The last thing a landscaping contractor wants to deal with during the height of the summer is an employee who doesn't show up for work or who quits in the middle of a job. What's a business owner to do when a labor issue arises in the midst of the industry's busiest season? Here, the leaders of two landscaping companies share their secrets for bridging labor gaps as well as finding the right employees and keeping them around all summer long.
Plan ahead. At the beginning of each year, The Bruce Company of Wisconsin, a residential and commercial design-build and maintenance company located in Middleton, focuses on putting together a profitable budget. “We plan out our budget for the year so we're fully understanding what we want to accomplish, how it aligns with sales and profitability and what we have to plan for hiring,” says President and Chief Operating Officer Seth Nicholson.
Schedule smart. For The Bruce Company, a scheduling strategy is crucial for managing workload, staff and hours for laborers from week to week. In the past, the company utilized simple systems such as white boards and spreadsheets for managing schedules. They recently kicked up their planning a notch by building an in-house automated schedule, which Nicholson says is a “vast improvement for response time.”
The automated schedule provides instant visibility on upcoming work for a range of four to six weeks. The goal is to get major projects done within that time span. If a job is projected to take more than six weeks, management will add hours to the work week for certain teams to bring the schedule back within their ideal timeframe.
Alternatively, if a project is expected to take less than four weeks, they might cut back on hours slightly to stay on track with their projections. This helps the company manage overtime and excess hours while keeping the schedule and overall workloads in alignment, Nicholson says.
Find the right fit – but be flexible. Hedge Above, a lawn care and landscaping contractor based in Wapello, Iowa, that serves high-end residential and commercial clients, tries to hire employees who are a good fit for the company and who complement existing teams.
“We're evolving a very methodical hiring process that is slower on the front end,” says Geoff Proffitt, president and director of sales and marketing. When the Hedge Above leadership team members interview potential employees, they develop a psychological profile of applicants so they can ensure new hires are placed appropriately. “You don't want to have all of the Type-A people working together,” Proffitt explains.
Another key strategy for The Bruce Company involves assigning all employees to designated crews – including, for instance, planting, irrigation, and aquatic crews, as well as three levels of hardscaping crews. Each crew has specific capabilities that align with certain projects. But the company also makes an effort to cross-train employees. “That way, we can get a more diversified workforce that can ebb and flow and fill in gaps, helping out in other areas as much as possible,” Nicholson says.
Communicate core values. When Hedge Above kicked off the 2015 season with a weeklong orientation for all employees, a key goal was to get them focused on the company's core values. “We've taken the opportunity to say, OK, these are the core values. How does that decision you want to make align with those core values?” Proffitt explains. “It has to align with at least two – if it doesn't, that's your trigger to say that's not how you want it to go.” He says that ideally this sort of decision-making will filter out into the field. “We're excited about implementing that. We think it's going to go a long way toward alleviating labor issues,” he adds.