May 10, 2024
An open book

An open book


Eighteen years ago, I was at a crossroads with my landscaping company, Creative Roots Landscaping. For the first 12 years of operation, I navigated the business without any formal management system. While a handful of employees and I were passionate about our work and dedicated to delivering quality results, it became increasingly clear that we needed a better way of "being" if the business was ever going to grow beyond just me and 15-20 employees.

That's when a good friend suggested I read The Great Game of Business (GGOB), a book that would forever change how I thought of running my company. As I learned more about the principles outlined by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham, I was struck by the unique but rather common-sense approach of Open- Book Management (OBM). Open-book management is a way of running a company that teaches employees the economics of the business. It’s not just about transparency; it is about empowering every team member to understand the impact their actions had on the financial health of the business and how, in turn, one way or another, it affected everyone within it.

Implementing GGOB was challenging. It required a fundamental shift in mindset and a commitment to cultural change within our organization, but I knew it was worth it. Armed with newfound knowledge and determination, I told myself we would run this way or not at all. So, we began our journey to integrate GGOB into the fabric of Creative Roots Landscaping.

What if people acted like they owned the place?

The results have been more than rewarding. By opening up our financials and involving every employee in the decision-making process, we saw a newfound sense of ownership and accountability within our team. Employees who had previously acted as mere spectators either found their way off the team or became active participants in driving our company's success. The powerful concept that “The Company is the Product” started to really sink in, and people began to reach for the opportunities they were helping create.

Last fall, Mark Bradley brought the LMN Mastermind Group to our facility for a tour and firsthand GGOB experience. He and I sat at the back of the room and watched our teams report, discuss and forecast our critical numbers at our bi-monthly, company-wide huddle. I laughed quietly when he leaned over and said, “They talk just like owners.” At the Mastermind Summit in Orlando, Fla., this past February, Mark shared with the crowd of almost 300 industry professionals what he had witnessed while visiting my facility, saying that “Ryan was redundant.” Everything about those comments tells me we are on the right track.

The synergy between GGOB and OBM became apparent as we embraced a culture of transparency, education and shared responsibility. We didn't just reveal our numbers; we learned together how to interpret them and, more importantly, what actions to take based on that information.

As Creative Roots Landscaping continued to thrive under the principles of GGOB and OBM, I realized our journey was about more than just financial success. It was about empowering our team to take control of their future and fostering a culture of continuous improvement, innovation, winning, camaraderie, exciting challenges and so much more.

The results have reached far beyond the 12-17 per cent net profit we have consistently achieved or the $107,000 profit distributed to employees in 2023. The more powerful and sustainable advantage of operating in a way that harnesses the collective wisdom of our team lies in the less tangible cultural results of the work we have all participated in. When I hear off-the-cuff conversations between employees, and one says, “I’ve had lots of jobs and never felt I belonged as I do here, so I’m not going anywhere,” and another replies, “Neither am I!” Or several who, over the years, have said they would have a hard time working for a company that didn’t have a culture like ours, or “No, Ryan, don’t spend money on buying new wheelbarrows — the ones we have are ugly but they do the job just fine,” I know the ownership mentality has effectively crept into the very fabric of the company. Yes, we still have problems like any other business, but I know these problems are better than bigger ones!

What if employees had actual ownership?

I have learned over the years that “A Company Isn’t Worth Anything If Nobody Wants To Own It” — a problem we don’t have. We have brought four employees into ownership over the past six years and have at least two more eager to join when the next opportunity arises. Reflecting on the journey, I'm proud of how far we've come. By implementing GGOB and OBM principles to meet our needs, we have become a living lab and proof of what GGOB calls the Ultimate Higher Law of Business: "When you appeal to the highest level of thinking, you get the highest level of performance."

This methodology and system have the potential to serve as a powerful framework for landscape companies to navigate challenges, maximize efficiency and drive collective success.

The evidence is clear: The companies that get the people part right will dominate their industries for the foreseeable future, and in my view, the increased role of education (a principle that sits at the very core of OBM) has become an opportunity for those who are willing to step up to the plate. With every set of hands, you get a free brain! Based on experience, I suggest you don't waste that opportunity.

Ryan MarkewichRyan Markewich has been fascinated by business since starting Creative Roots Landscaping in 1994. After selling a majority of his successful company to key employees, he launched Rmark, a coaching service to help other business owners achieve better results, have more time for themselves and find enjoyment along the way.