5 Questions HOA & COA Boards Should Ask Landscape Vendors About Employees

Posted by Joseph Barnes on Jul 20, 2020 7:43:21 AM

One of our favorite Tony Robbins quotes says, "Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers." That’s certainly the case when it comes to hiring the right landscape maintenance company for your community association. You must be prepared to ask the right questions in order to gain the information that will best help you in making that decision.

Of course, it’s easy to get caught up asking questions about what they do or how much they cost, when in reality, you want to dig into WHO they are. Who are the people that will perform the work and how are they trained?

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The truth is, being familiar with a landscape company’s hiring practices will give you a behind-the-scenes look into what that company is all about. Knowing whether or not you’ve found a company that takes hiring and training seriously can actually give you a lot more insight than simply asking what that company can do for you. After all, your account manager can tell you everything you want to hear about what services they perform but if the company isn’t made up of qualified workers, you’re going to get subpar results. As board members that means you can anticipate complaints because your residents are not going to be satisfied with how their money has been spent.

Now that you’re armed with this intuition, let’s look at some specific questions that you can ask in order to get a true understanding of what a landscape maintenance company is all about by understanding who they employ.

1. What do you look for in the employees you hire?

Understanding what qualifications a landscape maintenance company requires when they hire new employees can provide you with some valuable insight as to what’s most important to them. We’ll let you in on an industry secret—labor is the most expensive aspect of what we do. Therefore, a lot of landscape companies are just looking for cheap labor.

That translates to anyone willing to do the work, regardless of qualifications.

Unfortunately, that kind of hiring process is going to directly impact your results and in a bad way.

At Yellowstone Landscape, we’ve often encountered a perception that we hire from staffing companies or we just pick up employees who are willing to do the work. While there are certainly companies that hire this way, that’s not how we do it. We’re hiring people who are in this to make it a career—not people who are looking to do landscaping for a little while as a pitstop on their path to a different career choice.

We certainly prefer to hire individuals who already have a lot of industry experience. However, there are certainly times when we find people who would make great employees because they have skills like a strong work ethic or they’re hard-working, even if they haven’t worked in the industry before. When that’s the case, then we provide training.

Training is so important for field-level employees if they’ve never had any before. You should know that we would never put an employee out in the field running a mower without hours of training on one.

In terms of where we find employees, oftentimes, we’re hiring from technical or horticultural schools. For management-level positions, our employees generally have at least a two-year degree.

2. How much access to training do employees have?

Having a conversation about training is important. As we mentioned above, there are plenty of companies who are seeking out cheap labor and as a result, might hire people with very little experience. But are they taking the time to train them?

The reality is that training is expensive and it’s an area where some companies might skimp to save money. But this could have a direct negative impact on your results. That’s why it’s important to ask what kind of training employees have had.

- Are they trained to use the equipment?
- Are they trained for safety?
- Are they trained in best practices?

Finding out the answers to these questions can really shed light on some important facts. If a company is putting under-trained (or untrained) people on your property, you have some serious cause for concern. After all, subpar results are one thing but an accident or injury is a really serious matter. The last thing you’d ever want is for an employee to cause significant property damage or, even worse, injure a resident.

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This is why at Yellowstone Landscape we take training seriously. It’s not just about getting our clients the best results (although we certainly believe that’s important). It’s also about safety and making sure our employees don’t hurt themselves, damage property, or somehow hurt others.

Some of the training that we participate in includes weekly safety training, quarterly equipment training, and best practices training. We also have quarterly safety rodeos where we focus on providing hands-on instruction targeted to common job site hazards found in the industry.

In addition, any time that we acquire new equipment, we bring in the manufacturer to come in and do a half-day training on that equipment. We want to make sure that everyone knows how to operate it properly and safely so that they’re producing the best possible results in a safe way.

As you might imagine, this takes time. Primarily, it takes time away from the field and that’s a direct expense. For that reason, a lot of companies might cut corners or fail to participate in these types of training events. But we believe it’s too important to overlook, regardless of the cost.

3. Do you provide safety gear and PPE to employees?

Piggybacking off of the training (and safety) discussion that the last question will elicit, it’s also important to be direct in asking about safety gear and PPE (which is an industry abbreviation for personal protective equipment).

We also think that you should ask about company uniforms.

You obviously want to know that employees are being safe and are protected. But, there’s a good chance that your residents also care that the company you hire “looks the part.” They look clean, professional, and represent your community well. In other words, they’re not showing up in cut-off jean shorts and a tee-shirt.

At Yellowstone Landscape, we absolutely provide PPE and safety gear. We also provide uniforms because we understand that when our people are on a property, it’s important that they look professional.

You should know that we’re really committed to our peoples’ safety and their happiness. For instance, in the heat of summer, we’re sending out all of our trucks fully stocked with coolers of ice so that crews always have access to a cold drink. Taking steps like this helps ensure that people show up—and they show up feeling cared for. The truth is, happy employees work harder and they stick around.

All of that directly translates to better results for the customer. Companies that have a revolving door of unhappy employees might be able to provide cheaper labor and save you a few bucks, but in the long run, the difference can show in the results.

4. How many employees are you going to put on my property?

We have this question here not because it’s necessarily important to ask but because we get asked it all of the time.

The most important thing for you to realize is that the experience and the training of the people on your property (which the first 3 questions will help determine) are more important than the exact number of people performing the work. We think that some community associations shouldn’t get caught up on the number of people coming out to the property each week, because in reality 5 really efficient and experienced team members are going to be better than 10 inexperienced and slow-moving people.

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More is not always better!

That being said, we understand that community associations want some sense of how many workers will be here and we certainly don’t mind answering this question. We usually explain that it’s going to vary based on the season and what services need to be performed. There might be a mainstay crew of 5 but there are times when one of our licensed irrigators also comes out or our branch manager is there checking up on the quality.

It’s so important to understand that there are a lot of people involved in the care of a community beyond the weekly maintenance crew. The number of team members on a crew who are performing the mowing services is only one small part of a larger picture. Yes, that’s who the residents will likely see most often but there’s a comprehensive team of people also involved in caring for the property.

5. Will the same team be coming every week? Will crews come on the same day each week?

A lot of community associations also want to know whether the same team will be coming each week. This is a really important question because we believe that when the same crew comes again and again that they truly get to know the property. The familiarity makes them better from a performance and an efficiency standpoint. As they really get to know the properties that they’re working on, they’re more apt to spot a problem early on or to understand the nuances of each individual property in a way that allows them to provide better service.

Of course, a company that hires cheap labor and has constant turnover simply can’t provide a confident “yes” as an answer to this question. Having the same crews return again and again comes down to having tenured employees—and that comes back to having happy employees who actually want to stick around (something that those previous questions will help bring to light).

At Yellowstone, we’re not only sending the same crews to the same properties, but they’re also going on the same day of the week when the weather allows for it. Obviously, we are an industry contingent on the weather so rain can alter our schedule. But for the most part, we’re sticking to the same crews coming out on the same day, week after week. Our clients appreciate that consistency and ultimately recognize that it means better results, too.

Making Your Wise Choice in Landscape Maintenance Companies

Hopefully, this has given you some insight into the hiring process by providing you with questions that will get you the kind of information you need to make an informed decision. Most importantly, understanding why it’s important to ask certain questions can really go a long way in helping you develop a better interview process.

There are certainly companies out there who would prefer you remained in the dark on their hiring processes. When you start asking about training and experience, these companies might dance around the question or give you incomplete answers. These are companies that are banking on you hiring them for having the lower price and they don’t really want you to know about the inner-workings of their company and how they’re able to offer services at a lower cost.

But when push comes to shove, the level of experience, training, and professionalism has a direct impact on results—as well as your overall satisfaction with the company (such as how employees behave or dress)—and it’s worth investing a little bit more.

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While we understand that the hiring process can feel daunting and is, frankly, a lot of work, we commend you for putting in the effort. By taking the time to ask the right questions and dig deeper into the company that you’re hiring, you are being a wise consumer and will ultimately make a wise choice.

We also believe that this betters the industry. When community associations like yours start to expect more out of the companies that they hire, it raises the bar for everyone, and that’s a good thing.

At the end of the day, we believe that asking these 5 questions about employees will give you an inside look into who the company has working for them and how they run their business. It might be more than some companies want you to know. But the companies that are investing in great people and taking the time to train them will appreciate you asking. They’ll be eager to tell you about their hiring and training techniques and excited to share why they employ great people, even if it means they cost a little bit more. And when it gets right down to it, that’s how you’ll separate the mediocre companies from the very best.

Are you ready to hire the best landscape company that gets its strengths from great people? Request a quote and let us answer any additional questions that you may have.

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Joseph Barnes

About The Author

Joseph Barnes

Joseph Barnes has served as Marketing Manager of Yellowstone Landscape since 2013. He writes on a variety of topics related to the commercial landscaping industry.