Zak George Landscaping hires HR manager Email
Written by Colorado Green NOW   
Tuesday, May 24, 2022 04:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

When is the right time, you may ask? Zak George, owner of Zak George Landscaping (ZGL), Fort Collins, says “In my opinion, once you cross the 50-employee mark it’s worth having an HR department, if the company has a growth mindset.”

In 2019 he thought it was time for his company to establish a formal HR department. But he took his time. He wanted the right fit. “We want to attract the best possible talent to the company,” George says. “That meant we needed someone who knows the people side of things. It’s a different skill set, one our leadership team thought would complement the rest of the team and help the company grow to the next level.”

At the time, ZGL had around 30 year-round employees with numbers growing to nearly 80 when including seasonal employees—both H-2B and nationals.

In late 2019, ZGL hired David Curtis as the company’s first HR Manager. “People were probably curious to see how it would work out,” Curtis reflects. “I have a degree in psychology, not HR, and this was a new position at the company. Among other factors, I think Zak hired me because of my experience managing a branch within a large corporation where I often handled the HR functions.

People were pandemic priority

“When the pandemic hit not long after I started, the company’s sole focus was the health and safety of our people.” Curtis says.  That meant both physical health and the emotional health and safety of continuing to have a job. “No one was laid off. In fact, our challenge was to attract people to complete the projects already booked. We were busy with an uptick in residential projects.”

“Screening and interviewing candidates early in the pandemic taught me that I had to adapt,” Curtis recalls. “I needed to update my questions because I was interviewing people from outside the industry.”  

He changed the hiring tools

Curtis needed better tools for the hiring process so he and the ZGL team implemented “realistic job previews.” They offer short bullet-point descriptions of positions written by people who are in that role. The job previews—with maybe 3-5 points—state both the pros and cons of the position. The purpose is to be honest and forthcoming with candidates.  

Information from exit interviews may also end up on job previews, especially the cons. “We want to address issues up front when recruiting ” Curtis shares. “For example, a pro is often ‘working outside,’ an item that may also be on the cons list. Sometimes heat and sun exposure can be very intense. If a person is fine with that, great. And if it’s not a good fit, it’s good to know early on.”

ZGL does not have a ‘sink or swim’ attitude with new hires. “We tell them we want to help them succeed. For example, someone who is hired mid-season to a maintenance crew will probably not be acclimated to working several hours during the heat of the day. We tell people not to give 100% during the first week. Give only 60-70%. It’s okay to start slow.”

Curtis also wanted to make sure interviews became more consistent, so he added more structure with a ‘standard’ set of questions for each position, based on job descriptions he created. In reality, his standard questions change. “I continually monitor their shortcomings as I use them, and hesitate to call any of them ‘final,’” he admits.

Read the full article in Colorado Green magazine, May/June 2022 issue to learn more about ZLG’s HR manager learning curve and successes.

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