4 min read

Overcoming Workforce Challenges

Overcoming Workforce Challenges
in an ever-changing world

Even before the pandemic, attracting and keeping quality talent was a challenge for employers. Now, with additional challenges facing our nation and “The Great Resignation” still as evident as ever, those challenges are becoming more persistent and harder to overcome.

Grappling to retain top talent has become a huge priority for companies. Landscape companies, as well as other companies that require actual craftsmen and skilled workers, may find it particularly hard to maintain their top teams.

I discussed those challenges with the owner of the top landscape lighting and audio company in Greensboro, North Carolina. Learn how this company is dealing with the state of our workforce and excelling at it. Here is my discussion with Pete Bryant of Southern Lights (www.southernlightsofnc.com).

Pete Bryant
Pete Bryant, owner of Southern Lights

Lori: Pete, what do you see are the main challenges our industry is facing in terms of attracting and retaining top talent?

Pete: The first challenge I see is how are we going to be able to keep up with demand? The workflow has increased dramatically for our company throughout this pandemic and we now have to worry about getting it all done without burning out our people. Managing expectations, keeping our customers satisfied and our employees happy is our main concern.

The second challenge I see in our industry is struggling to keep the company “fresh” and “alive” in the eyes of our clients and employees. Punching a time clock to get a paycheck is part of business, but to try and keep top talent and provide employees a place where they want to work at long-term is a job in and of itself. How do we create an atmosphere of professionals that want to build careers versus employees that simply jump ship every opportunity to make an extra buck or two an hour? How do we create the value for our people to stay?

Last, I see the need to evaluate our company policies to keep turnover to a minimum and pay workers a premium. We need to be able to answer the question, “What does a good worker look like now?“

Lori: So here’s the $100,000 question: How do companies do that?

Pete: I see this happening in several ways:

Charge a Premium

This helps us work with the clientele we want to work with and filters out the customers that are looking for the lowest-cost provider. We only have so many billable hours in a year, and we want to maximize those hours at the highest hourly value. The greater our backlog, the higher our price becomes.

Pete with co-workerBecome a Destination Company: Look Different, Act Different, Be Different

We've spent years and a lot of money building outdoor showrooms at our offices. We realized after many years of setting up and taking down displays in coliseums for trade shows that the more intelligent thing to do would be to build permanent displays. This has served us well over the years. It has helped to shorten the sales process and instantly gives us credibility with potential customers as the leading industry provider. We believe this next-level thinking sets us apart in the eyes of our employees and potential employees as well.

Understand What the Employee Values

Now, more than ever, I think we have to listen to what employees are looking for and have to be accommodating if we want to attract and keep top talent … even if it looks a lot different than it has in the past. You may have a mix of employees that want different things as well.

Are we too rigid with our staff by restricting overtime? Do my employees want to work weekends? Do my employees have a side job that we need to accommodate for? Do my employees want a more balanced family/work life and desire a standard, eight-hour work day?

Hire Knowledgeable, Clean-Cut & Educated Employees

A lot of the service industries get a bad rap for employing less than desirable staff due to the kind of work we do, and that is sad. Hiring clean-cut and educated employees has always been a top priority for us. Any way that can show the customer our knowledge and professionalism is a major win. Clean wrapped company trucks and uniforms also help show this commitment. Great employees attract great employees.

Southern Lights Employee

Try Making Work Fun!

We try to heighten enthusiasm at our company by not only working hard, but also having fun. We’ve tried capturing this by celebrating birthdays, company outings, Cinco De Mayo celebrations, concerts, paintball, bowling, food trucks, community events, providing coffee and drinks on job sites or even meeting after work to have a beer with the staff.

Engaging with your staff goes a long way in team building and creating a good work culture. Encouraging a positive work culture throughout the team is a must. Giving high fives to crew members as you walk by, praising teammates for completing a project under budget or getting a positive online review are great ways of showing your employees they are valued.

Incentive Programs and Stretch Goals

We believe when the company is profitable, the employees should benefit as well. We have tied bonuses to profitability and callbacks/warranty issues that help create win/win opportunities for staff to celebrate and strive to hit goals collectively. Setting big goals for the company to buy into the vision and direction of the company can help fuel growth and provide a fresh outlook.

Software Upgrades and Automation

Incorporating software and automations into our company has helped us in several ways.

  1. Maximizing the power of a good CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software reduces excessive administrative help.
  2. It helps us provide great customer service through a system of consistent communication.
  3. We are able to maximize our time by automating more tasks.
  4. It ensures sales staff provides accurate estimates every time.
  5. And it shortens the sales cycle.

Make it Easy for the Crew to Have What They Need

We strive to streamline the workflow and material needs for our crews to become a more efficient organization. We provide credit cards for crews and allow them to purchase tools that will make their jobs easier.

Be an Industry Leader

Lead your team by example. Be involved and engaged with your employees and clients on a daily basis. Volunteer your time to industry specific associations and community events. Become certified in what you do, and market yourself professionally.

Understanding What Turnover Actually Costs

Placing the highest value on trying to keep and promote existing and experienced employees is so important.

I appreciated Pete’s candor and the knowledge he shared during this interview. We also reflected on how some of these solutions may seem out of reach or too expensive for some employers. When companies truly understand the actual cost of employee turnover, they may reconsider. If employers place the highest value on trying to keep and promote existing and experienced employees, the return to the company will be one hundredfold. Conversely, losing a good employee can cause many headaches, such as potential lost revenue, lowering company morale and increasing the constant need for more employee training.

Although 2022 may still have some challenges, retaining and rewarding your best talent will benefit your company in the long run and for many years to come!

About Lori Hawkins

Lori Hawkins, RLA, ASLA, has been a registered landscape architect for over 30 years. She is registered in both North Carolina and South Carolina and has her own private practice in the Greensboro area.

You can follow her on Instagram @3Dlandscapearchitect or check out her website at www.hawkinsla.com for more information.

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