New Problems Call for New Strategies, New Tatics
The expected shortage or delay in H-2B workers this year may cause many green industry employers to rethink their entire business plan. If your normal strategy has been to attract as many new clients as possible, expand the work to your existing clients, keep your prices down, and hire all the H-2B workers you can get, this may be the year you want to consider new strategies and tactics. And there are few quick fixes available to make the problem go away. The H-2B issues have been brewing for more than 20 years; it will take more than a few weeks to overcome them. Let’s get started with some basics.
The H-2B issue is primarily one of recruiting. Employers would be happy if all their recruiting needs could be satisfied locally. But the ability, or inability, to recruit good employees from the local labor market can well be the difference between growing a successful business and not being in business at all. If the local market could not supply the workers needed, it was generally accepted that there weren’t too many solutions left. That’s where H-2B has helped by providing an alternate recruiting method. When H-2B is insufficient or not even available, we’re back to our primary issue of recruiting.
PLANET's HR Hotline puts us in contact with hundreds of green industry professionals who have faced this problem and come up with many different solutions. In reviewing their experiences, the solutions seem to fall into the following categories:
- Hard-Core Business Strategies and Tactics
(Note: for those who wish to explore these solutions in greater depth, links to more specific resources are included in the information below)
Employees want to be developed. Few want to be doing the exact same thing they are doing now, next year. There are many forms of training to consider:
- Cross training — You can start slow by cross training the employees you feel are ready. Assign them to work at another function with an experienced employee. For some employees this is the best way to learn new skills.
- Video training — There is a wide variety of training tapes available from PLANET. Almost every area and function of the green industry is covered. For some employees this is a very good way to learn new skills, particularly in conjunction with a skilled employee.
- Training by manual — Obtain training manuals from PLANET. Almost every area and function of the green industry is covered. For some employees (particularly older employees) this is the first step they want to take.
- Off hour, evening, and weekend training sessions — In most cases (but not all) you may have to pay the employees for attendance.
- On-the-job training sessions — Not just working alongside another employee but formal programmed training for which employees are given paid time to attend.
- PLANET's training and certification programs — One of the primary purposes of belonging to PLANET is to gain from the knowledge and experience of industry leaders. Take advantage of the benefits of your membership and be selective about the employees you send to this type of training.
- Local community colleges — Connect with and contribute your expertise to these organizations. Join or create anew the training sessions you need for your company. Become the source for expertise, training, coaching, and jobs.
- Internship programs — Start or expand your own internship programs. Top landscape professionals can show you how to lay a stronger foundation for your company's future by preparing future landscape professionals today. Call PLANET's office to ask about the successful green industry professionals who offer their guidance as Mentors.
See "Employee Retention and Turnover"
New research and writings on the subject of why some companies have such high turnover say that it's mostly because employees hate their jobs! And why do they hate their jobs?
I hate my job because:
Anonymity — "Nobody knows who I am. I'm just one of the grunts working towards the weekend and payday. They don't know or care about me, my future, my interests, or my problems."
Get to know your team. Get interested in them. What do they do when they’re not at work? Are they involved in sports, community activities, scouts, remodeling their basement, or rehabing old cars? They're a significant part of your life. Don't you want to know who they are? They want people to know who they are.
Why don't supervisors and managers do this? Because they don't believe they're relevant. Managers must understand that they have a major impact on the lives of their employees. How they manage them is important to the employees and to you. Yes it takes time and effort. Managing people is a full-time job, not something you squeeze into gaps in your regular work. Employees will usually be the people you see them to be. If you think of them as drudges or misfits that’s what they’re likely to be. Get interested in who your employees, are and they will be a lot more interested in what you want.
Irrelevance — "My work doesn't really make a difference to anyone. Whether I'm here or not is not really all that important. Whether I do a good or bad job has no real impact. I'm just not all that relevant."
Every human being that works has to know that what they do matters to another human being. Not just bringing home a paycheck for the family but in the actual work they do. In some way, their work has to make a difference in someone’s life. Take the time to help employees understand that their jobs matter to someone and show them who that someone is.
Who is on the receiving end of that employee’s work? Is it the customer? Is it the guy on the shipping dock? Is it the office manager who gets his reports, or the driver whose equipment he is repairing? Introduce him to that person and let them describe the difference between receiving his good work and his bad. Let your employee have a person and a face to focus on when he’s doing his work. Sometimes the person he has the most impact on is you. Maybe his good work makes you look good. Don’t be embarrassed to tell him that you’re job is improved when he does a good job.
Not Measured — "I keep doing the same job day-after-day with no difference in the end result. My work is pretty boring with no reason to have any interest in it."
If you don't measure what you're doing you will lose interest in it. Imagine watching a baseball game where there is no scoring, no measurement. It's just a bunch of guys running around in circles and chasing a ball. The initial newness wears off in a few minutes and it gets old and boring. But when you know that it's the last of the ninth inning, two runners are on base, and the next batter has the highest home runs batted in for the last two seasons ... you might be riveted.
Every job can be measured for results, quality, effectiveness, timeliness, productivity, number of rejects, number of customer complaints, number of positive customer comments on surveys and so on. Find out what the measurement should be for this job and keep track of the numbers. Keep the employee informed of the changes. Without a daily sense of progress you go home wondering if your day was worthwhile. Reward milestone accomplishments. Not just a pat on the back, but objective, honest evidence that tells her shes do'ing something right. Can that make the job more interesting? Actually, it can make the job exciting. And remember one of the basic manager's creeds, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it."
Talent is the primary difference between companies. Capital is more available and technology is easier to access. Brainpower and skill are your major assets. Keeping good employees may be the number one way to your future success.
See "Productivity: How to Improve It"
Lean Management — In 2006, PLANET brought together some of the best minds and the best landscape professionals in the green industry for a very special task: to produce an operational strategy that would show the industry how to operate its companies in the most efficient way possible. The result was a report that showed how to reduce labor costs by 50 percent or more, while improving quality, service, and pricing for customers!
Sound fantastic? Too good to be true? See for yourself by obtaining a copy of PLANET's Crystal Ball Report #26 through its publications catalog or by visiting its Web site bookstore. For members it's only $10!
5. Hard-Core Business Strategy and Tactics
As reported by Tom Delaney, PLANET's director of government affairs, and from PLANET's HR Hotline callers, here are suggestions from some member companies for dealing with the issue of labor shortages:
- Do a little pruning of your customer list — Maybe you have a few customers you don’t really make much, if any, money on, or customers who are always very slow on paying. Maybe there are a few customers who are so far away that it’s too much of a stress for your crews to serve them. Customers that are very small might be profitable, but bring in very little revenue. If you have to cut back, should these be the first to go?
- Cut back on extra services — Those that take extra time or expense. Focus on your core business, the business you do best and that brings in the highest profits.
- Consider raising prices — Ouch, That's tough! But really successful, growing companies seldom get that way by being the cheapest guy on the block. Know how to sell quality. Know how to make your prices stick!
- Join forces with another company having the same problem — Maybe by working together you can be better and more efficient than working alone.
- Acquire a small competitor — There will likely be companies facing the same problem you are, but they’re not doing anything about it. They may be ready to give up and give in. You may not only acquire their equipment and customers, but their employees as well. Mergers of this type are often done to create one, better-managed and more efficient company. And they usually do just that.
- Offer creative shift work — Sometimes you can bring on people who otherwise would not want a full-time job. Work one crew 4 days a week, 10 hours a day with another crew that doesn't want full-time, 2 or 3 days or 8- or 10-hour days.
- Subcontract out part of your work to an independent contractor — This could be a small company that does related construction work. You might want to include in your contract some protective language about future competition. Do you have a family member or friend who might take on some of the work with a few of his/her associates?