Building — and maintaining — an engaged and productive workforce is essential to any tree care company’s success. Here are three keys that you might find useful for workforce management:

1. It’s vitally important to emphasize safety

We talk about safety often. This is done for a reason — safety issues are vital to any tree care company and worker and should always be emphasized. By us (the people who produce this magazine, which has the purpose of educating and informing you) and by you, whether you’re a manger, owner, foreman or ground worker. Safety should always be on the forefront of what you do. Specifically for owners and managers as it relates to workforce management and having a productive, engaged and full-limbed staff.

“We emphasize safety, which is a huge thing,” said Royce Hall, production manager for Limbwalker Tree Service, a 20- to 25-employee tree care company in Louisville, Kentucky. “We want our employees to have long, successful, safe careers. Many other tree companies do not supply or require proper personal protective equipment, and as a result their employees get hurt or killed. We try to provide everything an arborist needs to do the job right and make it home to their families.” Hall has the right idea here. Every company owner should be following suit.

2. Be a part of the team

One of the topics that frequently came up in our interviews for this article was about managers being liked and respected. If you’re a manager/owner and you want to rule your employees with an iron fist, or rule with fear as your top tool, you’re going to run into problems. Studies have told us that, as a whole, employees don’t respond well to this type of management style. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that your company’s leadership models behavior that makes all employees proud to be part of the team.

“Team building is very important to us,” Hall said. “We do our best when everyone is happy and going in the same direction.” Nothing can demoralize your staff and employees more quickly than seeing senior leaders act in a way they don’t respect. Remember, few things energize employees more than a senior team they admire, respect and feel comfortable around. Leaders are always being watched and judged; employees have keen eyes. As Forbes magazine put it in its June of 2013 article about the subject: “When leadership is ‘walking the talk,’ it will be quickly noted — but so will ‘talking the walk’ without actually walking it.”

3. Rewarding employees (where possible) can make all the difference

It’s a natural instinct to want to be rewarded for a job well done. In some cases, a reward can be a verbal acknowledgement, or a “thank you, great work.” In other cases, a reward can be monetary or involve benefits. As a manager/owner, it’s your job to make sure employees are rewarded in some way. This is vital to a productive and engaged workforce. According to the business website Entrepreneur.com, a successful system should “recognize and reward two types of employee activity-performance and behavior. Performance is the easiest to address because of the direct link between the initial goals you set for your employees and the final outcomes that result.

For example, you could implement an incentive plan or recognize your top salespeople for attaining periodic goals. Rewarding specific behaviors that made a difference to your company is more challenging than rewarding performance, but you can overcome that obstacle by asking, ‘What am I compensating my employees for?’ and ‘What are the behaviors I want to reward?’ For example, are you compensating employees for coming in as early as possible and staying late, or for coming up with new ideas on how to complete their work more efficiently and effectively? In other words, are you compensating someone for innovation or for the amount of time they’re sitting at a desk? There’s obviously a big difference between the two.”

Good luck!