Your Employee Management System

Lawn and landscape business owners gain leverage by hiring employees. That is, with employees, you don’t have to do all the work yourself. Generally speaking, hire employees and your sales can grow as you serve more customers. This is a good thing.

But sometime between hiring your first employee and your twentieth employee, the way you feel about hiring employees starts to evolve.

First, you learn that not all employees are created equal. Some join your team with prior experience. Some have no experience at all. Some show up on time each day. Some don’t. 

Others seem to get along with their co-workers and make the work atmosphere really positive. But yet, some seem to bring drama, negativity and poor personal habits with them to work. 

The next thing you know, you feel more like you’re somewhere between running a babysitting operation and a school for troubled adults. You learn first-hand that it’s not easy to find normal folks who simply show up, do their job, go home and return the next day to do it all over again.

Nope, every time we hire employees, we make life a little more complicated for us and the business we set out to build. Or so it seems.

As we write this message, there’s just over 100,000 lawn or landscape companies with just over 600,000 landscaping employees. So, on average, those who choose to become employers, on average, create about 6 jobs and employ a half dozen workers. 

But in every single town we can find landscaping companies who employ dozens of team members, drive shiny trucks, work for the premium customers and they really seem to have their act together. In other words, they defy the average company size of 6 employees and rise to the top of their market.

What separates those brave souls who hire 20, 50 or 100 plus landscape employees and the average company with 6 employees? I’ll tell you what it is. They have built an Employee Management System.

Here’s the best news of all. You can do it too!

If you’ve had your share of troubles finding, recruiting, hiring, training and retaining employees, you are not alone my friend. All employers face this challenge. It’s not just landscapers.

But those who understand the process to build such a system have an advantage in the marketplace. They have an advantage in serving more customers and they have an advantage in attracting more employees. The system feeds itself and allows for growth. Here’s the outline below.

Employee Management System

  1. Share your vision – why are we here
  2. Written policies, plans & procedures are required
  3. Employee escape plan

Let’s discuss the plan outlined above starting with number one: Share your vision – why are we here?

Potential employees have to be sold on the idea of working for you and your company. Money – that is – pay is a pretty good reason to get a job. But rarely does the pay – when considered all by itself – keep anyone working at a company for very long. Nope.

People need a better reason to get out of bed and show up on time than a few bucks. They need a vision that their future is brighter when they are on your team. They need to know (or think) they are doing something a little bigger than digging holes or cutting grass. They need to understand the delicate relationship between the customer, the company and their future.

They need a story that helps them understand what the future looks like when they join and stay on your team. It’s YOUR responsibility to share that story in a believable and honest way. 

The more clearly you explain the future and build some excitement about where your company is going, the easier it becomes to find and keep employees on your team.

Before you dismiss my recommendation as “fu-fu” (Our definition of fu-fu is – liberal minded, touchy-feely stuff) – hear me out. We speak from experience here. We’ve tried employership both ways. 

That is, we’ve hired people with the ethical bribe of trading their time for dollars. Then we’ve used the same ethical bribe (pay) but added a story (a vision) about the future of the company and the future of the employees who join our team.

The future of your company matters. To get better employees, you’ll need to tell that story of where the company is going and why employees should join you on the journey. Every single person you hire cares deeply about THEIR future. When you create opportunities for employees to meet their personal goals while working at your company, they tend to stay around a little longer. This is usually a good thing.

Next, you’re going to have to face the facts about employees. What I’m about to say may come as a surprise to you.

You can’t manage people! They can be unreliable, disagreeable, unpredictable and a few are outright liars. In fact, as an employer, you can expect to have your heart broken, ego bruised and trust shattered by the behaviors you witness.

But here’s the good news, you CAN manage a system. Part of your Employee Management System is a series of Written policies, plans & procedures

Let’s break this recommendation down a bit.

The first word is “WRITTEN”. Putting your policies, plans and procedures into a WRITTEN format allows you to transfer ideas from your mind to your employee’s mind in a pretty cost-effective manner. Further, you can always go back and review the written word. That’s not so easy to do if you hand out instructions using VERBAL instructions. Advanced business owners would not dream of operating their company without documents like job descriptions, a company policy manual, a documented orientation process, a new-hire training process and an employee review process.

We know the truth. It’s not easy for new companies to develop written policies, plans and procedures. We know that business owners get busy doing the work. After all, many owners in landscaping love working with their hands, operating equipment and seeing the project completed. They often fail to make it a priority to update their company policy manual as their company grows, technology changes the way you do business and work processes are modernized.

Next, if your company stays in business, you’ll soon learn that employees come and employees go. The more turnover you have, the more important written policies, plans and procedures are for your company. Yes, the more turnover you have, the harder it is to find time to document policies, plans and procedures. We get it. 

Now listen carefully. There’s endless reasons people move on over time. You can’t even begin to list all the reasons for departure, resignation or unannounced disappearance over the next several pages. But what you need to know is the only thing you can do to REDUCE the number of reasons one would need to move on, is to provide clarity on the reasons someone should stay with you.

People stay with employers that help them feel safe and secure. People stay at companies that give them hope of upward mobility or increases in pay. People stick around when they feel important. YOU can satisfy many of these needs with a series of written policies, plans and procedures. Are you with me? Are you buying into these ideas? I hope so. It’s the truth!

This takes us to the last word of this recommendation: “required”. Yes, written policies, plans and procedures are a REQUIRED prerequisite to your third part of the Employee Management System, the employee escape plan.

We believe the only way to keep your sanity as an employer is to help your employees learn the rules to play the game called Your Business. When someone decides to ignore your rules, fail to follow your policies or procedures, you simply document it through something we like to call The Incident Report.

When you explain (in writing) the way you will document “incidents” inside your company, you’re protecting yourself, your family and your company from misunderstandings, confusion, high unemployment insurance rates and yes, lawsuits. Employers who document the shortfalls, mistakes or out-right violation of your written policies, plans and procedures always have an advantage defending your company and its officers from the bad hires and revenge-minded ex-employees who may try to sue.

Please understand, not all employees are out to sue you. But I will guarantee that if you stay in business long enough, grow your business large enough and keep hiring people, you’ll find a really bad one now and then. One who has a money-hungry attorney on speed dial who is willing, ready and able to take on a new case on a judgment-winning percentage basis.

No amount of effort in the pre-hire evaluation can foretell the future of how your employee – employer relationship may end. So we enter into each employee – employer relationship with the understanding that the relationship is a serious one. We, as employers, have legal responsibilities to each and every employee. If we goof up, we can get into serious trouble.

It only takes one audit from the US Department of Labor or your state’s department of labor to prove our point. And, any disgruntled former employee can turn the wrath of government agencies towards your company.

Please, buy into this recommendation with your whole heart and mind. Prepare your employee escape plan by holding your employees accountable via a simple 1-page Incident Report. Keep records when you must hold your people responsible. You can thank us later for this guidance.

Here’s the final word on your Employee Management System. The employees who buy into your system, appreciate the opportunity you provide them and follow your rules will tend to stay with you longer, help you grow your company and become ambassadors for your company. The more often you utilize a tool like the Incident Report to document great things your employees do, the more likely you’ll gain the respect of your employees.

This next statement is dripping pure gold. It’s worth more than you can imagine. So here it is. 

The most effective way to keep good people is to provide recognition for a job well done. 

It’s amazing really. More than money, a steady dose of positive, public recognition will help you keep the really good ones. Are you surprised?

This ain’t fu-fu stuff. This is business basics 101. Those who get the basics done right (more times than not) tend to be able to manage the company and grow it in a positive way. 

Think of the Incident Report as a scorecard that helps YOU manage your employee system. It works two ways. Use the Incident Report to document the goof ups. But also use it to document the outstanding, winning actions of your employees.

You will encourage good behavior. You will discourage bad behavior. You will build your team the most cost effective way possible.

Are you ready to get to work on your Employee Management System? Are you ready to:

  1. Share your vision – why are we here
  2. Written policies, plans & procedures are required
  3. Employee escape plan

The fact is…we make it sound pretty simple. But we also know it’s a lot easier to share these words than to execute the plan we’ve laid out for you. For those who take our recommendations seriously, you’ll be on the path to become the Wealthy Landscaper in your town. 

Next, get ready to learn about how to build an Automatic Hiring Machine in your company.

Tony Bass, founder