“I can’t find good help” … “Millennials aren’t coachable” … “People don’t want to work hard anymore” … “No one wants to do blue-collar work.”
You hear people say these things all the time. I don’t necessarily believe them, but recruiting good people can be challenging. Let’s not debate these cliches. Let’s look at some ideas to help. Most of the information I share with you is either borrowed or was learned the hard way. The most important thing is to take action. As Neo Anderson says at the end of the movie “The Matrix,” “I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin.”
Honestly, how much time do you spend on recruiting? How much money do you invest? Do you have a budget? Do you have one person in your company who has recruiting written down as one of their deliverables? If you do, great. If you don’t, you should.
You can only fix what you focus on. If you want to be great at recruiting hard-working, good-character people who want a career path and to be a meaningful part of your team, you must put in the effort.
As my former associate, George Barth, would say, the first step in recruiting is retention. Be sure to keep your existing people happy. So many people are looking to recruit someone new while they take for granted the people they have. We all have made this mistake. Do you take care of your existing people? Does your company have a great work environment? Do your employees love coming to work every day? How do you know? Employee engagement has become a multi-million-dollar business because we all struggle with this. There is a great book called The Employee Experience, by Stacy Maylett and Matthew Wride. It goes into great detail about how to create a great place for your people to work in. This is a huge subject. I encourage you to read this book and do some research.
Here are a few key points on retention to consider. I want to thank my old boss and mentor, Adam Cervin, for constantly challenging me to learn and get better at these concepts.
Pay your people well. Research shows this is not the most important thing, but it’s important. And no matter what the research says, it is the ultimate measuring stick. “Jane at Utopia Tree Care is paying Paul X, and you are only paying me Y. I am going to work for Jane.”
Stay in touch. It is so easy to have people feel like a number. People can get upset over simple things. This is one that always surprises people, when someone you thought was in a good head space quits. You thought they were happy, and they gave their notice. Try to avoid the painful “Oh no!” moment. Have a good relationship with your people so that, hopefully, they will come to you and tell you what’s bothering them before it’s too late. Put times in your calendar to have both formal and informal check-ins.
Offer a career path. Set goals and provide training as soon as you hire someone. Having great employees is the ultimate goal, so it is imperative you invest time and money into making your people better. Decide what is most important to you and set up a program to train for that: CDL, certifications, pruning, client service? Do you have someone on staff who is a good trainer? Put them in charge of goal setting and training. A good trainer can create a multiplier effect. Put it in writing so you can hold people accountable and repeat what you created.
Make it a fun place to work. Every company is different and has its own culture. What can you do to make your company better? We all spend so much time at work, so how can we make it more enjoyable? Research shows that simple things go a long way. Surprise a crew with coffee and snacks on a cold day, Halloween candy, holiday cookies or ice cream on hot days. Have parties or outings; this really helps to get everyone together socially. I realize that during COVID this is hard, but we are social animals. Use your imagination and be creative.
Make sure it’s a safe place to work. You need to have good equipment, good people and a safe environment to work in. The work we do can be dangerous. Make sure you provide PPE and uniforms and tools that are in good working order. Hire good people who will work safely and not be troublemakers. Provide training and career paths. Give them opportunities to grow, get better and make more money.
Get rid of the malcontents. This one is hard to do, especially if they are talented. When you are so desperate to find people, it seems counterintuitive, but fire the people who poison your culture. You know, the ones who constantly complain about everything. Negative people ruin morale and drag good people down. This is very easy to say, not so easy to do. I always think of the scene in the movie “Hoosiers” when Gene Hackman, the basketball coach, plays with four players instead of five because his only sub was not listening. It’s not easy to be that strong, but you should be.
Remember the Golden Rule. Treat others how you want to be treated. If you can’t be objective about how you treat your people, or if you struggle with empathy, hire someone who gets it. Make it their responsibility to make everyone feel good about their work, or at least be heard.
OK, you have a great culture. All your existing people love you so much they want to work with you forever and never ask for a raise. Unfortunately, even those people move or retire or their spouses get transferred – and we all eventually die. You always need fresh blood. Create a recruiting program that works for you.
Advertise in multiple locations. Through trial and error, find out what sites work for you. Write different ads for the same job in multiple places. Monitor which works best.
Have a plan. Have a plan for an open position or to replace someone who is retiring or not performing. Get these people on the bench and vetted before you need them. If you cannot find the right person for that specific role, make a plan to hire and train. It is fine to hire entry-level people of character and train them. Most of our best employees were developed in-house, but you need a plan. It’s amazing to me how many managers at other companies tell me, “We have no bench.” Set goals right away for your new hires. Have a plan and keep adjusting. What you learn is, you are never “all set.”
Have a referral bonus. Your super-happy, loyal employee can be your best advocate. Make the bonus significant. Do you want to put yourself out there asking a friend or family member to take a chance with their livelihood for $100? Just like clients who love to refer your company, you need to discover this employee and make it worth their while.
Have an open house at your company. Set a date and advertise well in advance. Have your key people there. Set up demonstrations, provide refreshments and make everyone who shows up feel important.
Use social media. The possibilities are endless with all the different platforms. Choose the one you feel best about. Make sure you commit to updating your posting regularly. With the entire world at our fingertips in seconds, don’t let your information get stale.
Build relationships with professors and teachers. Donate your time and resources to help them. Visit schools and bring your experience to the students. Both the teachers and kids will love that. Be sure to bring some swag.
Post signs in areas where people you want congregate. Restaurants, stores, nurseries, etc. Make sure people know you want them to contact you. Make it easy for people to get in touch with you. Use your cell phone or email.
Share resources with other owners and hiring managers. If you have people you trust, it’s a win-win. You can give them ideas or people, and vice versa. Sometimes, you may get a resume that is not a match for you but may be a match for someone else. I’m a big believer in karma; if you do right by others, it comes around.
It’s a numbers game. This is just like being a good salesperson. The more recruiting you do, the more resumes you will get, the more applicants you call, the more interviews you have and the better people you will hire. As I like to say, you need to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince or princess. Pucker up, you have a lot of kissing to do.
Have a sense of urgency. Especially when you have a really good candidate. Running a business, you are thinking about 50 things. They are thinking about getting this job. In our modern world, people are used to instant answers. If you have a good candidate, stay in touch. Woo them by making them feel important. Think of all prospects as perishable food. Get a job offer out as quickly as you can. Close the deal.
Try head hunting. This is a tough one, because I hate it when other companies steal my people. However, this is standard practice, especially at the executive level. I can’t say I would never do it; I suggest you pick your spots and don’t do it too often. However, people are free to change jobs if they are not happy.
Don’t settle. If you think someone is not good when you interview them, they won’t be good employees. No matter how desperate you are, be disciplined. It is not fair to your existing staff. This is especially true of the industry retreads. Just like a bad client who has gone through several companies, you can’t and won’t fix them. Leopards don’t change their spots. “He has so much talent – it will be different here.” “I will keep an eye on them.” Wrong! They will be a problem, it’s just a matter of time.
OK, I realize many of you are thinking to yourselves, “I can’t afford this, I don’t have time for all of this, I don’t have the resources of a big company.” Recruiting is hard, and it takes time and resources away from other things. However, if you want to have a superb company, you need to have plans in writing for retention and recruiting. That means having one of your people responsible for this and spending time on it weekly, if not daily. If you do not have someone with that skillset, hire someone who does. If you have a small company with limited resources, find a company or person to help you part time. You may not be able to do everything, but you need to do something. The more effort you put into this, the better your team will be.
Again, you can only fix what you focus on. Great people are the most important resource for a service business. If you have mediocre people who don’t show up or who do a lousy job, having too much work will never be a problem. No successful business owner has ever said to me, “You know what my biggest problem is? I have too many great employees.”
David M. Anderson, Certified Treecare Safety Professional (CTSP) and a Massachusetts certified arborist, is a manager with Mayer Tree Service, Inc., a 28-year TCIA member company based in Essex, Massachusetts.