Labor’s not your biggest problem

Jim Huston explains how growing your business is the underlying obstacle behind finding qualified labor.

Travels with Jim follows Jim Huston around the country as he visits with landscapers and helps them understand their numbers to make smarter decisions.

When I ask clients or green industry contractors what their biggest challenge is, they reply that finding qualified field and/or office staffing is number one on their list. I can understand this answer. However, I have to disagree. On the surface, finding qualified labor might appear to be a contractor’s biggest challenge today, but there’s a challenge behind this challenge.

Your biggest challenge.

Finding adequate labor to staff your company may be the most pressing issue facing you and your business. However, there’s a bigger challenge behind the most apparent one. That is, how are you going to grow your business, your team, your systems and yourself as you analyze the opportunities and threats that you and your business encounter? That’s the ever-present fundamental challenge that an entrepreneur faces.

To be an entrepreneur, you have to think like one. An entrepreneur is someone who analyzes financial opportunities and threats and conducts a “cost-benefit-analysis” (CBA) for the same to determine if the potential financial reward is worth the risk to the capital invested. In order to be profitable, the entrepreneur has to build a high-performance team and the related systems necessary to direct and control the venture.

Meanwhile here are some of the ways that my clients are responding to the current labor crisis:

On the surface finding qualified labor is tricky, but there are larger issues around growing your business that should have you concerned.
  • Lee and Angela Bushong merged with Dan Sander’s company, Enhance Designscapes. The result was a better staffed company that greatly enhanced the current operation.
  • A client in the Southeast purchased a company that had excess capacity. The buyer thought that with the proper training, capital investment and equipment, the acquired team could increase their production significantly.
  • A number of my clients are rethinking their use of human resource professionals. If large enough (near $5M in annual sales), they’re considering hiring a full-time HR professional. If not, they’re researching using part-time subcontractors to assist them with hiring (on-boarding), training, personnel advocacy, etc.
  • Creative incentives: In order to improve the productivity of their existing workforce, a number of my clients are implementing piece-rate pay, day rates, flat-rate pricing and other incentives. When an employee has an incentive to think like an entrepreneur (maximize revenue while minimizing costs), everyone benefits.
  • One of my clients brings roughly 100 workers from Puerto Rico each year. He’s been doing so for almost 25 years and he has been very successful doing so. Other clients haven’t experienced such success with the work force from Puerto Rico.

These are just a few of the ways that my clients are responding to the current labor shortage. There are more but, unfortunately, there’s no quick solution.

Successful entrepreneurs learn how to thrive on creative problem solving. They analyze the challenges provided by the opportunities and threats that they face while building high-performance teams and systems in order to grow their businesses. The CBA is a key tool that they use when determining which opportunities to pursue and which threats to avoid. But they have to be discerning. Like the tip of an iceberg, there may be a much bigger challenge hidden beneath the one that appears on the surface.

You can remain a person in a pickup truck with mowers, rakes and shovels in the back; or you can choose to turn yourself, your team and your equipment into a vehicle that can take you financially to just about anywhere you want to go. However, to be a true entrepreneur, you have to learn how to think like one.

The challenge you think you’re facing just might not be the one that you need to work on after all. Like the man who decides to be his own doctor and then realizes that he has a fool for a patient, your biggest challenge might also be a doctor/patient one. If your doctor/patient are the same person, you might consider finding a new “health care” provider.

Contact Jim Huston at

September 2020
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