It’s tough to find good people. It always has been, and it’s even harder in the landscape industry. For 20+ years, I was fortunate to grow a business to more than 500 landscaping professionals at our peak, and how to keep people was among my top concerns.
It turns out I’m not alone with labor concerns. We recently polled 450 landscape business professionals, and 84% say finding and keeping qualified labor is their biggest challenge. This is a troubling landscaping industry trend.
For business owners, you’re only as good as your people. Keeping high business standards means needing quality teams to deliver. It’s especially challenging to grow if your business struggles finding, training, and retaining great people.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen this way too often with business owners across North America. Way too often owners are so caught up in the next job or growth that they forget critical components when hiring and retaining employees.
So, what are the common trends I’ve seen that you can relate to and learn from? Consider these five tips.
Tip 1: Sell a Career, Not a Job
It’s easy to just place a job ad for a landscape crew member or to find a team leader. But to be successful, you must showcase not just a job, but a long-term vision for the work you do. It’s not just about cutting grass. It’s about making the lawns of customers better, being outdoors, and doing great work. If you can position open roles as careers and have examples of employees who have experienced this firsthand, you’ll see your financial earnings grow exponentially each year through better employee retention.
Tip 2: Keep Investing In Training
Make training part of your employee onboarding and annual staff development process. Yes, it’s time-consuming, but in doing so, you demonstrate a commitment to your employees’ careers and professional development, and you can be much more certain that your teams know exactly what to do on a job site and how to do it well. Companies that fail, or may not be as successful as others, hire people and expect them to know what to do. That’s a recipe for failure. Invest in training. You won’t regret it.
Tip 3: Set The Standard With Pay and Benefits – It Pays For Itself
Do you pay the market rate? Or could you pay $2-3 more per hour and still be profitable? Plus, offer a retirement plan, health insurance, and time off? Pay is what most companies promote, but the more diverse your “all-in” benefits package is, the more you’ll be likely to find and retain employees.
When I had my business, my team leaders made well above what any of our local competitors made. We paid well, took care of them with great benefits and strong bonuses each year, as we did with our crews. The result? Our average crew lead or foreman was with us for more than 10 years, and our crew members stayed on average more than five years.
This allowed us to continue to deliver for our customers through happy team members. It’s a simple formula, but it works.
Is it hard? Sure. You must understand the budget for your business and what you need to pay to be competitive and in terms of what this means to your pricing structure and mark-ups. But if you’re consistent and rigid in your pricing structure, you can be successful in offering leading benefits packages to your employees which will drive retention. You can pay THE competitive wage and stay profitable.
Tip 4: Offer a Clear Career Path
I can’t tell you how important a career path or ladder is, no matter how big or small your company is. Incoming landscape professionals want to know how their career will grow within your business. And with this growth, what will come? More money? Bigger titles? When can they expect promotions or raises?
To do this, you must have consistency in processes. Job descriptions, career trees, job pay bands and more. If you can paint the picture to prospective employees of where they will be in three years – and then deliver on it – you’ll be in a great spot.
Tip 5: Build a Family
Lastly, and this may sound cliche, but remember, your crews and teams are like family. The closer you get, the harder you work, and the more you achieve. Landscaping (and snow removal in winter) is tough. It’s not a 9-5 job. It requires early mornings, late nights, and sometimes, weekends without end. It requires a strong landscaping leader to create a space to build team chemistry and keep morale high.
Successful businesses learn this quickly and work to create a family environment where you support each other, know each other, laugh, celebrate and even cry together, because you can only be as good as the collective team. As you get bigger this is hard, but having this family-type environment is so important.
And it doesn’t take much. Host a holiday party. Give birthdays off. Offer free lunch on Fridays. These little yet important gestures matter, and it will go a long way towards your future success.
Talk to any consultant – in the landscape business or other industries – and they’ll tell you there are more tips to finding and retaining top talent. And all are applicable without a doubt.
Positive Results Take Time
Pay attention to the details and focus on your people. Taking care of your people comes naturally to all, but occasionally takes a gentle reminder to appreciate those who work hard for you. There isn’t an overnight solution to building a business that can effortlessly hire and retain landscaping professionals, but the process can be significantly easier if you take care of those already around you.
Use these five tips as a starting point to create a better working culture. Leadership is a skill that needs to be developed and there are many more creative ways to show positive leadership. These results will show as your business continues to grow and you can see the impact you’re making when you look back on all the happy customers that continue to refer to others or even call you back for future work.
If you want to take it a step further, learn how to attract the people you want working in your business by signing up for the free LMN Masterclass: Find and Attract The Right Talent.
Mark Bradley is the CEO of LMN (Landscape Management Network), the leading software system in the green industry. He launched LMN in 2009 following successfully growing his Ontario-based landscaping business to a $50M annual revenue business. His team built LMN to service his growing client needs, and encourages landscape business owners throughout the U.S. and Canada to know their numbers and constantly invest in systems and people to watch their business grow.