All too often, landscapers bemoan the fact that they cannot find and retain quality employees.

Given well-established cost pressures involving elevated minimum wage rates and persistent employee salary demands, coupled with greater difficulties in meeting gross margin goals due to increased costs and heightened customer expectations for value, landscapers certainly have a legitimate point.

Yet, despite those problems, employers frequently make the situation worse by not improving their employee selection procedures, which are often characterized by the following common 10 mistakes.

1. No staffing plan. Most landscapers only perform staffing functions when a vacancy exists due to termination or resignation. In contrast, they should have a staffing plan for the next 18 months, supported by an adjoining 18-month profit and loss forecast that enables them to hire prudently, conduct labor market reconnaissance or promote from within to achieve organizational goals, rather than hurriedly filling an unexpected staff opening out of desperation.

2. Limited sourcing. Landscapers can no longer depend on a single recruitment source to satisfy their staffing needs. Successful landscapers now must rely on three continuous interdependent sourcing venues:

  • Internal. Leverage a lucrative employee referral program and build extensive internal bench strength.
  • External. Utilize contract recruiters, staffing agencies and search firms.
  • Technological. Use social media, the company website and internet job postings.

3. Low priority. Because of their busy schedules, many landscapers usually think about staffing as an inconvenience they will get to when they are done with their other tasks. Hiring is now a proactive 24/7 function (e.g., interviews should be conducted each week even if no vacancy exists). Recruiting applicants, reviewing resumes, screening candidates and conducting hiring interviews must be part of a manager’s normal weekly routine, constituting at least 10 to 15 percent of his or her time.

4. Inadequate materials. An often observed and fundamental hiring mistake centers on inadequate staffing materials. Essential hiring documents now include: a company-wide written staffing procedure, a job description, a performance appraisal form, an interview protocol and a conditional job offer letter. Taken collectively, these materials crystallize attention onto the position being staffed, demonstrate alignment with organizational goals and convey professionalism to the candidates.

5. No metrics. Landscapers measure everything: revenue, labor, materials, job quality, customer satisfaction, gross margin, profit, etc., but not staffing. Landscapers should devote the same rigor to staffing by tracking: time to fill a vacancy, number of resumes received from all respective sources, selection ratio and total cost of hire. These metrics will improve the accuracy of subsequent budget projections, future staffing plans and succession planning.

6. No interviewer training. Just because an interviewer has conducted hundreds of interviews does not make him or her a better interviewer; training does. Interviewer training (e.g., structured questions, probing follow-up, rating errors, illegal questions, listening) should be a mandatory component of a company’s annual supervisory skills training program (e.g., EEO, performance review, coaching, delegation, goal setting, leadership).

7. One-on-one interviews. In today’s litigious environment, no employment interview should be conducted with a single interviewer. By way of contrast, panel interviews promote greater reliability, validity, efficiency and defensibility. A spurious claim of interviewer discrimination can cost a company tens of thousands of dollars. Avoid the risk: Schedule multiple interviewers or have human resources sit in on the interview as a witness to verify procedural integrity thereby preventing any costly “he said/he said” allegations.

8. Lack of an onboarding program. The goal of staffing is more than just filling a vacancy. The goal of staffing is to hire an employee who will help the company achieve its business goals. If the employee leaves suddenly, the staffing goal was not met. To secure the staffing goal, companies must have an onboarding plan (e.g., orientation, training, development plan, monthly one-on-one meetings, 90-day review) to provide the contextual features necessary to ensure the employee’s satisfaction, productivity and retention.

9. Not focusing on employee engagement. Employee engagement is critical to commitment, job performance and retention. Lamentably, it is rarely considered in most staffing processes. To that point, an organization must repeatedly specify how the candidate’s direct actions will help contribute to achieving the company’s goals. Thus, during the interview, orientation program and onboarding, employees must consistently be able to connect their unique inputs to company results in order to remain motivated, fulfilled and valued as a team member.

10. Accountability. Who owns the staffing process? Is it human resources, the hiring manager, the interviewers, the executive team, the employee’s supervisor? Crickets… That is why it is a common mistake. Outlined in the written staffing process, supported by human resources and discussed at each executive staff meeting, the clear point of accountability, rate of progress and the definition of success must be well understood throughout the organization.

We all know the standard mantras: “It’s all about the people,” “people are our most valued asset,” “take care of the employees and they will take care of you.” Underscoring those refrains is the fact that hiring is the cornerstone of organizational success.

With that premise in mind, landscapers must review their current staffing procedures, consider some of the issues presented above, and redesign their hiring processes to the extent that they will be treated as equal to other organizational responsibilities necessary for the company to accomplish its business goals more efficiently than they currently are being achieved.

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