Acknowledging employees and understanding their goals will boost morale and ensure quality of work.
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Recruiting and staffing have become such tough challenges these days in the green industry that I feel we’re at a crossroads. We have no choice but to get better at internal training and promoting from within. Moving good people up your internal company ladder is necessary. But knowing when to move someone into a position of greater responsibility can be tricky if you don’t have a solid recruiting, hiring, and evaluation system in place.

When I talk about recruiting and making good new hires, I often recommend thinking about the individual’s future within the company before you hire them. What position do you see this candidate assuming several years from now? Five years? Ten years on? If you can’t envision someone moving up your company ladder over time, you might want to reconsider hiring them in the first place — unless they are a temporary employee filling a temporary need.

Once your new hire is on the job, it’s up to you to create a path for growth that has defined and attainable goals. Then, you must pay attention to certain signals that your employee is ready for more responsibility. One good sign that someone is ready to stretch their legs is if they are frequently helping your other employees, while at the same time handling their own job. If your employee has begun to learn new skills and is bringing good new ideas and processes to the table, that’s another good sign. Are they willing to do both high-level and in-the-trenches work? Are they hitting all their deadlines or project goals? More good signals that this employee is on the move.

If they are not exhibiting these characteristics, or they aren’t achieving other performance goals you’ve outlined for them, it’s too early to pull the promotion trigger.

The most important signal you should not ignore? When they ask you for more responsibility or a promotion. If you ignore such a request, it may be only a matter of weeks or months before your employee accepts a new position with your competitor. By the time an employee has asked for a bump in pay, or more importantly, a bump in responsibility, they are already evaluating all their options and may have a backup plan in mind or in place. If they don’t, and they stick around begrudgingly, their performance and attitude may decline if they feel they weren’t heard or acknowledged.

Before hiring a new employee, it’s important to consider their long-term future with your business.

Engaging in career planning talks with your employees can be a good way to match their performance with their own career growth goals. If you’re engaging with employees about where and how they want to grow, you just might be able to keep good employees from leaving for a better offer elsewhere. You also may uncover new skills or interests you didn’t know your employees had, and these interests or skills could help your company thrive.

I know all this stuff sounds most applicable to salaried type staff or management, at a time when many companies are struggling to find skilled labor for hourly hands-on work. But these concepts translate directly to hourly labor just the same as they apply to salaried staff. Most good employees at any level want to have their work acknowledged and the opportunity to grow toward better success. That’s not to say that some employees aren’t perfectly content where they are and might refuse to budge from their assigned role. If they are providing you good results and you’re happy with them staying in their current position, leave them be.

Investing in on-the-job training and internal mentorship programs helps ensure quality of work and profits, all while boosting morale. But before you get overly focused on building up training programs for people within your company, you might want to make sure there is some place for them to go once they’ve outgrown their current position. If there’s no possibility for staff to move up, then you might be wasting your training time developing them to take jobs at another company — which we all do to a degree, and that is fine. But if your goal is to keep the staff you have, then training must also come with opportunity.

This is a serious concern for individuals working for family-owned businesses, which are prevalent in the green industry. I’ve heard the same story many times and it goes something like this: “I’ve worked my tail off for this company for years, but there’s no chance for me to move up because the owner’s 22-year old son or daughter is taking over as the new manager.” Ouch. That’s a real kicker for someone who has invested years of their career in your business, only to have no other option but to leave and start over some place new. As an owner, you are of course entitled to put your family members into key positions within your company — even if they are less qualified. Just make sure they are the right hiring choice if you want buy-in from your existing staff. Also, understand that if moving up the ladder is only reserved for family members, you can’t expect good or long-term loyalty from your star performers. They’ll have no choice but to move on.

Now, not everyone wants a promotion or pay raise has earned it; and internal company optics matter. If you’re bumping someone up the ladder too fast before they’ve put in their time, have gained enough experience, and hit performance benchmarks, you could be setting them up for failure while alienating more qualified staff. Remember that promotions send a company-wide message.