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Find em’, Get em’, Keep em’ – The People system part 2
Find em’, Get em’, Keep em’ – The People system part 2

Okay, young grasshopper, hold onto your butts…

It’s time to talk about the true meat in the employee sandwich – how to find, hire, train, promote and keep good employees for the long term. This may arguably be the most important component of Mean Green now.

In order to go from a sole operation to a true self-governing business, you need good people. And in order to get good people, you’ve got to create a machine that creates them. As mentioned in the last chapter.

Okay, great. So have you got that list of employee attributes? I hope so because it’ll become part of your interviewing process later on.

You can actually split up your list into 2 major sections – primary and secondary qualities. The primary qualities are those you can’t compromise on and the secondary qualities would be nice but not necessary because you’re going to teach them. Let me give you a quick example of what I mean:

Non-negotiable primary qualities:

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Hard working
  • Willingness to learn
  • Positive mental attitude
  • Punctual
  • Reliable
  • Loyal

Loyalty is an important one, but in all likelihood, that’s something that’s going to develop over time and be very much dependent on you at least as much as the person’s innate quality.

Yet do you notice that the list above has nothing to do with running a mower, driving a truck or ability to sell? You might say, “yes, but those are important skills.”

Right, and that’s why it’s your job to teach them. You’re going to teach the secondary qualities and make sure that your new recruit does things the way you want them done. Here’s an example of secondary qualities:

Ability to run lawn equipment.

Ability to communicate well with customers

Good time management

Knows how to maintain and repair gear.

Can drive a truck and trailer (okay, a valid license is non-negotiable, that’s true, but you can teach him / her how to back up a lawn trailer).

See how short that list was as compared with the primary qualities? You may have more, and that’s okay. This was just an example.

It's been my experience that you can train someone who is “green” to the industry on all of the basic secondary skills in 2 weeks or less.

How?

In this two week boot camp you’re going to train your new recruit on “Your Way” of doing things, your standards, and what separates your lawn business from every other “Chuck in a truck” in town.

Think about it as if you are creating a custom training system, and you’re working on the prototype.

Why?

After the two week boot camp your new employee should know

Each day of your 14 day lawn care bootcamp should focus on a different aspect of your business’s processes, along with a quiz at the end of the day to make sure your new team mate is taking it seriously.

Trust me they’ll appreciate the order and structure and what's more they’ll see that you take your business seriously. This is important if you want them to take it seriously, too.

So now that you have an idea of what we’re looking for in a new hire, let’s talk about finding them.

Find em' - how to attract quality helpers

So let’s deal with the most obvious question first – where do you go to find good people to work for you?

Your options are pretty wide open. Yet let me address something right off the bat…

A lot of people in our business feel that one of the best ways to find a good lawn care employee is
to try and steal them away from a competitor.

While you may indeed get an applicant who already works for somebody else… actively trying to steal somebody else’s employee isn’t a good idea. It’s dishonest and underhanded
and at best makes you look kind of sleazy to your new hire and at worst makes you an enemy in your business and you don’t’ need that.

Also, we go back to the issue of hiring a seasoned person who thinks they know everything. You may find that you’re spending a lot of your time de-programming them and retraining them on your way of things. You don’t want to turn a 2 week boot camp into a 2 month boot camp! So be cautious here.

Another option that many folks employ is to hire recent immigrants. Guys who barely speak English if at all.On the one hand, this is a great way to find good labor. These guys, generally Hispanics from Central America, Mexico and South America are very hard working, polite and make solid employees.

Now I’m talking legal immigrants here, though. Be very careful about this because if you’re caught hiring illegals you could face serious fines and even jail time!

Keep something else in mind as well. What we’re after, especially on this first hire, is a person who’s going to grow into a crew chief and split off from you to work with their own helper eventually. You’ll want somebody who’s both a hard worker and has good communication skills. This doesn’t mean you can’t hire an immigrant… but they should speak decent English and have the type of personality that people will warm up to.

All that being said, as far as where to post an ad for a job, you’ve got a lot of options:

Newspaper
Craigslist
Facebook

All of these have worked really well for me. The paper will cost you a few dollars, though. Even Craigslist, which is generally free to post ads on, will cost around $20 to post a job ad.

Personally, I like Craigslist the best. It’s really cheap, and with the right ad, you can attract quite a few applicants. You can re-post your ad and keep it at the top until you find the person you’re going to hire.

Now remember, we’re looking for a pretty strong person here. A person with good primary qualities that you can train to be a good lawn care professional and eventually run his or her own crew. So the ad you place now is going to matter. We want to attract good applicants and try and weed out the bad ones, so here is an example job ad you may want to use…

Willing to put in a solid day’s work for a solid day’s pay? Full-time lawn care professional required with opportunity for pay increases and promotion - $15 / hour to start.

Established lawn Care Company is seeking a hardworking, honest and flexible individual to fill a very important position. The company is expanding and we need a truly superior person to fill a long-term role with plenty of opportunity to increase your pay and even move up to a management position.

No experience required because we’re going to train you on how we want things done. You’ll start working with the owner to learn the nuts and bolts of our business. If you prove to be somebody with a strong work ethic, good integrity, reliable and a willingness to learn, our goal is to advance you to a potential crew chief position and even further as we grow.

This is a true career opportunity and we’re only seeking serious applicants. No slack asses, drug users or drunks need apply. You must have a valid driver’s license as well.

You’re going to work hard – we generally work 40 to 50 hours each week. That’s why we’re offering a starting pay a bit higher than the norm. Stick with it and help us maintain the level of quality our customers expect and you’ll find that you’ve started on a career path and a bright future.

Okay, there you go. You can see that this ad offers a lot of promise but also makes it clear that losers should not bother. Will this keep them away?

Nope!

It may keep some away, but not all of them. You’re still going to have to weed through the applicants and try and make the best judgement call you can.

Yet this ad is the first cog in your machine. A good ad that lets them know what to expect is going to ferret out a lot of the people you won’t want to hire. Look at what’s written above – it’s pretty straight forward, isn’t it?

Now you might worry that saying the person is going to work hard for 50 hours per week may scare some folks away. And do you know what? You’re right! That’s okay, though. You don’t want everybody. You’re only looking for one.

So if this ad scares off or pisses off, 99 applicants and only attracts 1 good one then it’s done its job.

As for the $15 per hour wage… I can’t tell you exactly what number to use there. This may be high in your area or low. You’ll have to figure out what the average starting wage is for a lawn care employee. You’ll also have to be ready to pay a bit more if you hire somebody with experience as well.

I’d recommend starting the person out at a dollar or two above the average for a new person in your market. You’re going to attract more people that way and set a precedent that you’re a quality person to work for, too.

Okay, this is the easy part. Let’s move on to how to hire them…

Get em’ – Hiring your first and best helper

Let me offer a bit of advice for you on the hiring process. I’m not sure if you already know this stuff or not, so don’t be offended if I say something obvious.

There are two basic ways to hire an employee. That’s to say, there are two basic legal ways to hire somebody. There is a third, which is to simply pay them “under the table.”

Avoid this. In the short term, it makes everybody’s life easy, right? You put a person on and pay them cash nice and neat. No paperwork, etc. This is really more trouble than it’s worth, and since we’re taking the long view… just avoid this and do things right from the get go.

Now, the two legal ways to hire somebody are to put them on as a regular W2 employee – just like you should already be now. With Mean Green, LLC, you should already be a W2 employee of your own company.

The other way to go is to hire the person as an independent contractor, often called a 1099 contractor because you simply give them an IRS form 1099 at the end of the year that states their earnings.

I do not recommend going the contractor route

Why?

Because if Uncle Sam determines they are actually your employee later on, you'll be on the hook for all the withholding taxes. (Trust me , they will check)

By now you should be familiar with some of this stuff from your own experience. You can always go to your accountant and get more
detailed advice. Another way to go is to get set up with a payroll company such as Paychex or ADP. These folks will handle all the details of the payroll for you for a really reasonable fee. They file the paperwork, prepare your forms at the end of the year and can even do direct deposits and so on.

I don’t want to drive that into the dirt, because believe me, entire chapters or even books can and have been written on payroll. Let’s talk about how to weed through your applicants to find your potential first helper.

Now we get back to the system itself. As you’ve compiled your list of attributes that you want a potential employee to have, you should create some kind of tool to help you qualify them. It could be something as simple as a questionnaire that you either use at a person to person interview or on the phone.

It doesn’t have to be that complex – after all, this new employee is going to get most of their training from you on the job. Yet maybe a few good questions about them, their habits, and their goals in life and so on will help you to get to know the person.

What's more, when you’re interviewing them, your goal is to ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a yes or a no.

A question like, tell me about your worst boss is much better than did you like your last boss.

This question will tell you a lot about if you can work alongside this person or not. You’re looking for a good attitude, and work ethic. Their stories will tell you much more about them than they think.

Tip: To keep things orderly and professional, you’ll also want to have them fill out an application when you see them in person. This is something you keep on file and use to check their references.

And check them!

Exercise:

Sit down and write a handbook. A 5 or 10 page guide that includes the stuff you came up with in the Work system as well as your code of conduct for your employees. This would include stuff like:

Punctuality.
Sick or late notice policy.
Dress code.

You’ll go over the handbook with the person, of course. Yet it’s something set in stone so that they know the score before they come to work for the first time. This may take you a while to put together, but it’s an important part of your people machine.

I want to reiterate that no matter how good your hiring machine is, it’s not going to be 100% efficient. It could be that your very first hire is a gold mine… but more likely than not you may have to go through 1 or 2 people before you get it right. That’s partly because you just can’t know everything about somebody up front and partly because you’re going to learn some things as you go along about hiring too.

So, despite the unpleasantness… you’re going to have to fire somebody sooner or later. And as I said in the last chapter, be quick to fire and slow to hire. I’m not saying you don’t give a new person a few chances. We’re all human and we all make mistakes.

Yet if a guy is constantly screwing up, late, has a bad attitude, etc.… then get rid of him. There’s a lot of people in the world who want a job, and plenty of quality men and women out there who will appreciate what you’re offering, especially over the long haul.

You must set standards for your business as the basis for your system…

The good news is that you can easily document the standards with photos and print them off and put them into your training manual. This way your people’s performance is measured against your standards and they are not just doing whatever they want at their discretion on a daily basis… because that's chaos , not order.

And chaos will F you up!

I know you might be wondering…. How do I get my workers to do what I want? To do what I tell them?

I've got some bad news… You can't get anybody to do what you want for a long period of time unless you have systems in place to ensure it.

Of course, that’s the good news for a guy who sets up a good set of systems.

This is one key difference between working ON your business rather than IN your business.

Let me explain…

You have to create an environment where doing things your way is better than doing them wrong… even better, where they want to do things your way.

These systems can be as simple as a series of checklists.

Each checklist is printed on a different color sheet of paper, where your employee has to check off each thing that was to be done and then sign their name down at the bottom.

Some ideas for your people systems checklists:

  • Daily Equipment Inspections
  • Service check list for each stop on the route
  • Safety Checklist for the truck and trailer

Bottom line, keep it simple and repeatable. Because your systems are the glue that holds your growing lawn business together as it grows and multiplies over and over.

Keep em’ – Royalties for loyalties

Okay, so let’s assume that you found your guy. His name is Kevin Clueless. He’s 24 and has never gone to college. He did graduate high school and spent a couple of years in the Marine Corps. He’s a hard worker, smart and respectful. The Marines did a good job of instilling some good habits into Kevin.

However, other than cutting the grass with a residential mower at his own house as a kid he knows little or nothing about the lawn care industry. He’s an open book and excited about learning from you and taking on responsibility as he earns it.

So now that the hiring machine has done its job in finding good raw material, you need to stuff Kevin into the Work machine so he squirts out the other end as a crew chief you can count on.

Well we’ve already figured that out, too. You should now have a work system that trains Kevin and grooms him for the future. The biggest problem you face now is how to make sure that all your time, effort and money spent on finding, hiring and training Kevin doesn’t go to waste.

That’s where incentives come in.

There’s a great story about Andrew Carnegie and Charles Schwab. As you may or may not know, Carnegie was a big steel and business tycoon about a hundred years ago. When U.S. Steel was formed, it made Carnegie one of the richest men in the world at that time.

Well, Charles Schwab, later founder of the stock brokerage with his name, was a young guy who worked for Carnegie. Schwab was smart, hardworking and loyal. It got out to Carnegie’s associates that he was paying young Charles a million dollars a year to work for him.

Remember, this is back at the turn of the 20th century – a million bucks back then was like 40 million today!

When asked why he was paying this guy so much money, Carnegie said, “simple. That way he won’t go work for my competition.”

When you find the goose who’s laying you golden eggs, take care of that goose! Assuming Kevin is a great asset to you, make sure he knows it. That goes for any employees you ever have.

Here are some incentive examples you can use:

If after 60 or 90 days, Kevin looks like a real asset to your business, bump his pay up a couple of dollars per hour.
Calculate the profit the company is making as the two of you are working together. Every week, month or quarter, cut Kevin in for a percentage.
Get a group medical plan and put Kevin on it.
Give a Christmas bonus.
Offer him a couple of weeks of paid vacation.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, once you promote Kevin to crew chief, there are other incentives you can offer him as well as any other helpers working with him or you. Be creative and be generous. These people are going to be the fuel that drives big bucks into your pockets, so take care of them.

Don’t be vague

Another key point in keeping good people is letting them know the deal up front and then sticking to it. That’s why you have the handbook. That’s why you have the work systems in place. A good set of hard and fast rules makes everything clear and sets them and you up for success.

So take the time to create these systems and guides.

Next, we’re going to talk about some of the logistics that keep your company running. In the operations part of the POW, we’ll talk about managing customers, employees, equipment and your money. And that’s a critical one, there.

Now that you’re taking on a new guy, your cash flow has to go up and stay there. Think about it.

We figured that with around 70 customers, you could maintain a $60,000 annual income after expenses for yourself, right? Well, if we’re taking on a full-time guy with Kevin, we’ve not only got to pay him but hopefully make you and the business even more money.

So think about it – you’ve got:

  • About $25,000 in overhead.
  • Your salary of $65,000.
  • Kevin’s salary of about $33,000.

So in order to break even, that is to cover all of this, you’ve got to bill how many man hours every year? Let’s calculate it:

$123,000 / $52 = 2,365.

Not bad, right? If we stick to the rule of thumb that says that you plus Kevin should be able to do about one and a half times as much work in the same time frame, and assuming you’re both working 40 hours per week, this is no problem. You’ve got plenty of room to wiggle.

On the flip side, let’s assume that you and Kevin are going to be able to complete 3,000 man hours in a year. That means that your business is generating a total of $156,000.

Well, if you subtract our $123,000 figure above, that leaves you with an extra $33,000 to play with, right?

That’s money you can put away for a new set of gear, money for bonuses and pay increases (which includes you) and other things. And really, that’s pretty conservative. That’s you and Kevin only putting in 40 hours or so. If you guys worked 50 hours each week as opposed to 40, you could increase your productivity by 750 hours, or another $39K.

Now you’re talking about nearly $200K just with you and Kevin working 50 hours per week. And hey, I’m assuming only a 1.5% productivity increase. What if it’s higher?

That’s what should happen when you take on a new employee. They should boost your ability to produce. You’ve got to be careful about not going too crazy with this.

Warning: Watch out for the law of diminishing returns

Before we move on, let me just say this. In so many cases that I’ve seen in the lawn care business, both new and experienced companies often make the mistake of simply throwing bodies at the work. The flawed idea is that if one guy can boost profits half again, then what can 2 or 3 guys do?

What they usually do is simply create a negative cash flow. There’s just so much that 3 or 4 people can do on one lawn. That’s why a 2 man crew for basic residential lawn maintenance is the optimum.

Hey, that sounds familiar…

If you want to hire more people, then you need more independent crews to put them on. If you want more crews, then you need the customers to support them.

It’s a delicate balance. A dance, if you will, that you have to watch out for and plan on. Remember the word duplication.