I don’t know about you, but it’s getting old hearing the, “It’s a candidate’s market,” comments from everyone all over social media, in news articles and far too many blogs to count. It’s one thing to call it out, but its entirely different to solve the problem. And while there are currently no silver bullets to take down this problem, there are some innovative and different ways of looking at the workforce that can give you the edge over your competition.
Overcoming obstacles and changing with the times are often missed by businesses in all industries including horticulture.
Our industry is aging. It’s becoming harder to backfill roles when the talent pool seems to be shrinking at an alarming rate. Much of this issue is based on how we define the talent pool. Hiring managers tend to select candidates only if they have the exact pedigree, experience and knowledge. Usually, this means they want a sales candidate’s “book of business” to come with them.
For technical roles, they want candidates to make a parallel shift into the same role they are leaving. Unfortunately, this is not the 1980’s. Candidates today are more career savvy and they have choices both in and outside horticulture.
To add another layer of complexity, many business leaders are stuck in two camps: clone the current aging employee population or hire the younger generation. In cloning the current aging employee population, hiring managers want someone who has done it before in their industry and, if possible, for their clients or clients’ competitors. This first camp leads to low or no innovation, a decreasing talent pool and the challenges of pulling from competitors, which is the only place to find those who have done the exact same role you are trying to fill.
Hiring the younger generation appears to be a terrific alternative! Get them in early in their career and they will stay forever, just like the Baby Boomer generation or early Gen Xers, right? WRONG! Specifically targeting younger candidates over older candidates equally able, capable and willing to perform the same job at the same rate of pay is a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Additionally, there are challenges that must be overcome such as client perceptions that they lack the knowledge, skills and abilities to help them. There are also the challenges of keeping these early career professionals engaged in the business when they are hungry to grow their careers. So, how do we get around these issues?
All about behaviors
The solution does not have to be an either/or situation. In fact, age never has to be a factor at all, and legally it’s safer if it isn’t. Every role has certain behavior traits and competencies that lead to success no matter who is in the role. Traits provide us insight into each candidate around what motivates them, how they act or interact and the thought process they engage in. Competencies that candidates bring are developed over time and can be seen through their innate and learned behaviors. Competencies might be core to the role or company, demonstrated leadership or individual contributions, and may even be very unique based on the positions they have held.
In the context of a job, people must possess a particular set of competencies to be a good “fit” and achieve success. The three critical dimensions of job-related competencies are:
BEHAVIOR TRAITS that are required to accomplish the job
EXPERIENCE or job-related education and training that contribute to greater productivity
CHEMISTRY or the personality that is compatible with the company and work group.
It is necessary to change our hiring thinking with the times by realizing the importance and specific identification of the behavior traits required in a role. This will open a wider, more qualified talent pool.
Experience, or hiring the exact same position from your competitor, is too often viewed as the most important dimension. However, it’s actually the LEAST critical to success. Outside of highly technical roles, we can hire a lower level of specific experience because technical, product and industry knowledge can be trained.
If a professional has the right behaviors and experience but th chemistry is lacking, a person may still be successful if the company and person recognize, and choose to work through, their differences. The same is true for professionals with the right behaviors but little experience and poor chemistry.
The common hiring success denominator is the behaviors — not the experiences or chemistry. We are all looking to hire the ideal candidate with adequate levels of behaviors, experience and chemistry. Unfortunately, this is akin to looking for a purple squirrel — good luck finding that in today’s dynamic hiring market.
How do we identify these behaviors?
There are 25 specific professional behaviors that make up the behavior trait families. We define these four families as:
MOTIVATIONS — The fundamental drive of an individual characterized by more than the simple desire to earn money. What provides the individual the personal fulfillment in their work?
MODES OF ACTING — Functional behavioral traits that address the individual’s approach and skills for accomplishing work functions. These include organizational and time management skills, planning and prioritization, initiative, work focus and physical and mental stamina.
MODES OF INTERACTING — Addresses an individual’s interpersonal skills in how they influence, interact and get along with others.
MODES OF THINKING — An individual’s capacity to gather information and process it. These traits look at an individual’s ethical principles, creativity, flexibility and adaptability.
When determining the need for a new position or to backfill an existing role, collaborate with HR, the hiring manager and those tangential to the role (internal/external clients, peers, and direct reports if any). Identify the behavior traits, competencies and personality desired in the ideal candidate. Within each behavior trait family are differing combinations of behaviors and competencies important to each role. It’s easy to say, “Well, ALL are important to one degree or another.” Take time to accurately identify the top six behaviors necessary for success in a position. Let them guide your search. You’ll be able to develop specific questions assessing how closely candidates embody these traits.
Don’t exclude a candidate who does not reflect a certain knowledge, skill, or experience if it can be trained. If they reflect the behavior traits and competencies aligned with what you have defined for the role, take a closer look.
Candidates with a diverse experience set, without the exact pedigree, experience and knowledge of previous incumbents, but who demonstrate the desired combination of behavior traits and competencies, bring innovation and creativity to your business. It’s the difference between looking for reasons to hire someone rather than not to hire them. You will find a lot more candidates in your candidate pool who can excel in the role. And you may just find that growth and retention you were looking for.
Michael is a Sr. Human Capital Advisor at BEST Human Capital & Advisory group and leads the human resources advisory services as well as providing retained executive search. Michael developed the firm’s WR2 HR Analysis designed to identify the Wins, Risks, and Remedies for horticulture and other niche industry companies.
Todd is a Partner at BEST Human Capital & Advisory Group, through which he provides retained executive recruiting and human resource advisory services including HR Auditing, Retention Strategies, Onboarding Development and Succession Planning for horticultural industry companies.
BRED BY SYNGENTA FLOWERS
How long has it been on the market?
Grows to height/width
Grows to 14-16 inches tall and 18-20 inches wide
This cora flowers in from spring all the way through summer.
Key featuresCora XDR is highly resistant to 10 of the most virulent isolates of Phytophthora nicotianae that cause Phytophthora blight on annual vinca. Cora has large, showy flowers and comes in a wide range of solid and high-demand bicolor patterns.
Cora XDR is easier to grow with improved branching, uniformity and a free-flowering form ideal for premium packs and small to larger pots.
There are many independent garden centers that currently do not use technology tools to manage inventory, transactions, and customers for their businesses—I know this because I have probably spoken with 10 green retailers in the past six months that are not even using cash registers to ring up their transactions. While I have a personal mission to help those businesses realize that technology can substantially improve their bottom lines, I am focusing this article toward the IGCs that currently utilize a technology platform such as a point-of-sale system or inventory management system.
It would be fairly typical to hear that a business brought technology into their operation because of one or more “pressing needs” (I label them “technology drivers”).
For many stores, a technology driver might be improved inventory tracking or a quicker, more streamlined check-out process for customers. Other stores are looking to expand selling channels (for example, adding an eCommerce website). Regardless of the technology driver(s) that brought you to your current store system, you selected and implemented a system that addresses your primary technology drivers. And if you are like many of the IGCs I work with, your system becomes part of your day-to-day routine.
When I speak to store owners, I often hear, “I know my system can do a lot more” or, “We aren’t using many of the features that our system offers.” You are not alone. For the last 25 years, I’ve used Microsoft Office almost every workday and I know that I am still only using about 40% of the functionality that is available in the tool. Regardless of what system you are using, my challenge today is: How can I help you tap into your unutilized technology potential to lower costs, increase sales and improve margins?
The golden nugget of wisdom here is simple: each quarter, set a goal to utilize your available technical capability in at least one new way that directly translates to cost savings, higher sales and/or better margins. Start with a brainstorm session with your management team. Throw ideas on a blank page, flip chart or white board. For each idea about how to use your available technical tools, identify the costs, challenges or pains associated with this new use of your technology and identify the value benefit that would result from the use of that tool. Look at the chart above for examples.
All three of these examples use existing technical capabilities of many POS systems, are not overly difficult to implement, and provide tangible benefits that are measurable. Of course, your team will think of 20 clever ideas using this method. Pick the ones that are most compelling for you and make a concerted team effort to implement that approach. Measure the results and used those results when considering the goal(s) for the subsequent quarter.
You will quickly see that utilizing a few more capabilities in your existing system can yield significant economic results.
For more information on Rapid Garden POS click here.
|NEW TECHNOLOGY USE||COST/CHALLENGE/OBSTACLES||VALUE/PAYOFF|
|Use available inventory reporting to define and measure your buyers’ effectiveness (e.g., track turns, GMROI or weeks on hand metrics)||Needs a shift in employee culture (they may not like being measured), learning how to generate reports that track these metrics, possibly a need to create specialized reports, the need to learn how to interpret these metrics in an effective way (What is a good GMROI?)||Lower inventory costs, lower waste, increased sensitivity to overstocks and opportunities to improve margins|
|Use your POS system to track and promote “value attributes” for your items. For example: disease resistant, drought tolerant, pollinator, organic||Creating attributes on your item records in your inventory system to track and promote these attributes that increase the perceived value of a product.||Promoting value attributes increases a customer’s perception of value and justifies higher prices and margins|
|Use technologies to encourage your sales staff “up-sell” 5 things in your inventory. For example, when you sell a shrub, have your system prompt the customer service clerk to offer an organic fertilizer that improves root development.||Changing store clerk behaviors, creating system links to prompt the clerk to ask if a customer would like to add “x” to their order when they purchase “Y.” In Rapid Garden POS, these are called “tag-a-long” items.||Even if 2 out of 10 customers respond positively to the upsell, that is still 20% of those customers adding a higher margin item to their purchase. This practice can also create a repeatable pattern for that customer (e.g., I always buy this fertilizer when I purchase a plant to be planted). The ultimate benefit is increased gross sales, increased average ticket sales and increased net margins.|
Biological controls can have a propensity to confuse and challenge growers, says Michael Brownbridge, research director, Horticultural Production Systems at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Ontario. Consider, for example, Bacillus subtilus, a common active ingredient. Different strains may have different properties. For example, some promote plant growth and others control disease.
“If I’m [a grower] looking for product and I’ve just gone to a talk or read somewhere that I should be using Bacillus subtilus, and I just picked the first product off the shelf that says ‘Bacillus subtilus’ on it, and then wonder why it doesn’t control a pest or disease — well, efficacy can depend on the strain,” Brownbridge says.
But grower uncertainties are not thwarting many of them from adopting biocontrols. Numerous growers, use biocontrols to avoid resistance, like they have seen against traditional synthetic chemistries, and adapt to growing public concerns about high pesticide use in greenhouses and on produce, Brownbridge says.
Vineland has found that biocontrol use for pests among Ontario floriculture growers rose from 69% in 2014 to 92% in 2018. This same demographic of growers also increased their use of biocontrols for disease control in the same timeframe, rising from 30% to 70%.
“They have adopted biocontrol as one of their main pest control strategies, and it’s amazing,” says Rose Buitenhuis, research scientist in biological control at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre.
These numbers, from a survey conducted by Vineland, reflect a larger shift among North American greenhouse growers to embracing biocontrol.
Many growers, Buitenhuis says, are influenced by (in order of importance) more pests developing resistance to pesticides, growers choosing to improve worker health and safety (which can be a concern with chemical pesticides) and growers and employees not having to adhere to a re-entry or pre-harvest interval.
Better plant health is another reason for biocontrol adoption, Buitenhuis says. “Spraying — especially if you spray a lot — there’s some phytotoxicity still involved with chemical pesticides, so they just see better plant health,” she says. Other reasons, she says, include consumer demands and the efficacy of biocontrol.
Thrips are one insect pest group with a strong resistance to chemical pesticides, Buitenhuis says. In Canada, compared to the United States, fewer pesticides are registered on thrips, and controlling these insect pests in the Great White North is particularly difficult.
Grower use of biocontrol for thrips has led to a broader adoption of biocontrol methods, Buitenhuis says.
“That was kind of how it all started,” she says. “If you have to do biocontrol for thrips, then you have to do biocontrol for other pests, and probably disease as well, because a lot of the chemistries are less, or not, compatible with biocontrol agents. You can’t be fully chemical for all the rest of the pests and fully bio for thrips. You really have to integrate it and it can be a puzzle sometimes.”
Combining biological and chemical controls
Brownbridge says he considers Ontario growers’ 70% use of biocontrols — agents such as Bacillus and Trichoderma — to be close to a full adoption rate. In other cases, the plants are in and out of the greenhouse so quickly that disease infection isn’t a concern. Meanwhile, many U.S. growers Brownbridge has met are beginning to adopt full biological programs and incorporate compatible synthetic chemistries based on their biological program, rather than the previously more common reverse scenario.
“As long as the chemical and the biological [controls] are compatible, oftentimes you get even better results by using the two components together, perhaps in a spray rotation or something like that,” Brownbridge says. “They can be very, very compatible and give you very, very good levels of disease suppression when you use the chemical and biological [controls] in combination. But there is no one-size-fits-all scenario. It’s all crop- and location-dependent.”
A clean environment
Multiple factors can help growers determine biocontrols’ effectiveness in their greenhouses. When adopting biocontrols, growers need to maintain good growing conditions and sanitation practices, Brownbridge says. “Biocontrols will not work if all of the other steps aren’t in place, as well,” he says. “They don’t give 100% control, they don’t work curatively and they don’t work when there are high pest or disease pressures, or perhaps when conditions are very, very favorable for diseases to develop.”
One favorable condition for disease, for example, is an unsanitary environment, so it works in growers’ favor to sanitize their greenhouses. Between crop cycles, Brownbridge says growers should spray a disinfectant on benches and clean floors of algae, moss and, if they have dirt floors, weeds. They must ensure that flats and pots are sterile and potting mixes remain free from diseases. A plant propagator’s reputation rests on providing clean cuttings but growers need to be aware that sometimes cuttings are infected.
Brownbridge compares the necessity of a clean greenhouse environment to the need for clean hospitals. “Ideally, a hospital is free of all sorts of diseases, because you’ve got a bunch of compromised people in there that can easily be infected if there’s a lot of dirt, filth and pathogenic organisms around,” he says. “[It’s the] same when you have a greenhouse — you want it to be as clean as possible.”
Au revoir, resistance
Biological controls have multiple modes of action: producing antibiotics to interfere with disease development, parasitizing pathogens, crowding out disease-causing organisms for space in roots, taking up resources that pathogens would otherwise use and inducing plants’ own defense pathways that protect them from infection, Brownbridge says.
“Against a chemical, it’s frequently [that] the mode of action is very specific on a specific biochemical pathway, so it’s easier for the organism to develop alternative pathways to get around it,” he says. “But with biocontrol agents having these multiple modes of action, it’s harder for the disease organisms to develop resistance to that.”
A new approach
To achieve successful results with biocontrols, growers need to understand their crop and the conditions in which it needs to be grown, and keep it healthy throughout its growth, Brownbridge says.
“For people shifting off conventional pest control into biological, it’s a little bit of a change of mindset, change of approach and a change of thinking around the whole crop cycle and the whole system in which you’re going to use this material — and ensuring all parts of that system are working together,” he says.