How to keep talented managers from leaving
Photo: (L-R) John Kennedy, Lauren Kirchner, Tammy Behm, Mason Day, Chelsea Mahaffey
Matt McClellan

How to keep talented managers from leaving

14 takeaways from the Cultivate Town Hall on retaining a horticultural workforce


Many family businesses have long-term upper management in place. So how can these companies give budding new stars in the industry the opportunity to develop their careers? How can green industry companies retain people with amazing skills and make them even more valuable?

The Cultivate'19 Town Hall on Retaining a Horticultural Workforce was moderated by Lloyd Traven, president of Peace Tree Farm It featured a panel that included consultant John Kennedy; Lauren Kirchner, director of sales and marketing at Spring Creek Growers; Tammy Behm, owner and managing director at Maypop Coffee & Garden Shop; Mason Day, cofounder of GrowIt! and Chelsea Mahaffey, fellow at Longwood Gardens.

To ensure a candid conversation, the media was asked not to attribute anything discussed during the lively Town Hall.

Here are 14 takeaways from the session.

As the owner…

Flatten your organizational chart. Make it collaborative and have employees report across, not up.

Your ‘open-door policy’ should mean a physically open door.

If you want to retain people, your business must be open to change. Show employees your willingness to change and improve. No one wants to retain robots; we’ll just automate those jobs.

Start a mentorship program within your organization.

When you adopt an idea from an employee, open the books and show them how it improved things financially.

As a new employee…

You have a fresh perspective. When you first start, poke the bear. Ask questions about why things are done the way they are.

In those first three months, you have unique insights as an outsider.

To keep talented people…

Think of a family business like a tent. The top may be closed, but the sides are wide-open.

Elevate your mid-level managers or millennials. Millennials who now have 5-8 years of day-to-day experience are in a position to enact strategic change and ideas in the business.

Not a lot of “plant people” are also “people people.” That’s why it’s important to find the right fit when it comes to retaining those employees.

Coming into a family business…

I have five sons. I told them, ‘You have to show interest.’ If you do want to work in the business, you’ll have to interview with our general manager in charge of hiring.

There are thinkers and there are doers. You need both. It’s important to find the right role for people in a family business.

You need to know who’s got the final word on what things.

Make sure non-family employees have the same opportunity to be heard as family members.