Dale Siems has been a “down-to-earth” employer. No newfangled theories and consultants for him — just caring, communicating and a lot of hard work.
Siems has worked at the Sherman Nursery Co., in Charles City, IA, for more than 40 years — 20 years as its president. Sherman Nursery is one of the largest wholesale nurseries in North America, owned by Bailey Nurseries, Inc., St. Paul, MN.
Siems said of Sherman Nursery: “We were old and well established, with the best land, best buildings, best tools and equipment, best products. But it’s not any of those things that made us successful. It’s because we had the best people. We got people who liked to come to work, enjoyed what they were doing, and were productive.”
Siems called his work philosophy “O.P.” — for Optimum Productivity. The keys to O.P., according to Siems, are attitude, professionalism and teamwork.
“Good attitude makes the difference,” said Siems. “Experience isn’t that big a deal, but give me somebody with a good attitude.”
Siems quoted a statistic from an employer survey he’d saved: “On a scale from one to five, employers hiring a new employee ranked the importance of good attitude 4.6, good communication 4.2, experience 4.0, and recommendation of previous employer 3.4.”
Asked if good attitude is something you can hire, train or create, Siems answered, “We cared about our employees and they responded to it. If you treat people right, they’ll treat you right.”
What did he mean by professionalism? Siems replied, “We work with the soils. We get dirt under our fingernails and things like that, but we like to think we were professionals because we care. You know, anything worth doing is worth doing right.”
Mediocrity has had no place at Sherman Nursery, according to Siems. But neither has burnout, “whip cracking” or intimidation. “I don’t ask anybody for 100 percent… that’s a workaholic. I just ask them to do their best,” said Siems.
Siems’ employees know the value of teamwork — particularly in the nursery’s busy spring season. “They all pitch in and help get the work done, even it if is not their ‘job,'” said Siems. “Without total commitment and teamwork by all our employees, we couldn’t meet the spring demands,” said Siems.
Each year in December, Siems has held one-on-one interviews with each employee. “I get a lot of feedback from these interviews,” said Siems, “and employees really look forward to it. There’s something a little more special about sitting down with the president and just having a cup of coffee together.”
In the interview, Siems said he reviews his notes from the previous year’s interview and asks the employee, “How’s it going? Are we doing things right?” Then he added: “I do a one-on-one interview myself with every employee even if I have 200. It’s that important.”
Siems encouraged communication and welcomed employee input, but he said the wrong kinds of communication were squelched quickly. For instance, if someone was spreading a rumor about layoffs or about another worker, he called in the employee who was behind the rumor and talked it over.
Rounding out Siem’s O.P. philosophy are encouragement, motivation, praise, and optimism. “The biggest challenge of any employer is to motivate and encourage employees,” said Siems. “Praise them in public, criticize in private. Spend some time with them. Be interested in their welfare.”
He has encouraged and motivated employees by letting every employee know they were important and appreciated. “We need you,” Siems would tell them. “Your job is just as important as the president’s … This is your company — what happens to it affects your future, too.”