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Bud, a production manager for a Landscaping company, arrived at the yard Monday at 5:45 a.m., as normal, to ensure a good 45 minutes of preparation before his crews departed at 6:30 a.m. There was an unfamiliar car parked close to the entrance and when Bud stopped to open the gate, he noticed a young gentleman approach the passenger side of his truck.
“Good morning, can I help you?” Bud greeted the gentleman quickly. “Good morning!” responded George, the gentleman at the gate.
Bud was excited since he was down two crew members and here was a guy who was hopefully looking for work. After finding out that the gentleman was indeed looking for employment, Bud told him he needed a minute to park his truck before doing a quick interview.
“Sweet!” responded George.
The next 30 minutes played out like this: Bud “interviewed” George for about eight minutes and did most of the talking himself. Most of Bud’s questions were based on what equipment George had experience running. In fact, Bud walked him over to a 60-inch ExMark Turf Tracer and grilled George on proper operating and maintenance techniques. Even before George confidently showed his knowledge of the mower, Bud had already decided he was going to give George a chance because he was desperate to fill those openings. He offered George a job on the spot and asked when he could start.
“Today!” George responded with enthusiasm.
“I was hoping you would say that,” Bud said. Bud had already asked George if he had good papers (which is illegal by the way), so they went back in the office to quickly fill out the required paperwork. George had forgotten one of his two forms of ID, but Bud explained he had a few days to provide them. Bud then took George over to the safety cabinet for his personal protective equipment. Bud was a bit irritated because the cabinet had not been restocked properly and there was only one safety vest, which was two sizes too big for George. Bud told him, “Oh well, take this and I’ll get you the rest of the PPE later this week.” Bud had also noticed George did not have boots on, but it was 6:25 a.m. already and the crews were about to mobilize.
Bud went out to the yard and introduced George, his newest employee, to one of his newer supervisors who was one employee short. “I’ll catch up with you later,” Bud told George. “Good luck today, and make sure you wear work boots tomorrow!”
That was Monday morning. No one saw or heard from George again after Wednesday, his third and final day at Beido Landscaping. Bud was frustrated and convinced himself that you just can’t find employees that last these days. Luckily, his frustration was short-lived because on Thursday, there was another gentleman at the gate looking for work.
Bud was frustrated and convinced himself that you just can’t find employees that last these days.
The vicious cycle of poor screening, interviewing, hiring and onboarding was about to start again. I would look at this situation and ask myself: does Bud know the definition of insanity?
The point of this story is to highlight what not to do when interviewing a candidate:
- Do not interview a candidate on the spot. Screen the candidate and schedule an interview.
- Do not perform an interview unprepared.
- Do not rely on your gut or random questions to perform an interview.
- Do not focus on equipment skills if you’re not looking for a unique operator.
- Do not schedule a new hire without having everything ready for day one.
- Do not rush the hiring and orientation process.
- Do not just throw a new team member on a crew.
- Do treat every candidate and hire as if they will be your next 20-year employee.
Kory Beidler is director of training and development at LandCare.
Happiness and work were once thought of as two opposing ideas. A job was meant to help you care for yourself, your family and put food on the table, and employee satisfaction was considered only when it came to pay and benefits.
Several years ago, that started to change, says Dr. Pat Buhler, professor of management at Goldey-Beacom College.
“Quite frankly, one of the reasons why corporate America sat up and took notice is because they were able to connect the dots between employee engagement and the impact on the bottom line,” Buhler says. “We’re not really sure if employee satisfaction really does cause higher levels of performance, because we know higher performance levels also can cause employee satisfaction. Let’s face it, when we’re trying to wring out every last penny of our businesses, when we can engage our employees and deliver higher levels of performance, we are impacting the bottom line positively.”
Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s book “Delivering Happiness” helped bring the issue of employee satisfaction to the forefront, Buhler says.
“It was no longer a subject you kept separate from work and business,” she says.
Buhler and her former MBA student and small-business owner Jason Scott co-authored their own book about this topic, “The Employee Satisfaction Revolution: Understanding and Unleashing the Power of a Satisfied Workforce.” When the book was published in 2009, there was a lot of information about Google’s and Amazon’s strategies, but not what smaller businesses with limited resources could do to retain staff.
Discussions of happiness and satisfaction have now shifted to engagement, and the focus is on how companies can engage their employees and retain them longer, Buhler says. Extrinsic motivators like game rooms and food that larger companies can offer are nice, but smaller companies can be just as competitive by offering essential intrinsic benefits that are more effective at engaging and retaining employees, says Leonard Glick, executive professor of management and organizational development at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business.
“It’s when you really engage people in their work, so they have problems to solve and customers to satisfy, and they know what that means. Those are really the keys to motivation,” Glick says.
“I don’t say that money doesn’t matter at all,” he adds. “The evidence seems to be, if people think they are being treated fairly from a salary point of view, it’s really the intrinsic motivators that take over.”
Hire for soft skills.
“Soft skills” used to be thought of as inferior to a candidate’s previous experience and knowledge, but that is no longer the case, Buhler says. In fact, interviewing for “soft skills” like work ethic and values can help companies hire the right employee who fits with the company culture, she says. “When we understand our culture, what we value, and then we very intentionally conduct a job interview for applicants who share our values, our particular work ethic, our approach to business, then that alleviates a lot of the barriers to high performance right off the bat,” she says. “That’s the thing that businesses have to acknowledge: We’re not as well equipped to teach the soft skills as the hard skills.”
Shadowing is often a practice reserved for high school students and interns, but it can be incredibly helpful during the interview process. The interview is just as important for candidates to get a real sense of the job as it is for companies to get to know applicants. “A candidate could be given an opportunity to come and actually shadow before they take the job to see what they would be doing and spend the day with someone,” Buhler says. Shadowing can also be used as an effective training tool. “(For instance,) someone is working as a cashier, but they would like to know a lot more about being a buyer. Having that individual shadow the buyer once a month or once a quarter, that’s a win-win for the organization because they are helping with cross-training as well,” Buhler says. Employees are looking for growth opportunities, and shadowing days can help staff feel valued and companies promote from within.
Conduct “stay” interviews.
Exit interviews are a common practice at companies to find out why an employee is leaving and how the company could have done better and encouraged them to stay. But what about actively talking to staff about what keeps them working for a business? That’s the idea behind “stay” interviews. “What we’re recommending now is that (companies conduct) stay interviews ... those interviews can help with recruiting more people and retention,” Buhler says.
This is easier said than done, but Glick offers a helpful perspective for looking at it. “Ask yourself the question: ‘why do owners care?’ Owners aren’t going to kick out a customer who shows up three minutes after closing. Owners get a lot of feedback. They know if customers are satisfied or not. They stand to benefit directly from good performance and they get hurt directly from bad performance. They know the big picture, they make decisions. They certainly have input in decisions,” Glick says. “If you think about what it is that makes an owner motivated, and to the extent you can, enable employees to have some of that.”
“Most employees are absolutely starved for information, they have no idea what’s really going on. Give them the big picture.” Leonard Glick, executive professor, Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business
Be honest and transparent.
“Most employees are absolutely starved for information, they have no idea what’s really going on,” Glick says. “Give them the big picture. I continue to be astounded at how little most employees know what happens to their work and the results of their work.”
Provide feedback often.
Yearly reviews are being replaced with more frequent, informal meetings to give employees regular feedback, Buhler says. “These are more meaningful and much more critical and effective for management. Every direct supervisor should build a relationship with each one of their subordinates and know something about them,” Buhler says. “We lose sight of the fact that people don’t leave companies, they leave bosses. Those managers that invest in getting to know their employees find that they can be more effective in supervising them.”
Recognize people differently.
You also have to know employees and develop relationships with them to best understand how to recognize them for their best work, Buhler says. “I am a firm believer in asking people. Too often we think we know what people value, and we really don’t. Then we get into this one-size-fits-all (approach), and it doesn’t appeal to everyone. For one person, having their sign on the parking spot close to the door is a big thing. For another person, they might be embarrassed to have their name on a sign,” she says. “You really have to know your employees, and strike a chord with what makes sense to your organization financially.
There are so many things that don’t cost anything that we overlook. The primary example of that is a handwritten ‘thank-you’ note. I can’t tell you the number of times people just think it doesn’t matter about thanking others. Companies can even make a donation to an employee’s favorite charity.”
Increase learning, not training.
Glick says that it’s human nature to want to learn new information and understand unknown concepts . “Imagine two concentric circles. The smaller, inside circle represents the skills of the employee, meaning knowledge, competence, whatever he or she can do. The outside circle represents the demands of that person’s work.
“What we’re recommending now is that (companies conduct) stay interviews. Those interviews can help with recruiting more people and retention.” Dr. Pat Buhler, professor, Goldey-Beacom College
If you want learning to take place, the outside circle always has to be bigger than the inside circle,” Glick says. “Most people will naturally want to master. If they are given a task that they don’t know how to do, it’s almost human nature to want to figure out how to do it. Most will figure out a way to do it, and now they’ve learned.” But, he adds, it’s important for managers to keep track of employee growth and learning, and to make sure their staff is offered challenging – and ultimately rewarding – work at all times.
Have a higher purpose.
Employees, especially millennials, are attracted to charitable, philanthropic businesses that give back to their communities or that have a “higher purpose,” Buhler says. “There’s a preference for working for organizations that are socially responsible, and that’s a great way for a retailer to build that opportunity to be what they refer to as a ‘millennial magnet,’” she says. “It pays off for the organization in terms of hiring more of the talented millennials that have the sense of higher purpose. They don’t want to just go in and do that retail job.”
Provide opportunities to connect.
Casual, informal interactions with fellow employees can help foster a better culture at work, Buhler says. “You don’t have to have a big fancy game room, you can just have something off to the side in your break room where they can connect with one another, whether it be a foosball table or something small. A lot of times companies can pick up things like that through yard sales,” she says. “You have to think about your culture and what make sense for your organization, but (something) where you’re building relationships (among) people and you’re tying (these relationships) in with your culture.”
Give staff autonomy and flexibility.
Both Buhler and Glick say that perhaps the most important aspect to employee motivation and retention is giving staff a sense of autonomy and flexibility. “Give (staff members) some flexibility in the way that they do their jobs, so that everything isn’t so incredibly structured,” Buhler says. “We lose sight in how to effectively and creatively do a job if we think in terms of ‘we’ve always done it this way, this is what worked in the past, and we’re just going to train new people to do it exactly that same way.’
“Giving new people a little bit of flexibility and giving them broad parameters and letting them create some of the new ways that the job can be done is important. Autonomy and responsibility go a long way toward providing additional motivation and satisfaction on the job.”
Michelle Simakis is the editor of sister publication Garden Center magazine.
When I attend conferences, I find myself listening to the conversations surrounding me. I’m always amazed how everybody seemingly utters the same exact problem, “We just can’t find enough good help.”
It’s never a waste of time to look for superstar employees. I am constantly trying to “build a bench” of superstars. In the same breath, I gasp as I visit with friends within the green industry who are “killing it” in May and immediately decide they need to hire additional team members. Oftentimes this is not part of a grand strategic plan, but a knee-jerk reaction caused by stress and chasing those crisp green $100 bills we all love so much.
I preface this by professing that I love every single one of my employees as if they were family. We have a very tight-knit group and I am very lucky. Great people are our greatest asset but I never desire having more of these great assets than we need. My question to you is this: If you step back and look at every single process and system you have built within your company, can you find any areas of wasted labor time? Let me help you out here, the answer is absolutely, positively, yes. I strongly believe this holds true for the smaller revenue companies as well as the big dogs out there.
I attended a two-day seminar in 2012 in which the speaker shared a list of the average areas of wasted labor time and the corresponding hours lost for each listed item.
As the speaker methodically read through each item on his list, I slowly sunk down into my chair. I could take claim to almost every bit of waste on that list. That’s probably why up until that point, beyond my personal salary, our company net profit was at one percent. Embarrassing, I know, but I’m betting all of us have been there at some point. Maybe you are there now. That’s okay because the good news is waste can always be removed.
On that February day in 2012, our firm embarked on a mission to cut every single bit of labor waste we could find. Our entire team read books together about ‘The Toyota Way’ and ‘Kaizen activities.’ Together we worked hard to implement what we learned in both the seminar and these books. For example we removed small waste by disposing of materials and tools that have been lying around for months with no use.
We removed large waste by asking our employees to report directly to our installation projects and therefore reduced our windshield time drastically. We switched all of our materials to be delivered directly from our supplier to our jobsites. We purchased smartphones so that our project managers could track their hours rather than asking them to “punch in” every day.
The end result within three years was a 16 percent net profit and revenue increased 150 percent. The last time I looked, that’s more than double the industry average. More impressive, we accomplished this with the same exact number of people.
I’m not insinuating that you shouldn’t go hire people and I won’t pretend to know your business better than you do. Many of you have been in business much longer than I have and there is no doubt that I could learn from each of you. What I will say is that you likely have waste. The waste you have is probably much larger than you think. It may be a game changer as it relates to your company’s bottom line.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather run a $2-million company with an efficient 20 percent net profit than a $20-million company with only 2 percent net profit.
When removing waste becomes a focus, how do you get started? Personally, I would hire a consultant and bring them in to meet your team and create an action plan. If consultants aren’t in your budget, get your team together in a room somewhere and lock the door for an hour. Look at every single process you have in place.
After you’ve made your list, think about which of these profit killers you want to remove and attack it as a team. Make sure the first one is something that your team can approach successfully and will create a positive impact.
Don’t overlook the three words, “as a team.” If your team doesn’t buy into this, you are wasting your time.
Curating a culture.
The end result of removing waste is not only an increase in profits and a decrease a headaches. The most magical part of this process is that it built a brilliant culture within our company. It inspired teamwork, leadership, ownership and accountability.
When I first introduced the idea to our team I’m sure they all rolled their eyes and thought, “Here he goes again, another seminar resulting in another grand plan.”
As we started this process though, everybody noticed the immediate impacts. Floors were cleaner. Shelves were organized and labeled. Miscommunication occurred less. Expectations were set properly. Before you knew it, we were making enough money to raise salaries and bonuses came easier (higher salaries helps you find more help, by the way). Most importantly for me, our team morale improved as did our client experience.
Some of you may be thinking that cutting waste sounds “too easy.” Some of you may be intimidated by the amount of work it’s going to take.
Believe me, cutting waste is worth it and although it can be a daunting task, all you need to commit to is getting just a little better each day.
The author is president of Groff Landscape Design in Fairfax Station, Virginia.
When you think of artificial turf, it’s typically associated with athletic fields at schools or professional stadiums.
But what about yards?
According to Donna Kent, marketing director with ForeverLawn, synthetic turf is becoming more popular as an option for residential and commercial lawns. Kent says it first became popular in the Southwest. “(Synthetic) turf is used in cases where real grass either can’t grow or is difficult to grow,” Kent says.
Michelle Balicki, marketing manager for SynLawn, adds that different parts of the country view synthetic turf differently, depending on the knowledge in that area.
“Out West we have drought issues and water issues and the level of acceptance is far different than it is in the Northeast,” Balicki says.
However, she adds that drought is hitting different parts of the country as well. She says the option of synthetic turf provides people with an alternative to dying turf, while also helping save water. On the opposite side of the spectrum are the clients with lawns in a valley or below sea level. Too much water can hurt a lawn just as much as not enough water.
“Depending on what part of the country you’re in, there’s a lot of rain,” Balicki says. “So muddy areas are just as big a concern as drought.”
She says a lot of people like to spend time with their families in yards, but having muddy kids and dogs running around the house isn’t enjoyable. Neither of those scenarios are a problem, no matter the weather the day before, if the yard is synthetic.
On the financial side, Balicki says people in heavy rain areas can sometimes see so much damage, the sod has to be replaced a couple of times a year. Installing synthetic turf can eliminate those extra yearly costs.
In the city.
Along with yards, synthetic turf is also seeing an increase in urban areas as more people look for ways to be outside.
“Rooftops are getting a lot of synthetic turf,” Kent says. “In an urban area, there’s not a lot of green space and you can’t get dirt up there or mow. You can install synthetic and have your own green space that’s low maintenance.”
“We’ve got commercial properties, hotels actually, creating additional revenue spaces out of their rooftop areas they couldn’t use before,” Balicki says.
Similar to rolling out a carpet, synthetic turf comes in 15-foot rolls, sometimes even installed with parameter board. At ForeverLawn, installation involves removing 15 inches of existing soil and replacing it with an aggregate stone base.
“We chose something that will allow water to percolate through but will provide a firm base to stop weeds and plants from growing through it,” Kent says.
The base is leveled out and the turf is rolled over the top and secured with nails into the ground. After installation, maintenance is minimal, Kent says.
“If debris falls on it, like leaves, you have to remove the leaves,” she says. “If you’ve got seasons and seasons of debris on it, that would be bad.”
Because of the low-maintenance aspect, Balicki says many homeowners associations and municipalities are installing synthetic turf.
“We see areas in the country where there are serious issues with (workers fixing) median strips because of liabilities issues,” she says. Switching the median strips to synthetic turf takes away that liability risk.
Another risk solved by synthetic grass is child safety. Using a 2-inch foam board, SynLawn can install grass in a playground area that meets head injury prevention criteria. “We can bring that to a customer’s backyard and can add safety elements to it,” Balicki says. “There is now a safety element built in there to provide peace of mind.”