Almost six years ago Todd Pugh realized his company, Enviroscapes, had a major problem — it was having trouble finding reliable employees. Worse yet it wasn’t retaining many of the ones he had counted on to keep his company growing. While Enviroscapes is headquartered in a bucolic rural area near Canton, Ohio, it had added several branches to serve much of the northeast region of the state.

In seeking new workers, Pugh started where many landscape company owners look to find new employees. He would go to those folks already on his payroll. He would ask for their help in recommending and finding new employees.

Todd Pugh, Enviroscapes

Todd Pugh, Enviroscapes

“I got the idea that since the best way to get customers is through referrals that was going be the best way to find employees, too,” said Pugh.

To initiate that process, Pugh developed a simple survey, which asked his workers if they would be willing to refer their friends to work at Enviroscapes. He admitted the results of the survey shocked him. Only 15 percent of employees responding to the survey answered “yes” they would recommend his company as a place to work. Equally disturbing to Pugh, when he parsed the survey’s results, he surmised more than 60 percent of his employees were actively looking for another job.

“A major, major ah-ah moment,” said Pugh in describing his reaction to the survey’s results.

Pugh wondered: What was going on with his employees? Why were so many of them seemingly dissatisfied? Pay? Working conditions? Uncertainty over their employment status?

Working with an experienced business consultant in the wake of the disappointing news, Pugh was finally forced to admit that his company’s failure to retain employees cut much deeper than any of the immediately obvious reasons for worker dissatisfaction. It had to do with something more profound — his company’s “culture.”

“We were so focused on growing we lost focus on our own people,” said Pugh.

So what to do?

The fix turned out to be a challenge but one that Pugh knew was best for everybody in the company in the end. It started by management finally coming to the realization that it must recognize and treat the company’s employees as its “number one” asset. Without building on that cornerstone, the job of transitioning Enviroscapes into a “destination workplace” with a more stable base of key employees would be impossible, Pugh acknowledged.

Obvious changes included boosting employee benefits, enhancing employee profit sharing and beefing up employee training. The biggest key, however, seems to have been the adoption of “open-book” management to keep employees updated about the company and its goals as well as to provide them a voice in company policies and procedures.

“We realized that by taking care of our employees first they will take care of our customers. It was really a big mentality switch,” said Pugh.

By initiating the program to make his company a “destination workplace” Pugh expanded his recruitment efforts to attract willing workers from any industry ­— building contractors, roofers, pavers, etc. ­— that relies on individuals who prefer to work outdoors.

Key to attracting these workers will be to show and convince them that the landscape industry and, in particular, Enviroscapes offers career opportunities above and beyond the level of unskilled labor.

“We promote based on performance and not seniority when we hire somebody. We make that very clear during the onboarding process,” said Pugh. “We will show new hires people within our company who started at the lowest level that have moved up the career ladder.

“One of the biggest holdups in the landscape industry right now is that people don’t think of it as a viable career,” he continued. “But this industry and the businesses within it produce good money. We’re trying to get that message out.”

Editor’s note: This article was compiled from an interview with Todd Pugh, CEO of Enviroscapes, early in 2016 and comments made by him during a panel discussion at LANDSCAPES 2016 at the 2016 GIE+EXPO.