How to keep the keepers

June 20, 2017 -  By

Photo: © up your retention, then follow up with recruiting.

Which comes first, retention or recruiting? The answer is both. As if there aren’t enough challenges for landscape contractors, it’s apparent landscape businesses better be really good at recruiting and retaining the right people. The job market has shifted from an employer’s market to an employee’s market.

Here’s what that means to landscape contractors and their businesses:

  • An improved construction market means your landscape employees are prime targets.
  • Employees are leaving their employers for higher paying positions.
  • Studies show that at least 20 percent of employees are seeking new jobs.
  • Employers using the H-2B guest-worker visa program are learning it’s becoming more unreliable. Additionally, if a company has been relying on the H-2B program, its recruiting skills likely have become rusty or nonexistent.

It’s game on, folks. Retention and recruiting must be at the top of every landscape contractor’s list of areas to tune up. All organizations must be good at the people part of business to achieve sustainable success and take advantage of a robust economy.

5 ways to retain

Let’s look at five ways you can retain employees.

1. Determine if you have retention or recruiting problems. If good employees are leaving and you can’t find good ones to replace them, you have a retention problem. Fixing your employee program might require a work culture makeover and professional help. If so, resolve it before you launch a recruiting campaign. If you can’t keep the good ones and can’t fix the problem, it doesn’t make sense to recruit more people—only to lose them because some areas in your organization need to be fixed.

Ask yourself why people are leaving, and determine any patterns. Also, find out why people stay. The goal is to reduce or eliminate the biggest reasons employees leave and emphasize and improve the reasons they stay. Conduct exit interviews, and hold onboarding meetings. Learn why people leave and why they stay, and build from there.

2. Build and shape the right culture. Every company has its own culture. How would you describe yours? Does it need work? Remember, this can be one of your most attractive recruiting and retention tools or, if it’s not in good shape, your worst. Conduct employee surveys annually with a third party.

Make hiring and onboarding a positive experience for new employees. Focus on ensuring their safety and providing them with the proper tools to become positive, productive employees. Upgrade this process. Include a piece about your culture and values. Ensure they feel welcome and appreciated. Include and involve leaders and owners.

3. Pay rates. When was the last time you looked at how competitive your pay rates are? Take a good look at them, and make sure you’re in line and up to date in this area.

4. Be a good leader. Consider yourself and your leaders. A poor leader or boss is one of the main reasons why employees leave.

5. Take stock and good care of what you have. Know what performance and potential levels employees possess. Rate and rank your employees. Prioritize whom you need to focus on, and know what’s needed to keep your keepers. Identify development needs and retention strategies.

Bring ’em on board

Once you’ve stabilized your retention strategies, sharpen your tools and skills to build your recruiting strategy. Following are tips I’ve used during the past 35 years.

Identify your needs. Have a clear understanding of whom you need and when you need him. Develop a sense of priority. Start with the highest level, and work your way down. Think of this before you’re desperately in need of new employees. Know the average time it takes to find the right person.

Identify your target candidate. Build candidate selection criteria that include the must-haves and the would-like-to-haves. Remember, not everyone has the exact knowledge, skills and experience you expect. I always look for humble, hungry and smart people. I can train them on the technical parts of the business.

Prepare and sharpen your tools. Don’t recruit randomly. Examples of the basic tools you need are listed in the sidebar below.

Most companies are too busy to fine-tune their recruiting and hiring processes. However, a step-by-step process is critical. Remember, it’s a hot market for good people. Don’t let a hot candidate turn cold on you because you don’t have a good recruiting and hiring process in place. Such a process includes sourcing, screening, interviewing, ride-alongs or shadowing existing employees, reference checks, background checks, job offers, drug testing, physicals and onboarding.

So there you have it, or at least a good start to answering the question: Which comes first, recruiting or retention? Remember, it’s all about people. Always remember your success includes the people at the core of your business. Your ability to find and keep them is essential.

Quick tip:

Resolve a retention problem before you launch a recruiting campaign.

Photo: ©

This article is tagged with , and posted in Expert Insights, October 2016

About the Author:

Arman is co-founder of the Harvest Group, a landscape and business consulting/coaching firm. Reach him at

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