Landscaping A New Hiring Approach

 As seen in Golf Business January/February 2022 

  By Michael Williams:

The explosion of interest in golf during the pandemic has been well-documented. According to the National Golf Foundation, the industry has seen double-digit growth in number of players and rounds played, a welcome silver lining to a period that has otherwise been a dark cloud of epic proportions.

But the prosperity has also presented its own challenges, with perhaps the greatest of them being the ability for golf facilities to attract and retain staff. It is an issue that virtually every service and retail business is currently facing. Many employees who were furloughed during the height of the pandemic shutdown in 2020 have either not returned to the workplace or have resigned, and have chosen to be extremely picky about what they choose to do with their time.

The term “Great Resignation” was coined by Anthony Klotz, a professor of management in Texas, who in May 2021 said a wave of resignations was coming as people digested the lessons of lockdown and reimagined what normal life should look like. Many people have decided it’s time for a change after working from home with no commute and more time with family. Some people may have made the decision in light of generous government benefits put in place during the pandemic, and others were probably just hunting for a better salary. The other side of the coin is that many people are exhausted and burned out after working too hard for too long during the pandemic. Take junior bankers, for example. Long, grueling hours were always part of the job, but that seemed to intensify over the past year-and-a half as the pace of deal making quickened. Many entry-level bankers decided enough was enough. In response, banks boosted starting salaries past $100,000 in a bid to lure and retain talent. But even that hasn’t always been enough.

More than ever the key to attracting and retaining people comes down to three factors: a reliable pipeline of recruits, an onboarding process that communicates an attractive corporate culture and the possibility for real advancement and long-term success. As many employers will attest, these are easier said than done.

In order to get an understanding of what the hiring process is really like these days, I decided to go undercover and go through the process from initial interview to onboarding to get a feel for what the realities are for both prospective employees and for the prospective employer.

I chose to apply for a sales manager position at Renditions Golf Course, located about 30 minutes from Washington, DC. Renditions is a course composed of replicas of famous holes in championship golf, including Amen Corner at Augusta National. I happened to have been at the opening of Renditions 20 years ago, so there was some symmetry and some nostalgia in applying for the position.

The property is owned by Landscapes Unlimited, the Lincoln, Nebraska-based firm originally founded as a landscaping camp but now known in the industry for physically creating some of the most exceptional golf courses in the world. Landscapes Unlimited also owns and operates a broad portfolio of courses and knows all too well the challenge of finding and retaining talent. Their solution is focused around a strong corporate culture, cultivation of good candidates and best established practices for ensuring the support for the individual in their home and work, especially when home and work are often the same place.

The journey began with an initial interview with a Landscapes representative from the head office. I took on the role of a candidate with little experience in the field of golf course management looking for a position that would be interesting and have the opportunity for long-term growth, which fairly accurately describes my status when I first connected with golf twenty years ago.

The interview covered the usual logistical questions about background, education and experience. But I noticed that the Landscapes questions went more deeply into who I was as a person. The interviewer asked about my personal likes and dislikes completely unrelated to golf, an indication that there was a desire to understand the person behind the résumé. I learned a great deal about the culture of Landscapes, from its founding in 1976 to its current position as an industry leader grounded in loyalty, service and the well-being of their employees. The conversation lasted about an hour and was cordial and less formal than most job interviews. And the theme of corporate culture was prevalent, a common thread that would run through the entire onboarding process.

I did well enough on the initial interview to be offered an in-person meeting with Steve Peterson, the General Manager at Renditions. After a tour of the property, we sat down to talk about the general requirements of the position, closely followed by a more detailed and focused explanation of the corporate culture and philosophy of Landscapes, which included their list of Values and Behaviors like Do What’s Right, Take Care of Each Other, Find A Way, Lead, and Be The Best.

“We have a sense of pride in the organization, and we have very high standards,” said Peterson. "At the same time, we take care of each other. If someone is late three days in a row, we don’t immediately seek to punish or reprimand. Instead, we try to understand why that is happening and find out what we can do to help solve the underlying issue. We want our people to know that we value them and that we have their back; that’s what attracts people and keeps them here.” The values are divided into subsets like mpower and support, offer thanks and appreciation, be respectful of others and have fun. And new hires are assigned a “Buddy” to help ease the transition and provide immediate reinforcement and support. Peterson even asked me what my favorite snacks were, a question that I have never before heard from a prospective employer.

Another priority for prospective employees in the Covid era is the possibility for personal improvement and career advancement. People are less willing to spend time at a job that has limited prospects for meeting their financial and life goals. This is another area where Landscapes is ahead of the curve; they are always on the lookout for employees who display the qualities that are common to good managers. These prospects are sent to a management academy where they are provided with the training necessary for them to succeed in management positions.

Cesar Martinez, Vice President of Resources for Landscapes Unlimited, noted, “50% of managers receive no management training. We provide the training that fills the gap between potential capability and the real ability to create a positive result.” These managers are often so effective that they move through multiple sites or even multiple divisions in their career at Landscapes.

Even with their evolved corporate culture and thoughtful onboarding program, Landscapes Unlimited faces the same challenge of having enough people in the pipeline to cover all the personnel needs at a busy golf property. I hadI had had come to them, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

“We have had to get creative and do things that we hadn’t before,” said Peterson. “We have a very busy street at the entrance to our property, but it never occurred to us to put up a sign to attract the attention of potential new hires. So we put up a sign saying, ‘Now Hiring’ and the response was terrific.” But they have found that the most effective way to get quality new people is through the quality people that they already have.

“We find that the best recruitment tool is the referrals that we get from our employees. They know our culture and have bought into it, so they are our best ambassadors when it comes to recruitment.”

When I talk to people about the job market, the thing they are looking for most is a workplace that really does care about the individual in deed, not just in word. Landscapes and others seem to understand that, and companies that do not will face challenges well beyond the Covid era. And for the record, I got the job. And on the first day, I was greeted with a box of my self-declared favorite snack, a big box of fresh veggies with ranch dressing. It’s always good to have options, and Landscapes seems to be a pretty solid one.