June 15, 2017
By Jacki Hart CLM
Prosperity Partners Program Manager

Jacki HartWhen the pressure is on, the days are long and you’re being pulled in lots of different directions, it’s hard to make time to notice what’s really going well. This is the time of year when managers and business owners tend to spend their time solving issues, putting out fires and generally trying to stay ahead of lots of moving parts in all areas of the business.

I’ll be the first to admit I spent years focusing on what needed to be corrected. To my field staff, no news always meant good news. I was so intense, swamped, and focused on perfection that a lot of the time, staff just didn’t understand. I lost a lot of good people over the years, because what they needed from me was to hear what they’d done well. Staff who worked hard for my company were a resilient bunch, because my focus was to point out what they missed, or what they needed to fix or improve. Performance evaluations were a thing for the end of the season, if at all.

Over 15 years ago, ‘no news is good news’ was a common management practice. An owner pays staff to fulfill their job description tasks to the company standard. So why should an owner constantly compliment them on it? If they are still working for the company, that means they are doing a good job, right? Well, maybe. And now with Millennials in the workplace, this management practice is even more outdated.

Simon Sinek (search ‘Millennials in the workplace’ on YouTube) nailed it as usual: Millennials are spoiled (thanks to doting parents), impatient (thanks to instant technology), self-centred (need to feel important) and restless (need an appealing end-game in order to stick around). These new qualities in our workforce have created the need to really notice what’s going well — and to act on it, every single day. It has also created the need for structure, fairness and regular written performance evaluations every few months (that include next steps, improvement plans and resources to improve).

Compliments and gratitude go a long way

It might sound a bit hokey and simplistic, but saying “thank you” or “wow, great job – I really like how that looks!” has more meaning to a greater number of our staff now, more than ever. Compliments and gratitude create a feeling of belonging and of being appreciated. They build self-confidence. Compliments and kindness go a long way to letting an employee know you notice the impact they are making and the value they possess.

Here are a few tips to help you reap the benefits of positive feedback:
  1. Be sincere with positive compliments.
  2. Make eye contact and smile.
  3. Slow down enough to ask how their day is going.
  4. Notice when someone takes initiative.
  5. Compliment improvement, even if not yet perfect.
  6. Offset a correction with a small compliment.

Performance reviews and labour shortages

Few employers I’ve polled over the years make time, or have a system in place, for the important step of onboarding and retaining staff. I can hear you respond, “yah right Jacki, it’s JUNE! I don’t have time for that.” While this may be true, I would respond, “How much time does it take for you to attract, recruit interview, hire, orient, train and entrench every new employee? What if, by giving a mid-season or quarterly evaluation, you could keep more of the good employees and need to hire less often? What if during that process, you discovered people problems you weren’t aware of, as well as promising potential you had overlooked?”

In March, I ran an afternoon workshop for a large group of business owners and managers at a Landscape Alberta event. In order to make sure I was on the same page with respect to the labour market in Alberta, I asked the group if they had a skilled labour shortage. After the room stopped laughing, a guy in the back said, “We tell people from Ontario to hold onto our beer while we tell them how bad our labour shortage is.” Good to know we are not alone in Ontario.

So I asked the group, “What if next year you had to hire 30 per cent fewer people by spending 10 per cent more time managing the experience of the people you have this year?” That got their attention, and hopefully I also have yours.

The percentages are intuitive on my part, and they’re based on conversations I’ve had with business owners who have a regular evaluation process. They retain a higher percentage of employees and they recruit more by word-of-mouth than from any other methods. They rarely hire mid-season. Imagine that. And, their staff are engaged and step up when the pressure is on. Wow!

What if, by spending 30 minutes with each employee at least once (preferably two or three times) a season, you could worry less about churn rate and turnover and more about ways you could inspire engagement and career paths? Would you? How would your mood and energy change if you were focused more on positive engagement and the people resources you have, rather than focusing on what people resources you need and don’t have?

In this new era of changed workplace expectations, it’s time everyone in our profession put the career paths of their team higher on the priority list. Everyone needs to know they’re appreciated, valued, and making a difference. Your employees are no different and they will respond favourably to your improved efforts.

So, the next time you’re too busy to recruit, interview, hire, orient and train someone new in the middle of your season, pick up this column and read it again, please! It’s advice that’s tested and true.
Jacki Hart may be contacted at peertopeer@landscapeontario.com.