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Finding a fit

Features - Lawn Care, Industry News

Silvis Group is always recruiting to find the skill sets that produce great service.

Brooke N. Bates | April 10, 2014

silvis groupIf you interview for a project manager position at Silvis Group, you might get a job at the full-service firm in Mt. Pleasant, Pa. But you may not be hired right away, and you may not be hired as project manager at all.

With a downloadable form on its website, Silvis Group is constantly accepting applications and conducting interviews with potential candidates. Though the company is growing, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s constantly hiring – but when it does, President Jacob H. Silvis, IV, will have a pool of vetted candidates already waiting in the wing.

“If your radar’s not always up and you’re not listening to what is happening around you or who’s looking for work, you can put ads in the paper all day long but you’re just going to get people who are looking for a paycheck, versus someone who is actually going to fulfill the role,” he says. “The best employees do not typically come knocking on your door, so we always encourage people to come in and visit the facility and sit down for an interview, even if we don’t have an available position at the time.”

Silvis’ mindset is ABAR – “Always Be A Recruiter” – because there are opportunities at the company year-round. Landscape design/build and lawn maintenance services employ 42-50 people in summer, and commercial snow management requires up to 75 in winter, generating just as much revenue.

Summer or winter, Silvis is on the lookout for people who could contribute to the company’s commitment to customer satisfaction – in one role or another, down the road.

Into the classroom and beyond

Jacob H. Silvis, IV started cutting lawns in high school, hanging fliers door-to-door as early as 1986. After graduating in 1989, he went to Penn State to study landscape contracting and horticulture – and founded what’s now Silvis Group in 1991.

At first, the thought of going back to Penn State to speak with landscape contracting and horticulture students seemed daunting.

“We’d been asked a few times to come up and speak to a horticulture class that brings in speakers from a rotation of companies,” Silvis says. “Personally, I didn’t know how Silvis Group could compete with the TruGreens, the huge corporate entities, so we said, ‘Ah, we can’t go up there. How are we going to get students interested?’”

But three years ago, Silvis bought a local company owned by another PSU grad. When Silvis finally went to the classroom to speak, what he saw energized him.

“I really saw the students’ ears and eyes perk up,” he says. “Seeing the energy that these students bring to the table, I saw a different light of younger students that really want to succeed in the green industry. That got us ramped up, doing career days and opening the Silvis Group to them to visit and tour.”

Now, Silvis speaks to classes each year and hosts a field trip to Silvis Group where students can tour the facilities.

They can even sign up for interviews, and Silvis proactively follows up to keep communication flowing with prospects.

“By working with local and state colleges, we can bring industry experience directly to the classroom, and out of the classroom, to help students understand what they truly want to do,” he says. “Being involved in the student body allows us to be current and gives us an opportunity to recruit the future of the green industry.”

So, for example, during a recent trip to Lowe’s to pick up a few items, his ears perked when he overheard a conversation. He heard a man mention the word “brick” and grumble a phrase along the lines of, “If I would have known then what I know now,” – enough to prompt an introduction.

“I said, ‘I heard you mention you’re a brick mason,’” Silvis says. “He looked at me kind of puzzled, so I said, ‘I thought I’d just throw it out there: In the wintertime we bring on some sub-contractors and additional employees for commercial snow management. What do you do in the winter? Would you be interested?’”

The two exchanged cards, and a seed was planted.
 

The right role.

While the initial seeds are scattered broadly to spark interest and applications, Silvis narrows down the pool by defining the skill sets that best fit a particular position.

Depending on the position, the interview process may take six or eight weeks, culminating in role play activities where candidates must demonstrate the skills required in the role. Of course, there are also background checks, drug screens and reference checks to clear.

But it’s not just technical skills. Personality styles also factor into the evaluation. Silvis Group uses LandOpt’s portfolio of business processes and procedures to ensure consistency across the organization – including hiring, with tools like AVA. The “Activity Vector Analysis” behavior assessment categorizes candidates into core personality types, complete with communication preferences for managing them.

“When we’re hiring, we know what that position holds and what skill set, from a communication and/or an energy standpoint, is required,” Silvis says. “For example, our account managers have to be team-oriented, they have to be goal-seekers, they can’t be too quiet or introverted. We know what personality traits fit into specific roles. So if a person fills out an application for project manager, but the AVA says they’re better suited for sales, we’re going to dig a little deeper to understand more about this individual.”

New employees go through an extensive onboarding process after hire, where they’re paired with mentors in the company to walk alongside them. They also attend a week of “Transformation Training” at LandOpt to learn standard procedures.
 

Hands-on training.

After that, keeping employees tuned to the needs of Silvis Group customers is an ongoing process.

“They’ve called me ‘micromanager’ more than once,” Silvis says with a laugh, “but the reality is: It’s not so much about micromanaging. It’s more about educating and training and coaching the team members to give the end result that clients expect.”

So what’s the difference between micromanaging and coaching? Often, it’s how your approach is perceived. The key to coaching, Silvis has learned, is knowing how employees like to be coached.

“It’s very critical for your team members to understand your personality,” Silvis says. “We’ve done retreats where everybody has taken the AVA and then sat down to discuss it as a group: ‘Jake’s personality is this, and he likes to be managed this way,’ and on down the line. When people understand where you’re coming from, they can take coaching and direction much better than if you just come in flying off the handle.”

By taking time to hire the right employees whose skill sets match the job requirements, and continuing to coach them, Silvis has culminated a customer-focused team that produces the results that customers expect. With client satisfaction as the common goal, the growing company boasts a consistent client satisfaction rate of more than 90 percent. Last year, Silvis Group was honored as the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year.

“Ongoing coaching and training – of not only yourself, but others in the company – creates a better environment for all of us,” Silvis says. “Many times, companies fail because they put the wrong people in the wrong place, and they expect them to do something that is not in their character or their capacity. Making hasty hiring decisions is probably the worst thing you can do. If you hire the right people – not just someone to fill the void – and you give them the ongoing coaching and training that they need, they’ll go to the end of the world for you.”