Planning for purpose—How to build and grow a landscape business

To grow their companies, landscape business owners need to start with themselves
Growing a landscaping business takes dedicated planning.

Arman and Laflamme suggested three things landscapers can do to bolster their argument when trying to sway potential workers away from their current positions.

First, make sure retention is “buttoned up.” Before they even begin looking for new talent, landscape companies need to look at their current turnover. If they’re losing employees for reasons that aren’t related to seasonal needs, there’s something deeper that needs to be addressed.

“Shut the back door,” Arman said, because it doesn’t help to bring in new people if trained and experienced workers are leaving at the same time.

[Related: Three R’s of building a strong workforce: Landscapes 2018]

Business owners should survey their current workforce regularly to get their feedback about what’s working and what isn’t in the business. Employees and laborers might have a completely different idea from the owner about potential issues.

He suggested thinking about “stay-on interviews” as opposed to exit interviews. “You should be surveying all employees at least once a year,” Arman said. “I get face-to-face with all my key employees. … ‘What are you working on? What are your goals? What can I do to help you?’”

These meetings provide valuable insight into the company, but they also make workers feel valued, and show that their hard work does not go unnoticed.

Incentive plans are another retention tool, Laflamme said. Well-designed incentive plans create loyalty because “then the employees feel they’re sharing in the profits of the owner and everybody’s working together.”

Incentive plans help retain qualified workers, but they also help attract workers in other jobs or industries who are looking for opportunities they aren’t getting in their current jobs.

Similarly, defining a career path for new hires helps them visualize where they can go in the company.

Laflamme described an employee who came to his company when he was 18. A subcontractor introduced him to Laflamme, noting his great attitude and strong work ethic, but warned that he couldn’t read or write.

“He knew the language of money,” Laflamme said. “He could see the advance of pay both vertically and horizontally. … He learned how to read and write. He got his GED, and before you knew it, he passed a supervisory test.”

Ten years later, that employee had moved up to assistant operations manager, Laflamme said. “He could see the path. It was very clear and it made all the difference in the world.”

Arman suggested breaking down a career path into three levels: apprentice, intermediate and advanced. That can be applied to any position, whether it’s a field position (from field lead to foreman and senior foreman) or an office position (associate manager, account manager and senior account manager). Each level should define the requisite skills, behaviors and responsibilities that will be expected, as well as additional benefits workers can expect.

“It inspires them to aspire to an upper-level position,” he said.

At that level, the culture of the company is going to be more important than to a lower-level employee, who will be more concerned about compensation.

“Here’s the problem—we’re spoiled rotten,” Arman said. “It’s been an employer’s market for ages. It switched about five years ago and became an employee’s market, and employers are not used to that.”

Nowadays, owners have to be adaptable and innovative, Laflamme added. “You have to just face it—your culture and your company have to be better than the competition’s, and then you have to trap [employees] in and keep them. That’s the only way they’re going to survive,” he said of today’s landscaping businesses.

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