first thing I said, but I'm getting to like nine and 10 things and I really want to focus on 10. But somebody's still stuck on one because they're a detailed person. What we do to help us understand how to speak to our people is we have everybody take a DiSC (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness) personality assessment. It allows supervisors and (even peers within the company) to learn how to communicate with each other.

The worst thing you can do is talk to somebody in your language and expect them to receive it how you would receive it. Everybody's different. I'm a high ID, so I'm a high I, influence, and, D, a very forward person. And if I'm talking to a CS who's more of a nurturer, more of a detailed person, I could drive them crazy. They're not going to know what to do. They're going to be so confused. So, before every one-to-one, I read everybody's DISC as far as what to do and what not to do when communicating with that person. That helps get a lot of the stuff out in the open and helps people that are different than me to be able to speak and understand where they're coming from.


Be patient

Middle management, I do believe, is the hardest job in the company and that's any company. We'll build people up and they're great in the field and then we move them to a middle management. You’ve got to start as a laborer then you're moving to a foreman and all of a sudden, you're a supervisor, and we expect them to all of a sudden know everything about the job. We've done no training as far as emotional intelligence, communicating. We haven't done any of that, and we expect them to succeed and that's not going to happen.

He has to take information from the owner down to the employees below him and sometimes it's tough, especially if you were the all-star in the field and now all of a sudden, you're put into a position that you're probably going to fail and you don't like it. So, what are you doing to train your people? I can tell you for the DiSC assessment, going through that training, our middle managers understanding how people communicate has been key for us. We've also sent people to our local chamber – they have done some leadership training. We make the mistake of promoting people that have been really good at install to now all of a sudden, they have to lead a bunch of people and they've got to filter information down.

Explain, don’t just direct

Six weeks before the end of the season, we found out we weren't going to hit our numbers and we thought we were. So, we had this massive push to try to get to our numbers, our budget or this hypothetical number. The information went around the entire company, and I didn't realize the damage that it was causing until I started asking questions. I spent a day and went around to probably 15 people – what does it mean to you when we don't hit our numbers?

I'd say about 10 of them said, “Well, when we don't hit our numbers, that means we can't pay our bills, and then we may go out of business.” I'm like, “Oh, okay, well that's not what we want to get across.” It's more, we're not hitting our numbers, we need to push, but it's an infinite game. It's this long game, not this short game. We have to do a better job of explaining that because the information went to our middle managers and they didn't really know what to do with that other than transfer it down. It kind of blew up in our face. But I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. We had a surge; we had a lot of people asking a lot of questions, which helped with communication.

The author is editor of Lawn & Landscape magazine.

March 2023
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