For growers, finding — and keeping —quality workers is a tough hurdle. At Len Busch Roses in Plymouth, Minnesota, labor has become a challenge in recent years as unemployment rates have plummeted and fewer people are interested in agricultural jobs.
Patrick Busch, fourth-generation CEO, has led his management team to record best sales volume using a combination of business strategies and the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). “We had integrated lean manufacturing practices into our business model for eight years when I ran across EOS,” Busch shares. “It related strongly to what we were already doing and actually tied up loose ends.”
EOS is a handful of basic business tools that facilitate developing a long-term strategic plan that integrates into a short-term operating plan. In labor, EOS focuses on getting the right person in the right seat.
Key to making the EOS hiring strategy work is defining company values. “Our top value is and always has been customer focus,” Busch said. “Delivering a quality product has been our legacy, so it’s also one of our company values. We’ve recently added safety to the company value list because we learned that’s important to our employees.” Another key value is servant leadership. “Success comes from understanding and meeting other people’s needs, which is the heart of servant leadership — thinking of others,” Busch said.
When you hire the right person, someone who meshes with your company values, you immediately have an employee who fits the culture, which means they’re less likely to leave. Plugging the right person into the right seat matches their interests and skill with the role and typically leads to a happy and productive employee (translation: less likely to leave).
“Assessing the fit of a job candidate with company values is challenging, but makes a big difference when done well,” Busch said. Human resources starts by screening for values fit with a phone call. On-site interviews further explore values through open-ended questions, asking candidates to discuss their personal values and listening for how they performed in past jobs. When the value fit seems solid, an on-site evaluation determines the right seat fit.
A New Mindset
For new hires, the first 90 days include frequent interviews focusing on company values. Again, open-ended questions help unearth any unresolved issues relating to that vital values fit. After 90 days, employees rotate into standard performance review routines.
“We’ve moved from annual reviews to quarterly conversations, where we give employees feedback in terms of their work performance and productivity,” Busch said. “In these conversations, we discuss our company values and give workers feedback on how their behavior is manifesting those values. If someone doesn’t align with our values, that is a deal-breaker and we part ways.” The conversations also offer opportunities for salary changes — up or down.
The popularity of quarterly conversations has given rise to quarterly companywide meetings. “We do these as a lunch meeting, reviewing in 60 to 90 minutes how the company is doing — financial performance, goals and values. If we skip a meeting, our people don’t like that,” Busch said. “They want to know what’s happening with the company.”
Another way Len Busch Roses has addressed the labor shortage is through increased entry-level compensation. “We’ve raised our pay rate over 27 percent in three years in order to find people,” Busch said. “Our goal is to keep competitive with market wages. The hard part is defining the market. Compared to other growers, we’re on the high end. Compared to fast food, we’re more or less even, while compared to light manufacturing, we’re low.”
Len Busch Roses is seeing real-time results. For instance, the business has increased output from the same square footage by about 30 to 40 percent. They also just reported their highest sales volume month and year to date, so many things are working well.
“Labor is still a real struggle for us, but using the EOS principles we’re seeing improvement in turnover and retention,” Busch said. “In terms of our goal of reducing turnover, we’ve gone from 72 to 48 percent in one year. That’s definitely moving in the right direction.”