Attain, Train, Retain, and Entertain a Modern-Day Green Industry Workforce

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Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association
The Buckeye
January/February 2018
By Marty Grunder

Now that the holidays are behind us and we’ve turned the calendar page on another year, it’s a great time to take a step back and really think about what you want to accomplish in 2018. One area that we’re all struggling with in the green industry is labor. Where do you find good people? How do you get them to choose to work for you over another competitor? How do you keep them once you have them?

I know this a real challenge both from running my own landscaping company and from traveling all over the country talking to and coaching other landscape pros who want to grow their businesses. But my experience has also given me a front-row seat to what works and what doesn’t, and I’ll be sharing those insights in my talk, Attain, Train, Retain, and Entertain a Modern-Day Green Industry Workforce, at MGIX in January. Here’s a sneak peak to get you thinking about what you can do in 2018 to win the workers you want:


Start by casting your net wide. Take advantage of the reach of digital outlets by posting position openings on industry job boards, through social media, and on your website, but don’t overlook real-world approaches too. 

Take the time to go to job fairs. Affix signs to your trucks that announce you’re hiring; it’s basically free advertising all over town. At Grunder Landscaping, we took advantage of our location near a highway to erect a billboard touting the good wages we pay—I can’t believe how many candidates we’ve found that way. Survey your best employees to learn what led them to apply at your company. Think about where they live, what their hobbies are, what radio stations they listen to. What qualities do they have that have enabled them to succeed at your company? Knowing these characteristics will help you know where to look for like-minded applicants and what to look for when you screen them. Who is your ideal team member?


Training should start on your new hire’s first day, with a well thought-out and consistently executed onboarding strategy—the impression you make on day one trains your employee in your company culture. Have everything they need ready to go before they get there, from uniforms to lockers to desks and cell phones. Have a 30-, 60-, and 90-day plan in place for them, with clearly communicated goals and metrics and regularly scheduled check-ins. Pair them up with a seasoned team member who’ll help them learn the ropes and become a part of the team. Onboarding is just the first step in training a valuable employee but it can be the most important one.


The single biggest secret to retaining good people is also the most simple: Make your company a great place to work. Yes, paying a competitive wage matters, as do paid leave, health insurance, and 401K plans. But your culture is crucial. Have a vision for where you want your company to go and communicate it to your team so they understand their role in it. People tend to want to be a part of something larger themselves and for their work to mean something; show them, consistently and concretely, how they are instrumental to your team. Take care to map out a career path for your employees so they can see a future at your company.


“I want to work at a boring company,” said no one ever. You should be serious about running a successful business, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun while doing it. Hold monthly barbecues for your crews, celebrate birthdays, holidays, and special occasions, surprise your team with lunch at the job site. Plan a fun off-site outing for your staff and their spouses. Know when to tell a joke and when to take one—especially if you’re the owner. You set the tone for your whole team.

I’ll take a much deeper dive into all this and more at MGIX in January. Hope to see you there!

And, if you’re looking for a break from the Ohio winter, come join me and some of the most successful landscape pros in the business at our GROW! 2018 Annual Conference in Tampa this February. It’s three days of sun, fun, and insight you can’t get anywhere else. Learn more at