Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

A business owner from Massachusetts called me the other day to talk about his new Landscape Maintenance Manager.   New to the organization, this highly-regarded and well-paid Manager was uniquely positioned for success in this dynamic, growing landscape maintenance company.  Indeed, the business owner conveyed a sigh of relief when this hire was made, indicating that the field operations team had landed the missing piece of the puzzle, finally allowing the owner to remove himself from day-to-day tactics and return to a leadership role.

Despite high hopes, the manager’s entire on-boarding process was characterized by lethargy, reluctance, and distance; seemingly unwilling to exert his vaunted horticulture expertise, employee development, or business acumen when needed.  Notably, the manager avoided taking any initiative, universally waiting to be told what to do by the owner.  The owner, humble by nature, expressed confidence in the manager attributing the slow pace to a predisposition for detail, learning, and respect.  

With the passage of several months, underscored by continued passivity from the manager, the owner began to reorient the manager, specifying empirical business goals, articulating success behaviors when dealing with key clients, and encouraging a proactive approach by which the manager would start to “own” the maintenance division’s operations, responsibilities, and results.  The manager’s interactions with the owner consisted solely of identifying observed problems, instead of offering proposed resolutions.  

Now six months into this process, brimming with frustration circumscribed by doubt, the business owner adopted a more applied coaching role by attending job walks with the manager, overseeing how he dealt with customers and staff alike, conducting job quality walk-throughs, and trying to get the well-credentialed manager to “step up.”  The owner went so far as to give the manager specific tasks to complete (e.g.,  “remove that trash” from a job site).  All to no avail; no progress ensued. 

Weighing the unseen benefits against the disproportionate costs of this hiring decision, the disenchanted owner asked several key maintenance employees about their opinions of their Manager.  “You mean “Pockets’?” was the response he received from several employees.  When asked how he got that nickname, the employees responded that all the manager does is walk around with his hands in his pockets all day, doing nothing to help the team, department, or company.  

The business owner’s hope and patience were now vanquished.  He terminated Pockets by the end of the week.  

In retrospect, the business owner readily acknowledged he gave inordinate benefit of the doubt to the manager, instead of driving accountability from the outset.  Interestingly, he sensed a performance problem very early in the employment relationship, though did not act until much later than he should have acted.  Furthermore, his admirable self-evaluation revealed that his coaching style was too general, delayed, and not well-documented.  

Leadership, success, and accountability start at the top, and must trickle down to all levels in an organization.  In each case, define the goals, convey the best practices to reach the goals, and always do follow-up on the behaviors to ensure alignment.  

Oh, by the way, I bet your company has a “Pockets” somewhere on the organizational chart, and you know who he/she is.  Don’t wait any longer.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.