Green Guides features a rotating panel of LCOs sharing their real-world experience on how to build and grow a successful lawn care business.

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A house is only as strong as the foundation it’s built upon, as I learned during one of my many summer jobs as a young adult. So, as I began my first lawn care business in 1984, one of the first things I did, after buying an old used van, was to craft my core values and put them on paper. In reality, I did not have a clue as to where I was going, as I just wanted to start it up and make more money than I could as a teacher, which unfortunately was not hard to do.

I had no idea I’d build my first business into what it became, and was not even dreaming of building a third business to becoming one of the largest in our region. And I really had no mission statement at that time – I just wanted to get customers, pay the bills and stay in business. The mission statement came a few years later, after I’d figured a few things out.

But I knew then, and I know now, what I believe. We all have core values, personally, and in the business world. We use them daily, hourly, every minute to make decisions and govern our thoughts, words and actions. It was not that difficult for me to put the values, six of them at the time, on paper, as I started my business. It was easy that first year, because it was just me. The challenge begins when it grows to two, then 10, and eventually 50 or more people, who are charged with sharing those same values.

A look in the mirror.

In most cases, the core values of a company begin as a reflection of the founder or owner. As the company and the owner evolves, those values may change a little – a new one added, or one be taken away. In my case, the six core values remained pretty much the same with just minor edits in the wording.

“As the company and the owner evolves, those values may change a little – a new one added, or one be taken away.”

We added a 7th value about 10 years ago, a reflection of seeing the importance of taking care of our people, which was not even on my radar when I started. These core values stood the test for 31 years over three different companies, each one being successful. They served us very well and were the base of our success.

Values, in order to really have a positive impact on the company culture and performance, have to be fully believed in and implemented. Many companies have “words on a wall,” that are more hype than substance. And even in the best of companies, if we are honest, everyone can be susceptible to failing on core values. It happens in leadership, and on the front lines where our employees sometimes don’t work and act in a way that fully reflects the core values of our companies.

Must be a constant.

For company core values to be successful, they have to stand the test of time. Processes, people, markets and such will all change. True values should not change and be applicable over time. Values must apply to every worker in the company, so they must be broad strokes of how an employee views their work, how they act, the words they speak and how they perform their jobs. Values must prioritize what a company does, and how they do it. Values should show the role that a company plays in their community, and in our world.

Good core values will attract the type of candidates that are a good fit for the company. For example, if high morals and integrity are important enough to be listed as a core value, more than likely, you’ll attract folks who value that value.

Without a solid and relevant set of core values, a company will just drift, and eventually evolve into something that the founder may not even recognize. And those values, assuming they are the right values for the company, have to be fully bought into by leadership and all employees, for them to be even worth the paper they are written on. That will always be the challenge for owners and leadership making sure that your people actually demonstrate their belief in those values by their actions and work.

Brad Johnson is founder of LawnAmerica, which he sold to Swingle in 2016.