Landscaping Contractors’ Greatest Challenges

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Guest post by Ed Laflamme, Head Harvester, The Harvest Group

Landscaping contractors face many challenges but I believe the three major ones are, recruiting quality employees, retaining those employees and maximizing productivity. Notice the commonality among the three: they all revolve around people. I tell my clients all the time, “We are not in the landscaping business but in the people business doing landscaping.” The sooner we understand this the better.

Recruiting Quality Employees

Professional contractors have some common levels or positions, such as executives, managers, sales, crew supervisors and crew workers, but for landscaping companies, the positions that are most challenging to fill—and keep filed—are crew positions.

Though the work itself may be grueling, what attracts people to these crew positions is the money. More than other benefits and perks, these employees’ primary concern is how large their paycheck will be at the end of the week. In my 47 years of experience, this fact has not changed. In addition to being paid the highest hourly rate, they expect to work more than 40 hours a week. If you want to attract and keep these folks, you better pay at least the same or better than your competition.

Another way to attract and keep good workers on your crews is to clearly show them how they can make more money by advancing within the company. This can be done utilizing a “career ladder.” When I was working more directly in the industry, we created a career ladder that included positions called Gardener 1, 2 and 3, and Crew Supervisor 1,2 and 3, and so on. Each position had its own unique job description, qualifications and, most importantly, pay rates. I published the basic career ladder for all to see, and we met with all crews to explain how their earnings would increase as they climbed the ladder.

I’ll share a quick story of just how well this model worked. On the recommendation of a subcontractor, we hired an 18-year-old man who couldn’t read or write. We explained how the career ladder worked and, although he couldn’t read, he understood numbers. He methodically climbed the ladder and within six years he, not only learned to read and write, but also transitioned into management. Our Harvest Way Academy offers more to help you learn how you can use career ladders.

Retaining Quality Employees

Retaining crew supervisors and workers is a major problem particularly within the landscape industry. One of the most essential things in retaining employees at every level is creating and nurturing a positive company culture. A positive culture can be fostered by showing the same respect to every person in the company, especially those in the field doing the work. One way to demonstrate this is by openly complimenting those who do a good job. Acknowledgement of quality work doesn’t cost anything but holds significant value by those who receive it. Owners and managers also must follow through on what they say they are going to do. Showing integrity builds trust and supports a positive culture with happy people—we all know happy people are far more productive.

Part of fostering a positive culture for your employees is building relationships with every person in the company. The owner—or in larger companies, the branch manager—especially needs to build relationships with every person that reports to them., and the same goes for account managers and crew supervisors.

Strong relationships are built on communication. Effective communication helps workers feel their boss appreciates them, especially when they demonstrate a personal interest in their families and personal and professional goals. Showing genuine interest goes a long way in building trust and respect, which inspires loyalty from employees. 

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Another shortfall for companies having difficulty with retention is transparency. Owners and managers should hold occasional meetings with the whole company that starts with the company mission and vison and discusses how the company is doing, what jobs they are being acquired, and what the company’s plans are for the future. This kind of inclusion and transparency helps each employee feel like they are a valued part of the company.  

Lastly, management should encourage a culture of learning where everyone understands that learning continuously is vital for the company and its growth. Try to engage each employee and help them understand that what they are doing is not “just a job” by encouraging them to climb the career ladder. Landscaping can be a lifelong career that can provide for them and their families. Understanding this helps your employees be motivated, engaged and loyal. 

Maximizing Productivity

In a recent seminar on maximizing productivity, an authority on estimating and efficiency made the point that simply by meeting and talking about how to be more productive, you will discover ways to become accomplish just that.

To evaluate your level of productivity, you need to start with measurement. For example, companies should track estimated versus actual hours. Because labor is one of the most significant expenses, accurately and carefully measuring hours will be a strong indicator of whether improvement is happening in productivity. Consider meeting as a group on a regular basis to have everyone participate in discussions about efficiency of equipment and brainstorm how to make the best use of time.

Another idea shared during that seminar was to create and document processes for every area of your company, both in the office (eg, recruiting, hiring, onboarding) and in the field (eg, morning dispatch, job sequencing, equipment maintenance). Starting with a baseline for process provides an opportunity for improving.

Fleet Management That’s Up to the Challenge

A fundamental process that often goes neglected in many companies is fleet management, an area we’ll dive into during our webinar. The areas where you can achieve savings with effective fleet management include fuel, labor, maintenance, and security, among others.

These are some of the challenges we’ll be talking about with three different landscaping companies on our upcoming Verizon Connect webinar on Monday August 27, 2018, at 2:00 pm EDT. Register for “Learn by Example: Landscaping Success at Any Size” and join us to tackle your biggest challenges with the help of our expert panel of three companies of different sizes and from different parts of the country. They have faced some familiar challenges in their years in the industry and will offer valuable insights you can put to use today.

The live webinar will include a Q&A session with our panel and the Harvesters, Ed Laflamme and Bill Arman. Take advantage of this rare opportunity to work on your business and not just in it.

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