Finding Your Second-in-Command Employee to Grow - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Finding Your Second-in-Command Employee to Grow

At some point, you will want to be able to stop working in your business so much and start working on your business. Leaders are thinking about tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, not the next job.

To free yourself up for big picture planning, you need to identify your second-in-command or right-hand person. There are two sides to every lawn care and landscape business – the operations sides and the admin and sales side.

Typically you’re either an operator who is great at what you do and you need someone to knock on doors and make more sales or you can get all the customers you need but you need someone who can focus on route scheduling and getting all the work done that you’re selling.

“In its simplest form, we need to have two positions solidified at a company, somebody’s doing sales, and somebody is focused on getting the work done, and that is the first iteration of where the right-hand man or woman comes into play here,” says Vince Torchia, vice president of The Grow Group.

When to Start Looking

Torchia says it depends on your goals as an owner as to when you need to start looking for your right-hand person. He says it comes down to a simple equation of ‘I need to spend more time doing x so that y can happen.’

If you’ve got more phone calls than you know what to do with, and you can’t get ahead of your work, these are typical signs that you need a second-in-command to help you build systems in the business.

He says when to add them is a matter of what you’re comfortable with as an owner.

“Would you rather hire the person, maybe a little bit before you need them, and we’ve got a few too many people in the office or a few too many managers, but we know we’re going to grow in the next 12 to 16 months?” Torchia says. “So, we have them hired ahead of that growth or whether it’s financial or personal preference, you want to wait until you’re stretched pretty thin?”

Where To Find Them

There are two ways to find your second-in-command: internally or externally. Internally, you can look and see if anyone on your team fits the role you need. They shouldn’t just have some free time or be someone you trust. While these traits are good, you want someone capable to take on some serious responsibilities.

“Sometimes that person is there, sometimes they’re not,” Torchia says. “But we always want to start internally. The word that we use sometimes is homegrown. They understand our customers. They understand our systems. They understand what we do and why we do it.”

When you’re starting internally, Torchia says they prefer to do soft promotions where you don’t tell an employee they’re becoming your right-hand person. Rather you can give them one or two new responsibilities a second-in-command would handle and see how they do. These are considered low-risk experiments. A place to start would be having your potential right-hand person plan out the schedule on Friday and reviewing it with them on the following Monday.

“That’s low risk in terms of if they do it and they nail it and it goes perfectly, great,” Torchia says. “That’s a skill that we knew or didn’t know they had and now we’ve got our schedule built for next week. I see if this person is alert to how we do things. It’s low risk in terms of we come in on Monday and the schedule is completely wrong and they missed a bunch of things or they didn’t do it right, we can correct that. I can come in in the morning with them and clean it up and together we can get into a workable plan for the week.”

Torchia stresses that if the employee fails, it doesn’t automatically mean they can’t be the right person for your second-in-command. The important thing is if they are teachable and learn from their mistakes.

If your right-hand man or woman isn’t within your company and your employees are satisfied with their current levels of responsibility, you can also look externally. Torchia advises starting with your local contacts in the industry, whether it’s through other vendors or going to industry adjacent contacts at golf courses or pool maintenance companies.

When looking externally you could create a formal job description, but Torchia says you should still encourage team members to apply internally.

“We would never want to bring in somebody from the outside completely cutting off the rest of your team and saying, ‘Hey this is our new operations person you’re only going to report to him,” Torchia says. “It’s a lot different if you say, ‘Hey we’re going to hire an operations manager. I’m taking applicants from outside. If you want to apply internally, you’re more than welcome to apply.’ That takes some experience to know how to do that well because obviously there’s only one person that can do that role in your company so you’ve got to be able to talk to your team about it in a way where if they’re not a fit for that position that we don’t lose them altogether.”

Torchia says it’s important to make sure the job description is thorough enough that team members can determine if they have the necessary skills for the role.

Traits to Look For

There are a number of different traits to look for in your right-hand person. They should have a great attitude in the business with clients and co-workers and want to do more.

“It’s not just about skill but it’s about attitude and we like to call those attitudes having a growth mindset attitude where they’re just focused on getting better,” Torchia says. “They’re not worried about mistakes. They’re not worried about who did what wrong. They’re not worried about casting blame. They’re worried about how can we get better as a result of this? Mistakes are going to happen. Things are going to go wrong. It’s the nature of life, but how that person responds says a lot about them.”

They should challenge you in a positive way. Examples of positive challenges are asking if there’s a better way to handle routing, scheduling sales or organizing your trucks.

“If people are bringing you those things that are challenging the way that we’re currently doing our business, that’s a great sign of a person who has some ambition and wants to do more and has some knowledge of how to get it done,” Torchia says.

However, don’t exclude people because they’re quiet or don’t speak out. Don’t assume just because someone didn’t bring something forward doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in doing more.

“You’ve got to have honest conversations with your team members and if you see someone where you’re like I feel like this person could be it but man, they don’t mention they want any more work, they don’t mention things about challenging me,” Torchia says. “You can go to them and say, ‘Hey, what are three ideas you have for making this business better?’ and you might be blown away with what they come back with.”

Other questions to ask when considering your second-in-command include:

  • Do they have the same goals as you?
  • Does the person exhibit the behaviors of leadership for your company?
  • Are they respected by their team?
  • Have they handled difficult conversations in a way that impressed you?
  • Where do they want to be in the next five, 10 and 15 years?
  • Could they become a partner of yours later down the road?

If the person you have in mind is checking the boxes, remember that these relationships have to be built on trust and openness. Torchia encourages owners and their right-hand person to agree to be honest, open and transparent with one another, no matter how embarrassing or difficult it might be.

Making the Most of Your Second-in-Command

Once you’ve found your second-in-command you don’t want to squander their skills. Torchia advises starting with lists that cover what needs to be done every day, every week and every month. Then decide which tasks need to come off your plate so you can focus on tasks with the biggest impact.

“Certain people including yourself are going to take you to one area, but you’re going to need somebody else or a different set of skills to get you to the next area,” Torchia says.

Torchia also says owners and their right-person should schedule, at minimum, a weekly meeting for one hour where they can discuss what they’re working on, what’s going well and what’s going wrong. He encourages all non-emergency conversations to be saved for these meetings so you’re not disrupting each other throughout the week.

With a right-hand person in place, depending on the owner’s natural skills, they should either be focused on making sales calls, building relationships in the community and marketing or they should be building scalable replicable systems to help with efficiency.

“Both of those roles, no matter if you’re sales or if you’re ops, you need to have a different switch in your brain that you are now going to work on the business itself in terms of strategy,” Torchia says. “We always like to remind owners, part of what your role as an owner is thinking about a year from now, where do we want to be and what do we need to be doing.”

Created in partnership with FMC True Champions.

This article was published in the September/October issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Landscape Professional magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the content manager for NALP.

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