You get what you pay for

Columns - Industry Voices

August 12, 2014
Jason Craven
Hire Power

Angela TaloccoJason Craven

When asked for our thoughts on appropriate compensation for the lawn and landscape Industry, we were glad to share some of the fundamental principles we believe apply in this industry or any other. As a side note, this article, as with everything we do at Southern Botanical, was a team effort.

Now to the point – if you want to hire professionals, you must pay them as professionals. Remember the old adage that “you get what you pay for.”

Treat your team members as professionals. The service industry is all about being professional. Getting paid to be professionals to provide professional results for professional clients is a fundamental philosophy for our business model. If you approach pricing for your work this way, you will be able to pay either new college grads or existing professional hires appropriately.

We have to consider what other industries are paying for college graduates, as well as the conditions under which those new graduates will be working. It stands to reason that our industry’s working conditions are more difficult than most. The same thing goes for experienced hires – what comparable role could they obtain in today’s market and what would they be paid?

Realigning compensation for our managers. Whether you are hiring a new college grad or an experienced professional, it is important to know what the market is paying for those roles. What we have seen from our industry is that we tend to look to each other to determine what the market will bear, as opposed to looking at similar roles across the service industry. Four years ago, we instituted a compensation plan for college hires at the manager level.

We found that to compete with other industries and employers for the best talent, we had to look at what options they had when making career choices. Example: we found that teachers had a higher base pay than the average new management hire in our industry. Since, our college recruits work more hours per week than most teachers – for twelve months per year – have less official vacation days, and are expected to communicate with everyone from a residential client to the front line team member, it was important we realign our compensation with outside industries that compete with our target team members.

Reviewing front line compensation. If you want to maintain a front line team that is motivated to demonstrate their talents, you must pay and reward them to be the craftsmen that they are. Again, pay should be reviewed from the service business perspective.

In Dallas, if a warehouse worker is paid more for inside air-conditioned work, you need to consider this when you are putting together a pay package. Also, are the benefits similar? Insurance, 401(k), paid time off, etc. And what about recognition of work well done? We regularly send letters home to the families of team members to demonstrate and recognize what their family member means to our team.

When looking at professional hire compensation, we stick to the formula. We meet many professionals in the 28-32 year-old age range who are looking to make a change in their career. They want more upward movement in roles, pay, benefits, etc. And, more times than not, they’re looking to change careers. Why? Well, they’re getting burned out. They have friends in other industries who are working in roles that seem to be paying more. We know the grass is not necessarily always greener, but it can sure seem that way.

Active career planning at the individual level. When you dive into candidates’ backgrounds, you realize they are usually in their career of choice, but are often lacking any sense of direction regarding their future in the industry. At least once per year, we require a full review which includes discussion about their futures with their direct supervisor. Also, all Division directors are urged by HR and the CEO to identify and nurture talent within their team. We’ve found promoting from within is always best. Other professional industries require these career discussions, which may be why their friends in other industries seem to understand their futures much more than they do.

These discussions also include compensation discussions and should be a standard practice in our industry. We as an industry need to pay much closer attention to these professionals to make sure they understand they do have a future in this industry, and that they do not have to open their own firm to meet their long-term career goals.

Keep the lines of communication open. Once all team members are on board, you need to regularly visit career goals and compensation. Failure to do so will only result in a team member that is likely to take all they have learned from you and move to their next opportunity – ultimately taking their career direction in their own hands.

Helping team members with goals and having an understanding of their current and long-term compensation will help you build long term relationships with little turnover, and will bring you greater business results. This type of career management, along with competitive benefits packages and other perks can keep your talent maturing into well-seasoned, team oriented productive professionals that stay with you.

Our clients tell us over and over again that they want consistency in our team – and we try to listen and learn. These career management principles are the direct results of driving this need for our clients.

These ideas only work if you consistently recruit and regularly address the issues. Address on the front end, and then make it happen consistently. Good luck!


The author is president and CEO of Southern Botanical in Dallas.

Hire Power is a monthly column designed to help you recruit, hire and retain the best talent for your company. We’ve got a rotating panel of columnists ready to give you practical, tactical advice on solving your labor problems. Email Chuck Bowen at with topic ideas.