The 21st Century People Dilemma

Cultivating your teams means recruit and retaining the best. Harvest Group’s Fred Haskett lays the foundation for long-term labor success.

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Retention vs. recruiting. This is truly modern management’s chicken-or-egg conundrum, and it has left many professional snow and ice management contractors questioning how to divide their time, and how these two actions interact and benefit one another.

The need for acquiring and maintaining a reliable workforce for snow and ice organizations is critical for their success. Over the last few years, the staffing issues facing the professional snow and ice management industry have gone from chronic to acute.

And it is not just this industry. The Washington Post recently reported employers nationwide are grappling with a problem that threatens to stall economic growth: Vacancies, and lots of them. For example:

  • In Maine, the state transportation department is struggling to find snowplow drivers, thanks to the increasingly tight labor market.
  • Texas, too, is dealing with a labor shortage. As the price of oil climbs, drillers are ramping up production, but they need more truckers to haul it.
  • Florida lacks the construction workers to keep up with its housing need.

The U.S. unemployment rate continues to sink, at a 49 year low as of February (3.8 percent), and job seekers are finding work more easily than at any time since the mid-90s. U.S. job openings reached a new all-time high of 7.581 million in January 2019 and now have topped more than 6 million for six months in a row, a record streak, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Snow Industry Reality

Numerous market reports provide data about the size of the snow and ice management industry. Statistics from the 2018 IBIS World Market Report indicate the services industry consists of: 149,455 companies generating $19 billion in annual revenue and employing 345,195 people. Of course, this is all winter weather dependent.

In a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), the following information was uncovered:

  • A shortage of good help is cited as the top problem facing their members business success in the next three to five years. This is a greater problem than fuel costs; material prices; health-insurance costs; and low-ball competitors.
  • The overall industry average turnover rate among hourly employees is about 50 percent.
  • 77 percent of the respondents reported a lack of quality employees was hindering their growth.
  • 70 percent of the respondents reported having unfilled openings for production employees.

Yet, with all these issues fewer than half of snow and ice management companies have an employee recruiting-and-retention strategy. They do not have a people plan.

The successful organizations in the next three to five to seven years will not be the ones who deliver the best work or produce the best value. Rather, it will be the ones who know how to recruit, on-board, train, promote, and retain their best people.

So, which comes first – retention or recruiting?

Most people respond that recruiting people is the starting point. However, I believe they are wrong.

What you need to do first you need to shut the back door. What I mean by that is you need to understand why people are leaving or staying at your organization.

Challenged with retaining good people? Your organization must constantly re-recruit internally to re-energize employees and solidify their loyalty so they remain committed to your company, just like you would with a job candidate.

OK, so what do you do to re-recruit your employees? Start by creating a list of employees you want to retain, but who may be at risk of leaving your organization. Then, focus on the following strategies:

Keep your workplace engaging. Employees need to be reminded of why it's better to work at your company than somewhere else, so be sure to communicate the many reasons your organization is a great place to work. Conversely, keep abreast of what other employers are offering and enhance your total rewards package, culture, and work environment.

"Selling" your company should never truly end if you want to keep great employees. You always need an attractive message and an enticing work environment and total rewards package.

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Conduct a re-recruiting interview. Otherwise known as a "stay interview," have a meeting to gather information from the employee about what they want, things they like and dislike about their work, their experience at your organization, future career goals, training and development interests, and assignments or responsibilities that may be of interest.

Communicate your desire to retain the employee. Do your people know how much you want them to stay? Like you would with any external recruit, let them know you want to retain them and view them as an important part of the business. Employees frequently walk away from organizations because they didn't grasp how much they were valued.

Create a retention plan. Develop a company-wide plan to re-recruit and retain employees on an organizational level. This plan should include organizational and human resources strategies designed to keep your best employees. Furthermore, create personalized retention plans should also be developed which meet the needs of individual key employees.

Have your counteroffer ready. Any day now, a great employee of yours could leave. Are you ready? Have you prepared a counteroffer? Better yet, are you presenting your employees with the counteroffer before they leave? Engaged employers don't wait for another company to steal their talent. They match other offers or give employees the better offer first to keep them.

You cannot assume loyalty anymore. Top performers are more like "free agents" in business these days. They know what they're worth and what they are capable of, and so does the external market.

The question is, do you?

As Head Harvester, with the Harvest Landscape Consulting Group, Fred Haskett coaches and consults with owners of small, medium, and large lawn care, tree care and landscape companies. He is also a frequent Snow Magazine contributor.

May 2019
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