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Steve and Teana Ferguson: A Case Study in Internal Culture

U.S. Lawns in Hampton Roads, Va., employs 40 people. No one has worked there more than two years.

That’s not just a testament to the company’s growth, or how well it attracts new talent. It’s the result of a dramatic restructuring by owners Steve and Teana Ferguson, the dynamic duo who earned induction into the U.S. Lawns Hall of Fame this summer by making bold moves with their business.

“About 2010, we realized our internal culture wasn’t so good,” Steve recalls. “So we decided to set the bar high. We told everyone, ‘You’re either 100% in or 100% out.’ Everyone got a fair chance to get on board, but in the end we had to make some tough choices.”

By tough, the Fergusons mean gradually replacing their entire staff, rebooting operations and implementing a strict level of performance standards. It may sound tough, but it worked. Revenues climbed, business boomed, and people suddenly liked coming to work. Today, employees perform better, have higher quality scores, and are learning the meaning of service.

Steve Ferguson acknowledges that his HR overhaul was “righting the ship.” But in doing so, he and Teana demonstrated a personal accountability that many business leaders lack. They’ve also proven that you’re only as good as your team.

“If someone isn’t excited about their job, they’re not going to succeed. You’ve got to get the right people on board, and give them something to be excited about.”

Today, U.S. Lawns of Hampton Roads does plenty to stir up enthusiasm. Crews are referred to as “Teams,” to emphasize the integral part they play in the business. And they’re paid accordingly, starting at $14 an hour, plus an incentive program that offers three raises.

Then, there’s the support money can’t buy. Account Managers stopping at job sites with Gatorade and water; Team Members openly contributing ideas to operational meetings ; ongoing training to help everyone perform better.

That’s one thing Steve Ferguson says he can’t emphasize enough.

“When everyone moves forward in the same direction, there’s no sideways drama. It’s a culture of responsibility and straightforwardness,” he says.

From orientation, to seasonal seminars, to semi-annual Training Days when all work comes to a halt, Hampton Roads employees believe knowledge is power. They watch demos of new equipment, fine-tune their planning, pruning and plowing skills, or take a course in exceeding customer expectations. Weekly safety meetings teach correct protocols, and Account Managers earn bonuses when their Teams score over 85 on QC.

Steve Ferguson says he doesn’t have to recruit anymore; people come to him. And that’s one way he knows he’s doing things right. Another is what happens at the end of weekly meetings, when the entire company chants, “Your Turf, Our Lawn.” Steve says in their organization, this means a lot more than four words.

“We say, treat every lawn like Mom lives there. And because our Teams have expectations, knowledge, and interest, they do.”

In fact, that’s probably the biggest difference between the old Hampton Roads team and the new one, across every level of the company.

“We know ownership is responsible for setting expectations, and our bar is high,” admits Steve. “But our employees jump over it, because they take ownership, too.”

“One mind can make one idea, but many minds make great ideas,” he concludes.

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