At Scotts, employee networks of many stripes are funded by the company and have a big focus on community outreach.

Kristin Dean joined Scotts Miracle-Gro 20 years ago to work in its finance department, a career move that was perfectly logical since she was an accountant. Over the years, however, she decided to step outside her comfort zone by taking jobs in the information technology department and later in human resources, giving her a chance to expand her skillset and understand how different disciplines help the lawn and garden company flourish. 

The various roles she’s filled, she says, demonstrate the vast opportunities available at the Marysville company. And she recently proved that point again by saying yes to a new challenge as vice president of enterprise engagement.

“About a month ago the leadership team said, ‘We need a special area to focus on engagement,’ ” she says. “We need to understand what our associates are thinking about and what’s important to them. Creating this (position) shows our commitment to our associates.”

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A big part of her new role, which will involve “continuous listening,” will be her participation in all of Scotts’ employee resource groups—networks that include people of shared backgrounds or experiences and those who want to support them. The goal, she says, will be to keep a finger on the pulse of associates to see whether Scotts is on the right track or whether things need to move in a different direction. 

Connecting more

At the beginning of April, Scotts launched its fifth employee resource group for those who are in or want to support the LGBTQ community. It joined other networks for women, veterans, black employees and young professionals. Dean says while other large companies have long had networks for those in the gay community, Scotts needed to wait for associates to come to the company and say, “We’re ready.” And that’s exactly what they did.

“I think it’s really cool that (these groups) aren’t started from corporate,” says Dean, who is a member of all of the networks. “It started with our associates. They come up with a charter and we support them along the way. Associates really need to connect with something. They have a passion for our business and what we do and these (networks) are an outlet for people who just like to connect more.”

Kreg Elsass, brand manager, lawns marketing, leads Scotts’ young professionals network. He joined the group the same year he started at the company in 2016, seeing it as a way to get to know people outside his department. Over time, it’s meant much more. 

“It gave me a chance to take on some leadership opportunities outside of my day-to-day job,” he says. “It’s been a fun experience to help other young professionals take advantage of the culture here where you’ve got a very entrepreneurial spirit mixed with this family environment that trickles down from leadership.”

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Through the network Elsass is able to meet frequently with company leaders and offer recommendations about changes that can be made to benefit younger workers. He’s also used the platform to bring in leaders from outside the company to speak on career development topics.

Community good

At Scotts, the networks are funded by the company and have a big focus on community outreach. That’s been especially appealing to Jim Fuller, plant safety manager, who spent 13 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. As part of the veterans group he takes part in the annual Central Ohio Veterans Stand Down that helps former military members with a variety of services including clothing, health screenings and benefits counseling. 

As baby boomers retire and work forces across the country continue to get younger, the networks and the work they do in the community likely will be attractive to younger generations who, surveys show, equate giving back to a great work environment.

“(Younger workers) come in new to Scotts and find out right away that stewardship is important,” Fuller says. “They see it’s a priority for the company.”

The networks also give different groups of people a chance to interact. Fuller says his group, for example, teamed up with the black network to put on a coat drive a few years ago. The work the networks do in the community is an extension of an overall corporate philosophy of giving back. As a baseline, every Scotts employee gets two paid days off to “Give Back and Gro” by volunteering in the community. “Gro-ing,” in fact, is a community service theme.

In 2011, Scotts launched its Gro1000 program to support 1,000 community gardens and greenspaces across the U.S. over an eight-year period. It aimed to help children affected by food insecurity, children with special needs and refugee populations. Sensory benefits of the gardens also were designed to help people for therapeutic purposes. The program allowed seniors to work with pre-schoolers and veterans to work with teenagers to transform abandoned lots and empty school yards into community assets. The 1,000th garden was installed in 2018 at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Called the Scotts Miracle-Gro Children’s Garden, the 2-acre garden is the largest horticulture project ever taken on by the conservatory. 

Wanting to take its advocacy further, in 2019 Scotts launched a “Gro More Good” program to connect 10 million children by 2023 to the benefits of gardens and greenspaces through hands-on work in communities and by providing grants, educational curriculum and training. To accomplish its goal, Scotts is working with national and grassroots organizations, from the National Head Start Association and No Kid Hungry to 4th Street Farms in Columbus. 

At its headquarters, associates also plant gardens each year where they harvest the vegetables and then donate them to the Marysville Food Pantry. Other examples of community outreach include Scotts’ support of the Central Ohio Heart Walk as a leading fundraiser and ongoing participation in Pelotonia. 

Scotts also recently launched an internal cancer support community to offer employees resources, access to counseling and medical professionals and support from group sessions. 

During the coronavirus outbreak, Scotts is essential as its products are integral to the food supply. In early March, corporate staff began working from home. It has not implemented furloughs or layoffs, and it increased pay for employees still in the field. Scotts’ supply chain is making face shields for use by health care workers.

“When you look at the news, it tends to focus on all the negative stuff that’s going on, and many people might not see all the great things people are doing,” Fuller says. “One thing that’s really resonated with me the most during my (13 years here) is the commitment (CEO Jim) Hagedorn has made to give back to the community.”

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer.