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Hiring Landscape Foreman: A Sign of The Times

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Business Advice

Several years back I remember stepping back and looking at the sign I’d hung at the entrance to our shop. I was hiring a landscape foreman again. We were growing, we’d lost a key person or two that year and I really needed to hire a landscape foreman (or two!) to keep up with the growth opportunities we had before us. “Landscape Foreman For Hire. Apply Within.” It said. That sign, along with a few other ads, both published and online, would hopefully attract some interest.

It was a good paying position. We were taking on unique, interesting work. The projects were challenging, but rewarding. When you finished, you really had a sense of pride in what you were leaving behind. We gave our foremen better information, and more authority then what they would be used to elsewhere. I believed we offered a great opportunity. I crossed my fingers and hoped.

Fast forward a few months and I wasn’t any further ahead. The sign and the ads brought in interest, but  3 months and 3 foreman later, I was hanging the sign and hiring landscape foremen again. We were still looking to fill a position that, so far, was filled by candidates who over-promised, under-delivered and ultimately didn’t last long. I needed great people. I was ready to pay for some great people.  But the foremen I’d tried not only weren’t great, they couldn’t even keep up.

The Importance of Hiring Landscape Foreman

I wish I could tell you this story happened once or twice, but the same story has played out in many different positions in my company, from accountant to delivery driver. But no position is quite like a foreman. Hiring a foreman is handing the keys to your business over to someone else…

  • They load trucks and ensure the necessary people, equipment, tools, and materials are prepared
  • On site, they create daily plans, delegate tasks and ensure we work safely, minimize warranty and callbacks, and bring jobs in on time and on budget
  • Their conduct, cleanliness, and organization are the face of my business to my customers, to their neighbors and to every potential customer who passes by our jobsite
  • They need to plan days in advance to ensure we’ve got everything we need when we need it
  • They make decisions-on-the-fly when faced with obstacles like weather, design changes, customer requests, equipment breakdowns, and unexpected surprises
  • They help us ensure extra work is tracked, and ultimately billed to the customer
  • They ensure crews track their time accurately, for payroll and jobcosting
  • They ensure our company systems, policies and procedures are followed each and every day
  • They will ultimately responsible for ensuring  that, at the end of the job, our customers will be our best advertising and marketing tools

And when my foreman failed in any of these responsibilities, I was ultimately left to pick up the pieces and fix the mistakes.

In any major company, someone with these responsibilities might be called a vice-president or senior manager. Now, here I was, handing the keys to my business, and my personal livelihood, to the first few able-bodied people who answered our sign. I needed, against all odds, to find that 1-in-a-thousand foreman would walk through my door and handle all these responsibilities like I would.

I had the sales opportunities. There were customers willing to pay fair market value for our services. I had built up a fleet of equipment that gave us a cost + productivity advantage over many of our competitors. I just needed some people that could help me get this work done!  But after many attempts, I had to accept the fact that no matter how good I thought our company was, or many awards we’d won, superstars were not going to just beat down our door.  But I had to do something… this was the bottleneck slowing our success.

The real problem starts to surface when you get really honest with yourself. Superstars are far and few between in our industry. Extraordinary people rarely pick the green industry to pursue a career. Will that ever change? We’re seasonal, it’s hard work and long days, you get dirty and sore, and other trades pay better wages. My people problem was always going to be a problem and I needed a way to fix it.

Looking back, I realize now that our foreman-for-hire sign was a clear indicator that we were not a systems-based company. We were a company that depended too much on everyday decisions made by people – most especially me! 

The hiring sign out front of my shop wasn’t a sign advertising a job.  It now read like a warning sign.  It told the story of my own business – a company without systems and without a people development plan.  It was the story of me – overworked, underpaid, and frustrated.

Our real problem wasn’t that we couldn’t find great people. Our problem was that we depended on finding them.

We needed systems.  Systems that took the ideas and plans from my head and put that information in the hands of my people.  Systems that clearly told my staff:

  • What tasks needed to be done
  • Who was responsible
  • When they happened
  • How they were to be carried out (safely, quality specs, time constraints)

So began one of the longest, but most rewarding journeys in my landscape company’s growth and development.  There were many late nights, weekends, and vacations thinking about, then documenting a better way to do what I needed done.  There were systems that worked, those that didn’t, and those that needed 4 or 5 changes before we got it right.

There were many new policies, procedures and company meetings.  There were people who couldn’t, or didn’t want to, keep up with the change.  There were staff that didn’t survive the changes.  New people were quicker to adopt the systems, since they didn’t know any better.  They were impressed we had systems, and it was all they knew since their first day in our company.

I still look at my landscape company as very much a work-in-progress.  There is always something that needs fixing.  There is always another problem to fix.  But my problems today are far different than the problems I had back then.   I don’t worry whether my crews brought fuel to site, whether they’re taking too long to get out of the yard in the morning, or whether our jobcosting hours are accurate.  My foreman know they are responsible for those issues, and our company systems ensure those tasks get done right.  I’m freed up to worry about the bigger issues.  Like:

  • Making sure the sales pipeline is full
  • Making sure we’re making money
  • Making it home for dinner (at a “normal” time) with my family

We’ve grown bigger than I’d ever imagined, but I enjoy running my company more now than I did back in those days.  Our systems took years of work, mistakes and late nights at the computer but I would not be where I am now without those systems.

Our company’s systems help us get around the people problem. Our success doesn’t depend on great people. We depend on good, disciplined people who follow systems. Good people with great systems make for great companies.

Better still, our systems develop future superstars within our own company.  Before, I found myself constantly wading through other company’s castoffs, trying to find exceptional people who could run my sites like I would run them.  Our systems, combined with a company culture that offers and promotes continuous training and education within, push our own employees up the ranks.  Instead of looking outside my company for help, I typically have anywhere from 2-5 lead hands ready to take on a bigger role.  These ‘developing stars’ often need help with leadership and planning skills, but they already know our company systems, our policies, and the company culture/work ethic.  We don’t have to absorb weeks or months’ worth of ‘mistakes’ while we bring new employees up to speed.

Don’t get me wrong… great people make great companies too, and I owe a lot of my success to the great staff that surrounds our company.  We can never have enough great people.  But while I’m hunting down the best and brightest stars of the industry, great systems and good disciplined people form the backbone of our company.  Hiring landscape foreman, and all staff, is so much easier when you have the right systems in place.  You’re happier because your people are better trained and more productive right away.  Your staff are happier because they know what’s expected and who is responsible.  Looking back, our systems were some the best investments I ever made.

Landscape Management Network (LMN) was founded by Mark Bradley, president of TBG Landscape.  LMN is a budgeting and landscape estimating software build by landscape contractors, which includes hundreds of policies, procedures, and systems built by some of the best companies in the green industry.  Find out how some of the best and brightest companies in the industry price jobs, hire staff and manage operations with Landscape Management Network.

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