Shawn Prince’s secret to being a successful landscape industry leader

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We spoke to Shawn Prince, the Vice President of Business Development at Continuum Services. He’s had an illustrious career in the commercial landscaping industry spanning over 20 years – having worked for the likes of Brightview and, before that, the Brickman Group. 

In this article, Shawn talks about his learnings as an industry leader as he speaks to Attentive’s Lead of Customer Success, Kristen Kinsella. This article is a goldmine for any aspiring leader in the industry, as Shawn shares his experiences from his journey.

Read on to learn about how his career has shaped his leadership style and his advice on how to deal with challenges being faced by the landscaping industry. 

Leadership 101 with Shawn Prince

Your people come first

“Put your people above everything else”, says Shawn. No matter the role you are entrusted with, the job can only be executed by your people. “It has to come before your customers, before your profits, before your financials. When you get those three things in the right order – people, customers, and then your financials, things tend to fall into place.”, adds Shawn. 

It is important for a leader to cast a vision. The consequent steps would then be to adopt actions that support this vision. Leaders need to have simple strategies that all team members can understand and execute in a disciplined manner. This drives success. Making things easier and removing roadblocks for the team is the biggest component of leadership, suggests Shawn.

Shawn notes, “The number one lesson in my career that I’ve learned is that when your people are put first, a lot of things fall into place and you start to get a good rhythm with the business. And when you don’t, you run into a lot of headwinds.”

A leader creates conditions for a healthy revenue for the organization. Creating a healthy and fun work environment goes a long way. A good leader will consistently communicate with his team and will not balk at having tough conversations when the time is right. Shawn shares, if your people are taken care of, your business will sustain and grow.

Culture, vision and process: Priorities of a leader

Shawn puts 3 things above anything else and that is culture, vision, and process. A good work culture comes first and as a leader, you need to ensure this culture is implemented. Creating a vision, and setting a process, to cast it repeatedly for the team to understand the direction you’re headed towards. 

What is work culture for Shawn? “It is the runner of the ship.”, he adds, “It really starts with leadership. It’s treating people with respect and treating them with kindness and expecting that as a leader of your team.” 

Leaders set the tone for establishing a healthy workplace culture. Someone in a leadership position can model this behavior for others to follow and inculcate in themselves. Shawn adds, “Strong and committed leaders are really the best generators of culture. If you focus on building leaders within your company, it’s amazing how culture will just come along with it.” A bad environment causes unsuccessful outcomes, which a great culture can otherwise repair. 

A good culture manifests in regular one-on-ones within team members and managers. The structure of these sessions should be well defined with a 2-way feedback strategy. Being appreciative and celebrating all wins, big or small, of your team members, make for a very flourishing work environment. Leaders caring for and valuing their own people establish a standard for others to follow.

 “I think making sure that your team understands ‌they come first by your actions is what really matters”, says Shawn, “Culture is like a snowball rolling down the hill, right? It’ll pick up snow as you go, it’ll get heavier. It’ll go faster. You start to get people on board that are rowing the boat in the same direction as you, but it takes time.”

How Shawn built his team

How should leaders approach the process of adding new members to their teams? What leaves a lasting impression on a new employee? 

From a leadership perspective, this is what Shawn shared with us, “I think a real sobering question is, are we putting that amount of preparation into when we bring a new employee or a new team member onto the team, do we have all the right stuff for them? Who are they spending time with during their first week? Do we have a scripted agenda for their first week? Do we have some questions keyed up for them to ask different leaders inside the company? So they ‌ understand how the company’s structured, and what the culture is within the company.” It is important to convey urgency in your actions while onboarding a new employee, and a plan that has a lot of care that reflects your intention with them. 

The leader is responsible for ensuring that the new hire is a “culture-fit”. Speaking of its importance, Shawn says, “There’s nothing worse for culture than to bring someone on that’s not the right fit or has a bad attitude. They’re really competent, but they have a poor attitude and can’t get along with anyone.” It is better for a leader to train someone with the right attitude than hiring someone who knows it all, but is not a good culture fit.

Having large long-term goals requires working on your people short term. A leader cannot achieve his goals alone. Your entire team ‌gets you there. Reaching a long-term goal will always be a collective effort. As per Shawn, “Being able to build that team with the right people that have the right attitude and the right motivation that’s going to really lay the foundation to be able to achieve what our goals are over the next, 5, 6, 7, 10 years.” Working towards growing your team responsibly with the right people is something that a leader should prioritize. 

Being a leader in the landscaping industry has its own challenges. Let’s hear Shawn’s take on some of these issues.

A good team wins over all challenges  

The answer to every challenge is your team’s ability. Think about the biggest challenges facing the industry, say inflation. Rising cost is a result of market dynamics. But being able to find the right people and positioning them accurately in your business is crucial to the success of a landscaping company. 

Shawn mentions, “Having the right people is where it starts. It builds your foundation for being able to deal with those industry shifts or challenges.”, and we could not agree more. “I think the challenges will ebb and flow and they’ll change, but finding the right people and getting them in the right place is really everything.”, says Shawn. The solution boils down to what your people can do. It is crucial to have a strong operational plan for better deliverables with a strong business development team to ensure growth. 

But keeping your team going is a challenge‌. You have got to keep the team intact, keep up the motivation, and manage differences with empathy. Here is Shawn’s wisdom on this: “People are going to leave your business. They might have a child and decide this isn’t the right fit for them. They might decide to change what their dream is in their life, which is a great thing for them to realize. And then go on a different path that takes them outside your organization. You might have a culture that has cultural issues and people decide to leave, which is a whole another issue. You’re building to provide services to a customer and really grow with the company and achieve the vision. So it has to become a daily and weekly cadence and talking about how we’re going to do it.”, adds Shawn.

Technology in the landscaping industry – A leader’s perspective

“Technology can solve the aforementioned challenges. The labor crunch continues to be one of the most pressing concerns, as hiring for field positions is difficult. Technology can resolve this issue, as it offers more sustainable processes and equipment, like autonomous mowing.” mentions Shawn. 

To adapt to technology in this field, educating your crew and adding to their skill sets will be a necessity. “Our crews that are out there, they go from actually operating the equipment to operating it from a remote control. Maybe from a maintenance perspective, they can spend more time on the details that we all know get missed on sites.”, says Shawn. He further adds that Attentive is a part of this breakthrough in the landscaping industry, Continuum has leveraged Attentive’s automated takeoff software to add velocity to their sales processes.

Shawn adds that technology will bring a more efficient approach and allow the teams to grow their skill sets and broaden their abilities, having a positive impact on this industry. 

Shawn comments on what an ideal workplace should look like.

Summing up Shawn’s recipe for success as a leader

When asked to sum up his leadership journey, Shawn said prioritizing his people  and keeping things simple has made him cross many milestones. “A simple strategy that’s executed with discipline on a consistent basis is the recipe for success.”, says Shawn. 

“We need to be present with your team as a leader, and you need to let them know that, you may not have all the answers, many of us don’t right, but, together, we can figure them out and we can work through this. That challenge will morph and develop. And things will always be different. But I think as a team, we can certainly work through those holistically.”, advised Shawn, he adds “The more we can keep things simple and effective and throw on a healthy dose of fun in there, that’s what people want in their lives. I know I always want more simplicity and I’m always down for some more fun. So, why wouldn’t our people want that?.”

Shawn’s recipe for success as a leader.

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