Building a foreman success program

Columns - Industry Voices

Foremen are critical to all landscaping firms in that they are typically first-line supervisors, directly responsible for myriad key performance indicators.

May 25, 2012
Steve Cesare

Steve Cesare

With increased frequency, I receive questions, concerns and suggestions about how to leverage foremen performance. Foremen are critical to all landscaping firms in that they are typically first-line supervisors, directly responsible for myriad key performance indicators (e.g., job quality, gross margin, safety, customer service). Unfortunately, despite that importance, many landscapers don’t value foreman as much as they should. The four fundamentals of this success program are the ability to attract, motivate, develop and retain high-quality foremen.

Attract. Fundamentally, landscaping companies must continually position themselves to attract, interview and select high-quality foremen. Without this initial step, everything else is substandard.

First, a company must have a viable employee referral program that pays employees for bringing new talent (e.g., foremen, irrigators, account managers) into the company.

While variations exist, an employee who refers a foreman to the company should receive a $250 bonus after the foreman completes 90 days on the job and another $250 after completing six months. That incentive conveys an unmistakable message regarding the company’s value toward quality staffing.

Second, beyond the employee referral program, the company must have a succession plan in place to promote employees to foremen. If there are no viable candidates for promotion, the company is either hiring the wrong employees or not addressing this issue with success in mind; immediate action must be taken in both cases.

Third, the company must constantly advertise, recruit, and interview for all positions, regardless of vacancies; especially for foremen. A set interview schedule should be developed and maintained each week. This relentless search strategy provides the company with maximum exposure for identifying new talent.

Motivate. Once the foremen are on-board, the company must motivate them to achieve business goals. The primary framework for doing this is to designate the foreman as an individual profit center responsible for contributing to organizational success as measured by the aforementioned key performance indicators.

This profit center orientation motivates the foremen by satisfying their need for achievement, personal pride and company standing. Next, the company must design a spectrum of explicit performance incentives (e.g., labor efficiency, job quality, employee safety) with financial rewards aimed at the foreman’s entire portfolio. Finally, a key motivator for many employees, especially foremen, is sincere, public recognition in front of executives, peers and subordinates. The motivational value of authentic well-deserved recognition cannot be overstated.

Develop. Foremen must be developed to increase their individual value proposition to the company. First, this begins with an annual performance appraisal evaluating the foreman’s competencies, contributions, and potential; with a forthright development plan established each year.

As a derivative of the performance evaluation, foremen should receive at least two full days of training each year: one focused on supervisory skills (e.g., delegation, coaching, discipline) and the other emphasizing safety procedures. The third development emphasis is growth. Growth can be horizontal (e.g., rotating a foreman to different jobs with novel types of work and new crews) or vertical (e.g., special projects, administrative tasks like conducting a new employee orientation session semi-annually or conducting crew members’ performance evaluations). These activities help the foreman internalize a sense of competence, advancement and fulfillment.

Retain. Successful companies retain high-performing foremen.

At a macro level, this is determined by the company’s culture; at the micro level, it is based on the level of engagement each foreman has for the company. One way to leverage these points is to have structured monthly one-on-one meetings with each foreman.

These meetings allow the foreman to receive feedback, be reminded how their specific behaviors contribute to the organization’s overall success and provide them with an opportunity to make recommendations for improving a job, a process or the company.

Second, retention can be increased if the foreman believes there is a personal connection with his supervisor, owner and company. The ability to discuss personal matters (e.g., family, hobbies, issues) represents a strong bridge in fortifying the foreman’s emotional support system; a connection few employees would sacrifice from any employer.

And finally, the third way to increase foremen retention is for the foreman’s supervisor, branch manager, or owner to be a respected role model at everything they do. This identification with a person of integrity, character and virtue is transformational in retaining key talent, especially foremen.

Summary. Despite their value, foremen are often taken for granted. Foremen are optimally improved through a comprehensive success program, mutually benefitting themselves and the company, rather than isolated, disjointed and inconsistent tactical actions that are often applied though seldom successful.

Steve Cesare is an industrial psychologist with the Harvest Group, a landscape consulting group. Send your HR questions to