Photos courtesy of Augusta Lawn Care Services

When Mike Andes started Augusta Lawn Care Services five years ago, he was 18 years old, hiring employees over double his age and who had years of experience he couldn’t match.

Sure, Andes had mowed lawns since he was just out of elementary school. He serviced customers while studying for his MBA, cramming podcasts and audiobooks on business into his 16-hour workdays when he wasn’t sitting in a classroom. But he says that his employees would’ve never respected him had he acted like he knew everything, plus they had plenty of things to teach him, even if he was their boss.

“I think people should be comfortable enough to disagree with me, the owner,” Andes says. “We hire so often times the hands of our employees, but not the heads and their ideas and what they can bring to the table. We only get half of their worth by just hiring their hands.”

Augusta Lawn Care, which employs 19 full-time workers plus some seasonal help, recently won Best Place to Work in Whatcom County, Washington, by Business Pulse Magazine. It was a rewarding feeling for Andes, who will speak on establishing company culture at LANDSCAPES 2019, because he’s created an environment where people “bring their whole selves” to work.

“It’s not just about being the nice guy or a ‘yes man,’ giving them everything they want. There’s got to be policies and systems of discipline, but balancing that out with a sense of empathy … is really the juxtaposition a business owner goes through in our industry,” he says.

Augusta Lawn Care employs 19 people and won a Best Place to Work award from a local news organization.

All about the money.

The bottom line dictates so much in establishing a strong company culture, but Andes says it’s not just for the traditional reasons you might think.

Some company owners are simply worried about making a profit, while others have different goals like creating strong relationships with the employees, even if sometimes it comes at the cost of maximizing profits. Andes specifies that there’s no right or wrong answer – simply that aligning a company’s primary objectives to its culture is a good practice.

A pay-per-performance model might be fantastic for a company hiring employees simply to make more money, because then they can see their value in real dollars and cents. Meanwhile, a company based around team building may want to offer guaranteed salaries to offer more stability and comfort.

What’s more, how owners communicate about money is important. Andes employs open book management and strives for honesty with how the company is doing, while other company owners may opt to withhold sharing as much information. He says owners who talk about money as though it’s more important than the employees’ lives might be sending a greedy message that will be difficult to shake because of stereotypes about the relationship between a company owner and his or her entry-level workers.

“From a culture standpoint, because a traditional laborer probably thinks the business owner is just raking in the dough, not working very hard, but being open and honest about where the money is going… they’ll appreciate the fact you work your butt off,” Andes says.

Still the boss.

Andes is very specific when he talks about the delineation between being an employee’s boss versus his friend – you’re still the boss.

“At the end of the day, we have to make money to be sustainable,” Andes says. “If there aren’t procedures and policies that are upheld, your business isn’t going to do well. That balance is really dictated by the goals of the business owner.”

It’s okay to invite coworkers over on the weekends or do things outside of work – Andes even attended his own employee’s wedding this summer. Augusta Lawn Care hosts two company events offsite, usually a nicer dinner, to still talk business – like how the company did that season, how it can improve, etc. – but do so in a setting outside of work.

But everyone has to be on the same page about the company goals and there still have to be consequences for not upholding best practices to earn profits.

Andes says company culture is contagious, so making sure all employees are trying their best while being themselves is critical.

“I remember one CEO I talked to and the way he thought about company culture,” Andes says. “He listened to how many laughs he heard just walking down the hallway. You don’t want people to hide their emotions. Eliminating that from the workplace is really important.”