Shared value

Departments - Words of Wilson

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January 7, 2019

Words of Wilson features a rotating panel of consultants from Bruce Wilson & Company, a landscape consulting firm.

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Getting recruiting right is the most important job CEOs have. Hiring top talent, hiring quickly and nurturing and maintaining a pipeline of qualified candidates in a hyper-competitive market requires forward-thinking companies to go back to school.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. businesses were operating with a record 6.6 million unfilled jobs as of last spring. Across corporate America, hiring teams are stretched and open positions are going unfilled. In the landscape industry, the battle to win top talent, with high-performing companies all competing for the same A-players, is even greater.

At one of our recent peer group universities, landscape owners were challenged to use their critical and creative thinking skills to solve this problem. One way was to look at the problem backwards – to drop old assumptions about why college recruiting may not have worked in the past, and to think about shaking up hiring practices to get different results.

In particular, there is a competitive advantage in creating shared value through internships and “high-touch” relationship-building as a means to develop closer connections between schools and landscape company hiring teams.

So, how does creating shared value work? Start with these 2019 action plan ideas:

  1. Focus on student organizations at targeted schools – supporting and sponsoring clubs and activities in person, and actively engaging through student social media channels.
  2. Maintain meaningful relationships with faculty and influencers.
  3. Host events for students at your business or at industry-wide student career days.
  4. Volunteer to teach classes, speak to groups and meet student leaders.
  5. Take a personal interest in students’ values, their career/life goals and workplace wish lists.
  6. Create an intern program that offers a training ground for them and a talent incubator for you.

In other words, top performing students are one of your most important stakeholder groups. Like all customers seeking the best of the best, they can afford to be picky. Create a list of the reasons why your firm is a great career home, focus on what’s important and what matters to them, and be sure you can deliver the goods.

This means making a good impression. For interns, a well-thought out, well-managed and structured training experience will show them all aspects of your company, business and philanthropy, and the role your firm plays in your community. When online review programs can make or break hotel and restaurant reputations, negative experiences posted online can sink a well-intentioned but poorly executed program strategy. Interns are great PR and brand ambassadors. Encourage your marketing and HR teams to work together. A great experience will net new hire conversion rates and generate positive word-of-mouth back on campus.

As for new graduates, transition them into your business through a wide lens. Make sure you communicate why field experience is valuable, what they can learn from it as part of their overall career trajectory and why it pays off in understanding your business overall. Make sure that onboarding is thorough, varied and mentored. Check in regularly to see how it is going and make sure they know you care about them and their progress.

Once you have a graduate new hire, take him/her with you on future campus visits to reinforce your link to the campus community. If this sounds like it will take years, it will. If you are not willing to commit to long-term investment in college relationship building, you may as well not do it because it will not work. There are too many good companies ahead of you.

As tough as it is out there, there is some good news.

Privately-held, family-owned landscape businesses offer graduating students a number of upsides. If you focus on leveraging the advantages of your firm – values, product quality, flexibility, innovation and close-knit teams – you’ll improve your odds of competing for and wining candidates’ hearts and minds. While larger competitors with deeper pockets can often offer more opportunity, they are not for everyone.

Bruce Wilson is principal of green industry consulting firm Bruce Wilson & Company.