Team Building: Overcoming Concerns About Adopting Cultural Fit Hiring - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Team Building: Overcoming Concerns About Adopting Cultural Fit Hiring

If you ask a lawn or landscape company owner some of their keys to successfully retaining their employees, hiring for cultural fits is typically among their advice.

“That’s well and good for them,” you might think. “I don’t have that luxury.”

Edward Coady, CEO of Mainely Grass, based in Bedford, New Hampshire, says they started making a concentrated effort to look for cultural fits around 12 months ago after seeing how much churn they had during the first month of employee retention. He says they’ve grown to recognize the value a great hire provides for their fellow employees and customers.

Rob Ambler, president of Ambler Industries, based in Furlong, Pennsylvania, says they’ve been intentionally looking for cultural fits for the last three years after a particularly troublesome event occurred with one of their employees from their local prison’s work release program.

“I started to think, ‘I wouldn’t want to get to a truck with this guy. I wouldn’t want to send him to my house to work,’” Ambler says. “That’s when we really started drug testing and hiring culture fits.”

Robyn Schmitz, owner and CEO of High Prairie Landscape Group, LLC, based in Edwardsville, Kansas, says they’ve always hired under the principle of ‘hire for attitude, train the aptitude.’ She says because they’ve followed this practice from the start, their first employees are still with them a decade later.

Addressing the Scarcity Mindset

Coady says he understands where owners are coming from when they’re reluctant to turn down job candidates when they’re understaffed.

“Spend time recognizing the cost of a bad hire and how predictable that was in the first place,” Coady says. “You just have to trust the process of it. People are in challenging staffing positions; they got to do what they got to do, but just incrementally make headway to raising that bar because it makes the whole thing a lot easier.”

Schmitz says you shouldn’t make the mistake of having the mindset you’re too desperate or don’t have the labor pool to be selective.

“Being selective is the key to a consistently performing culture where you retain top talent and attract more top talent,” Schmitz says. “The best team members yearn to work with other rockstars and knowing that they work with a team that was selected on high standards brings a sense of pride and accomplishment not found in companies who hire anyone with a driver’s license, for example. It ties back to the abundance versus scarcity mindset and getting whatever results you expect to get.”

Schmitz says despite declining over eighty percent of their applicants, it doesn’t take them long to fill positions. They have very low turnover and most of their openings are filled with employee referrals.

Ambler acknowledges that it’s a scary concept, and he says it’s similar to drug testing as you’re not sure how many people you’re going to have to say no to.

“I would not be scared of being selective,” Ambler says. “We used to hire anybody who walked in and they’re breathing. We use H-2B so that helps as well, but we have not had the hiring issue in probably two and a half years.”

Ambler says it doesn’t take them longer to find new hires because they have more employee referrals taking place as their current staff is telling their friends the company is a good place to work.

Communicating to Bad Fits

Another concern you may have is how to tell an individual who is well-qualified on paper that they’re not a good fit for your company.

Coady says typically they let the candidates know they’re moving forward with someone who’s more qualified for the position. He says most people are appreciative they let them know when they weren’t selected.

Ambler says they try to let non-culture fits down gently and keep them in consideration for future job openings.

Schmitz notes that if a person went through the effort to interview at your company, they deserve a response even if it is not a job offer.

If you are concerned about a negative response, Schmitz suggests these practices when declining a hire:

  • Have a template your team uses for notifying people so that your message is consistent.
  • Keep it respectful and short. Long explanations don’t change the outcome but can feel even more frustrating.
  • Show your appreciation to them for interviewing and acknowledge the time and effort required to interview.
  • Let them know your decision in a way that is clear.
  • Explaining why they didn’t get the role is not required in many states, but check with your regulations before deciding if you need to add this step. It’s important to try and explain the reason in a way that doesn’t feel degrading or demotivating. This is where emotional intelligence training helps!
  • Optional: Offer to contact them if you find a role that works for them

Dealing with Deception

No matter how discerning you are in your interview process, you will still occasionally have a candidate who is able to deceive you into thinking they are a great hire. Coady says these situations are the hardest because it’s easy to convince yourself there’s something great there and drag out the problem in hopes things will get better.  

Ambler says you will make mistakes when hiring. The key is to correct those mistakes quickly.

“I would say if you hired the wrong fit, and you messed up, it’s not going to change,” Ambler says. “Get them out and move on.”

Ambler says they hired one person last year they were very excited about but he was totally different after joining the company. They talked with him twice about their expectations and after the third time they had to let him go.

“I knew he was going to take some work to learn the business, but you can teach somebody how to cut grass or lay a patio,” Ambler says. “You can’t teach heart and you can’t teach culture.”

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.