People change, circumstances change, employee turnover is inevitable. Managers need to anticipate it, prepare for it and minimize its impact. The external goal is a seamless turnover so those using the facilities experience no change in the quality of the site. The internal goal is to maintain a strong team that works together effectively and efficiently. Whether you manage a single site or multiple sites within a complex or across a region, the key is developing strategies to accomplish this.

Hands-on demonstrations, like the one Tim Moore is conducting here, give a jump-start to cross training.

Know the needs

Require managers to keep records on everything they do on a regular basis. Choose a computer-based format, such as Excel, so that the data is easy to enter and manipulate. Set up basic templates and work with every new manager to create a work sheet, but don’t micromanage. Give managers the freedom to develop the record keeping format and process that works best for them, as long as it’s in a form that you can review and easily decipher.

The records must cover the basics such as pesticide applications, employee safety training, expenditures, etc. Also have them track how much time it takes their employees to do certain operations at specific sites – each practice field, game field or landscape area. You want to know how long it takes to mow, to aerate, to apply fertilizer, so you can tell how much labor is required per task per site and overall per site. Also, have them record materials, how much seed, how much fertilizer, how much fuel is used overall and per site. You need to be able to track all costs, from materials to labor.

Encourage them to enter the data on a daily basis, because we all tend to forget things by week’s end. While it may take 10 minutes a day if they do it daily, it could be 90 minutes or more if they try to reconstruct it at the end of the week, and accuracy may suffer.

Develop written job descriptions for all positions, so there are no questions as to the qualifications required. One of the biggest issues to stress with each manager is cross training of all employees so each person can do all tasks. Any new employee should know all the general operations within the first six months. That doesn’t mean they’re skilled at each task at that point, though that is the goal. Make sure the training is documented and goes with the safety training checklist you’ll want to require for each piece of equipment that they’re trained on.

Managers should closely monitor and evaluate most crew-level employees during their first 90 days on the job. Set this up as a probationary period if it fits your company’s policies. After that, require managers to conduct a formal evaluation with each of their employees every six months. Have them keep records of these sessions in the employee’s file, and both the manager and the employee should sign off on it.

Review these records with each manager during quarterly evaluations. That interval keeps you informed, allowing you to review where they are in terms of grounds management practices, their budget and their staff.


Open, honest communication sets the tone for all interaction, up and down the chain, from senior management to middle management to crew leaders to crew members. Focus on that in all of your interactions and ask your managers to do the same. Staff members need to be able to count on that to develop and function as a cohesive team.

When your managers receive information that will impact their staff, encourage them to share it as soon as they receive it. You want the entire staff to understand the thought process that goes into any change, rather than first learning about a change when it is implemented.

In general, people just want to know what’s going on. Sharing information early and often makes them feel part of the team, which minimizes turnover.

Manage exits

Each company or organization will have established procedures for handling an employee termination or resignation. Each manager has the responsibility to understand those procedures and follow them precisely.

Some facilities you manage may have established employee management procedures that must be followed. Some may be unionized, with the management team limited within that system. In other cases, your on-site managers may have the authority to build and manage their staff within your established company protocols. Though the procedures to follow are established at the top levels, it’s at the grassroots level where everything happens. Employee turnover is best handled with the team concept at the forefront – from the bottom up and the top down.

Tim Moore demonstrates mound building as training for new personnel and a review of preferred procedures for long-term personnel.

When an employee does decide to leave, the most important thing to find out is what happened to that person. The exit process needs to answer three basic questions: Did I do something wrong? Did the company do something wrong? How can we improve? The actual exit interview should take place before they receive their final paycheck.

People have different ways of looking at issues and different feelings about them. As a manager, you need to understand what their feeling is.

While some turnover will occur because an employee is dissatisfied, you don’t want any employee to leave feeling mad. If they say, “I don’t have an opportunity here,” you need to dig deeper. It may be a basic statement of fact: they have reached the highest level they can achieve at the specific facility given their skill set and the other personnel involved. It may be their perception of a situation, maybe feeling they have been passed over for training or a position. Once that is expressed, it can be examined and discussed. In some cases, they may be given guidelines of steps they need to take for future opportunities should they decide to stay. In others, there may be opportunities for them at a different facility or site within the facility. If it turns out that something was handled incorrectly or inappropriately, you need to know that so steps can be taken to rectify the situation. Your managers should follow these same processes with their workforce.

Sometimes an employee plans to leave for what he or she feels is a better opportunity. With open and honest communications already established, that individual will explain what that opportunity is. If this is a person you’d like to keep, you might ask them what it would take for them to stay. At times, the employee will bring in the actual offer letter, and you might ask if you can look at that offer together. There may be some elements of the offer that the employee had not considered that you can explain. But, if it is better for them than what you can offer, be open about that, too. You want them to make the best choices for their career.

Depending on the quality of the employee, if there is an issue to be resolved, you might want to set up an arbitration session. First, meet individually with each person involved, then jointly with all of them. This should resolve the issue, though it may not result in retaining the employee. In some instances, the working styles of those involved are not compatible. The sooner you know that, the better. You don’t want one relationship to impact the entire workforce. Sometimes the individual can be transferred to another site where they are a better fit for the staff.

Build a base

Networking can be a key component for reducing the impact of turnovers. It allows you to stay aware of the overall job market within the industry, what the talent base is, and who might be available to tap for the next position. At the management level, you’ll want to have a file of potential candidates that might be interested if the position fits their geographic preferences and desired salary and benefits package. Expect your managers to do the same thing on the regional or local level for staff personnel.

Track overall numbers to determine your percentages of retention of personnel in various categories, comparing annual fluctuations to company records and to industry averages. Generally, within in the broad category of the green industry, a management retention rate of about 90 percent is considered acceptable. For full-time, year-round staff members, the average retention rate is around 80 percent. Those with more seasonal, part-time personnel average 60 to 70 percent retention. Tracking the actual percentages helps equip you and your managers for the potential openings you’ll need to fill each year.

Workers can be your best recruiters. The happier your employees are, the better off you are going to be. Encourage your managers to talk with their staff about potential openings as they develop. Done well, approximately half of your crew-level labor pool can be the result of word-of-mouth “advertising.” The other half will come through ads placed in local newspapers or websites. Work with your human resources department to develop standardized ads that key to your specific written job descriptions. In many cases, you’ll only need to review and tweak the ad slightly prior to placing it. Potential applicants will know what the position entails from the ad.

Instruct your managers to encourage job seekers to take applications when there are no immediate openings. If your positions require a background check, have your managers let potential applicants know that. They should always ask the individual if there would be anything in their past that would keep them from passing a background check. If there isn’t, have them fill out the application so managers will have their name and contact information on file. If time allows, managers can do a short preliminary interview and include their notes on that process with the application.

Being prepared to fill openings as quickly as possible reduces the impact of turnover for the staff and the facility.

Tim Moore, CSFM, is director of grounds management for GCA Services Group, Inc.