How Landscape Companies Can Recruit Employees

An inside look into how one company has attained success in its recruitment and retention efforts.

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Is 500-plus full-time associates in 37 years an accident? The growth at Ryan Lawn & Tree has been built around recruiting special people to do special jobs. Every job should be special.

Always be recruiting

Something I learned 40 years ago was if you want good people, recruiting needs to be your No. 1 priority. Not No. 2 or No. 3. Think recruiting great people every day. The second lesson I learned is you recruit the best people when you don’t need anyone. Why? Because you subconsciously  lower your standards for hiring when you need someone. The more a landscape company needs  someone, the lower the standards go. This is why great companies recruit 12 months a year. When you find that great person, make room for him/her.

Create an ideal workplace

How do you recruit higher-quality people? It starts with offering candidates great jobs. We can’t just say our careers are great. We have to make the career great. Will the company owner jump in and help on the job and enjoy doing the work with the person or team? Your staff will know when you are real or acting. To make the careers you offer special, get rid of those things that you can that make a job less than satisfying. Sometimes it’s as simple as fixing or replacing equipment that doesn’t work.

Just as you have unique strengths, your staff will also excel in certain jobs over others. Find people who have the talents that match the job. If you can do this in the interview process, great. We find it sometimes takes longer to find a person’s strengths. Our company has implemented an apprentice program to let new hires rotate through departments. Job rotation helps us match the new hire and the department/job where they excel.

Tools for recruitment

I’ve always used the search component of the internet but job boards have changed over time. Today we use Indeed mostly. With any job posting, we work at wording our job description carefully. We try to screen out people who don’t match what we are looking for. It might be as simple as stating the job is a lot of hard work. People who don’t want to work hard will say “no thanks.” That’s one less person to interview.

We also hit college fairs, but they seem to work best if we have a relationship with the college. Referral programs for our people have yielded some excellent employees. We do remind our staff that since we are employee owned, only refer friends who will improve our organization.

At Ryan, we hire about 6% of the people who apply for work with us. We are very selective in who we hire, and we continue to get better at the process. When your company achieves excellence and an excellent reputation, recruiting gets a lot easier. This should be your goal! I can’t emphasize this enough.

There are tools for identifying the strengths of our staff that our company has used over the years. They include Gallup, Wonderlic, Culture Index and OAD. These tools all help profile and understand how a person thinks and behaves. We find they tend to be accurate. We don’t necessarily use them for hiring, but they are a great help in learning how to best work with our staff.

Develop staff

We want to build out our turf applicator to increase professionalism, and we do this in all our career positions. Step 1 was we called the turf technician a “turf manager.” We consider our turf manager to be a major driver of our company. They manage their customers and their properties.

I have learned the best marketing is done by the person wearing our company shirt. If our person has a nice appearance, is a good communicator, loves what he or she does and does the job with excellence, we can cut our marketing budget drastically. 

Have we mastered recruiting? We still have a long way to go, but learning these basic skills has helped build an above-average organization. We have learned so much from others in our industry and are committed to sharing what we know back to our industry.