Take your time

Take your time

Hiring in a hurry is a great way to make your business a revolving door of employees.

September 24, 2012

The green industry is no stranger to high employee turnover. Online forums are alive with discussion surrounding the issue of hiring great employees while debates rage over health benefits, pay range, experience levels and even criminal backgrounds. Finding and hiring the very best people remains one of the most difficult challenges facing business owners in the hardscape industry.

The goal is to make your company attract great talent and reduce the time you have to spend hunting it down. The best way to approach this challenge is first to remove the fear of it and embrace the opportunity to make your company a great place to work. Ask yourself if you would like to work for your company? Why or why not?

Be proactive.
Most people tend to start the search for employees long after they actually need them. The idea then becomes to shift your attitude from a company that hires reactively, to a company that hires proactively. A reactive company ramps up capacity then panics when they don’t have enough people to do the work.

They franticly take the first person to walk in the door and tell them they can start tomorrow. More often than not, the new employee doesn’t even get a chance to fill out an application before they quit or are fired. At this point owners will then place another job ad, and the process repeats itself.

On the other hand, a proactive company is always searching for new talent. They are sending the message through their employees, website, vendors, clients and peer groups that they are seeking qualified talent. Knowing that the search can be long and slow, they can afford to take their time and really get to know potential candidates. The core culture of your company embraces the need of each employee to be valued, have security and a career path.

This type of culture is contagious and it doesn’t take long for the word to spread. Great candidates will begin to seek you out and at that point, you’ve created a proactive hiring culture.

Establish order.
Beginning with pen and paper or even PowerPoint software, create a hierarchy chart defining the current roles in the company along with future opportunities. This will become a great tool to forecast labor needs and offers current employees a clear vision for their personal growth. Each position should have a clearly written job description and a documented pay range.

Then, before you ever place a single help wanted ad, clearly document your company culture and identify your core values. You’re doing this because as soon as the first candidate arrives, you’ll need to explain this to them. For example, the career path at a typical hardscape company may look something like this:

  • Laborer I
  • Laborer II
  • Crew Leader
  • Supervisor
  • Operations Manager

Give them a trial run. Promotions from one level to the next are almost always offered to existing employees first. Rarely would someone be hired in above a Laborer II position. Don’t get me wrong, everyone will tell you they are qualified to be a crew leader but new employees should spend 60-90 days in a probationary period where their skills can be evaluated according to the related job description. Most people bypass this type of entry level evaluation altogether.

Heck, in 60 or 90 days, the season could be half over. That thought process unfortunately is exactly what leads to headaches, low morale and poor performance. Company growth cannot be sustained unless you are willing to document and implement a well-defined probationary and training schedule for a new hire.

Do your homework.
Candidates should be carefully evaluated before being hired. You should always take the time to check at least three work references. This is often overlooked because so many of us pride ourselves on being able to somehow see into the person’s soul during an interview. Yet we’re the first ones to sidestep blame when they quit or get fired. A few minutes on the phone with a past employer can be very helpful in supporting your decision to hire a new employee. Past performance is the best predictor for future behavior so exercise caution in hiring candidates with a history of legal or personal problems.

Don’t be tempted to hang your hat on a candidate that claims to be able to do anything you ask. Prior performance and work history should be carefully verified for accuracy.

When hiring for labor positions, I personally gravitate toward candidates with a long work history for one or two employers.

My experience has been that people who have a new job every 12-24 months represent a risk for repeating this same pattern at your company. You should create a list of “qualifiers” and “disqualifiers” that will help screen new candidates more effectively. Hiring should be a deliberate, objective process supported by very detailed documentation about the position.

Show them the ropes.
Newly hired employees should have a formal orientation where they receive and sign your company policies. Simply letting new hires walk onto a job site without properly introducing safety and policies exposes you to unnecessary risks and potential problems. Additionally, taking the time to explain these to a new hire makes them feel important and valued.

Starting a new job can be a nervous time for you and the employee. Help ease their nerves and make them feel like part of the team from the very first moment they arrive.

Teach. The next order of business is to begin the new hire on a training path that will expose them to the skills they’ll need to be a future leader at your company. Mentoring is a skill set that all crew leaders should be tasked with. New employees should work under the guidance of an assigned senior crew member. You should have a checklist identifying all of the skills the employee should have in order to be considered for promotion.

Check out the box on pg.124 to find out what we do at Sarros Landscaping. Using a job description, an employee’s performance, progress, pay scale and eligibility for promotion can be objectively measured.

Employees should keep this list with them so they know what skills they should be working on. Notice that full safety compliance and zero accidents is also listed as a basic skill set on our list.

This document is reviewed with the employee every 30 days for the first three months of their employment, which typically coincides with a new hire’s probationary period.


The author is the owner of Sarros Landscaping.

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