Ep 026 – The Hidden Value of HR Coaching for Landscape Leaders with Barrett Chow

Home / Episode / Ep 026 – The Hidden Value of HR Coaching for Landscape Leaders with Barrett Chow

Are your managers leaving HR in a bind regarding employee relations? In this eye-opening episode, we dive into the often-underestimated power of HR coaching alongside Barrett Chow of the McFarland Stanford team. With his impressive background at the Ritz Carlton, PGA Tour, and Lifescape Colorado, Barrett unpacks the essentials of empowering managers and the transformative effects of non-monetary compensation on workplace culture. Let this be your guide to rewriting the handbook on employee satisfaction and discover how a seemingly simple document can make waves in your company's operational success.


Start Day One

Key Moments:

[05:01] Importance of consistent and meaningful first impressions.
[10:58] Managers support, train, and develop employees effectively.
[10:58] Managers support, train, and develop employees effectively.
[14:58] Essential policies and legal counsel for employees.
[19:38] Bookmark and secure changes for handbooks annually.
[22:35] Perspective on non-monetary compensation in HR issues.
[29:26] Non-monetary compensation benefits and effective onboarding strategies.


    1. How do you update employee handbooks effectively?
    2. What are examples of non-monetary employee compensation?
    3. How can non-monetary benefits boost employee satisfaction?
    4. What are the best onboarding practices for new employees?
    5. How do first impressions affect employee retention?
Episode Transcript
Barrett Chow [00:00:00] The Roots of Success podcast is for the landscape professional who's looking to up their game. We're not talking lawns or grass here. We're talking about people, process, and profits. The things deep within the business that need focus to scale a successful company from hiring the right people and managing your team to improving your operations and mastering your finances. We've got a brain trust of experts to help you nurture the roots of a successful business and grow to the next level. This is The Roots of Success. Tommy Cole: Welcome to another episode of Roots of Success. And I'm your host, Tommy Cole. I've got an awesome special guest and good friend, Barrett Chow. He is one of our newest team members of the McFarland Stanford team. How are you Barrett? Barrett Chow: Doing great, Tommy. Thanks for having me Tommy Cole: Absolutely. Let's talk, let's just jump right in. Barrett's Experience Tommy Cole: You have an unbelievable amount of experience that I wanted to share and, and, and talk about. And the three most important experiences that are like [00:01:00] mind changing to me are one is Ritz Carlton. Which we've done a lot of studies in my previous career of the expectations and everything set by the high end world of Ritz Carlton to PGA Tour, which was like super cool because I'm a golf dude. So tons of experience there in Florida, but also in some more recent. Is Lifescape, Colorado, where we got to know you very well working with that team in Denver. So tell me about your experiences in those three journeys. What led you to here? Barrett Chow: You know, I think all those journeys led me to here because I've, within my, my vast experience of industries, I've had the fortunate experience of working with a lot of great leaders and meeting a lot of great people, you know, I look at the Ritz Carlton. It really taught me how to anticipate people's needs, understand my employees, really look past the surface level issues that [00:02:00] they're coming to me with, right? You, you look at the PGA tour is a very different experience for me, but it also was helping people grow in their career across the country from California to Connecticut to Florida, you know, managing people remotely, you know, there's a lot of moving pieces in a company that big. And with that procedure, Prestigious of an organization comes high expectations as well. And I think the most relevant experience, you know, getting to meet you guys at Lifescape, I could not be more thankful for that experience and, really getting to grow with a small business into. a powerhouse within the Denver market and, and industry leader within the landscape industry, it taught me a lot more about the other sides of building a business instead of getting in and just taking over and managing the status quo. Tommy Cole: [00:03:00] Right. Love it. You know, and at that point, what's fascinating is you got to learn all the little things about landscape, right? So, which is a whole different perspective on PGA and RITs. You are able to bring in things like, okay, we got to have someone in HR because we're growing fast. We got to have someone in people. Barrett Chow: We got to have all the transactional HR, as long as the transformational HR perspective. And you brought all that together in a well built organization there in Denver. So it's, it's, of experience there. Yeah. You know, one of the things I, I always say is, it really taught me how to build a strong foundation to help a company grow. I walked into a lot of strong foundations at the tour and at the Ritz Carlton where process procedures were only being tweaked, not being developed, not being built from scratch, not having to go through the iterations of, well, that didn't work. do we, how do we do this better? Tommy Cole: Yeah. Love it. Barrett Chow: [00:04:00] Tommy Cole: So Barrett First Impressions at an Interview and Job Tommy Cole: one of the things that we want to talk about is first impressions matter. what does first impressions mean to you? Barrett Chow: So, you know, first impressions go both ways, to be honest with you, right? As a candidate and somebody who's joining a company, you want to know you made a right choice, right? If you show up on your first day and your uniforms aren't ready, or they don't know what truck you've been assigned to, or your manager doesn't even know your name, it doesn't make you feel good that you made the right choice in the companies you selected, right? Same thing as, as from the client side, right? Or the company side. When you hire somebody or they come in for even an interview. If they come in with tattered jeans and they're late and they didn't let you know, right? What does that set as the expectation moving forward? Right? And like they say, you only get one first impression, so you got to make it matter. You know, I think it's [00:05:00] really important for companies to make the best first impression for their candidates, right? Especially after the hiring process, that first day is very, very important. It really sets up the, what you hope to be the rest of their career. And you want to make sure that they made a good choice and that they feel good about their choice. And it's something that is, doesn't have to be crazy elaborate. It just has to be consistent. And it has to be meaningful. Tommy Cole: Consistent, meaningful. So let's take a step back. So I think it's pretty important on your first day. But if you take a step back prior to the first day, as far as first impressions, because let's just be realistic. They're interviewing you, the company also, right? So talk about like, you know, response times and interviews and the, of the business, because If I'm an employee looking at you guys, I'm checking you guys out. So how do you [00:06:00] set those up as a business? Barrett Chow: Yeah. So, when a candidate comes in, even to interview, right. As, as somebody who's welcomed plenty of candidates, I've seen where their eyes go. I've seen their body language. I've, I've even felt their energy. Right. So you want to make sure that somebody is greeting them at the front door. they know who you are when they walk in the front door, right? Even if that's as simple as telling your receptionist, I have a 2 p. m. interview for an account manager and his name is Tommy, right? So when they walk in, they go, I'm here for an interview. Oh, you must be Tommy. That makes you feel really good. It makes you feel like, wow, they want me. They, they understand. That this is important to me. Yeah, exactly. They've done their homework and that they're prepared, right? It sets the expectation of what work will be like for them moving forward. So it's the basic housekeeping items, right? The front drive is clean. The receptionist area is clean. The interview room is ready. You're not [00:07:00] kicking people out of the conference room as you're walking to the room, right? And you have a designated space. You're not interviewing in the middle of the cafeteria because that's the only open table that's left or on a dirty shop bench, right? Tommy Cole: Yeah, no, that's very, very well spoken. About being prepared for the candidate, cleaning the space out, having it nice, having a system down as far as paperwork or resumes. Interview other people type deal. Let's talk about, first day impressions. First couple of days, first week impressions of a new employee coming to the business. What, what does that look like in your opinion? And you've seen it all from working at landscape companies in Colorado, right? To, to working for PGA, to working at the Ritz Carlton, What, what does that first one to a few days to a week look like? Barrett Chow: Yeah. And it's really going to depend on your company, [00:08:00] your resources and the overall culture of your company. But that's what you want it to support. You want it to support your company's culture and what the overall objective is. Right. The Ritz Carlton is a perfect example of you spend two days in orientation before you even get to greet a guest. Or have a guest interaction, right? They want to make sure that, you know, everything from the history to the process, the procedure to your uniform inside and out before you even step a foot anywhere on the floor of that hotel, right? You look at other companies that I've built onboarding programs for. They can be as long as, Hey, here's a 30 minute orientation with your hiring manager. And everything's ready to go for you. And, you know, you're stepping out in there because we need you in the field that first day, right? You, we don't have the time and luxury in the middle of summer to, to keep some of those workers [00:09:00] in the office for a full day, right? that's eating into profit. That's eating into efficiencies in it's wearing out the other crew. Who's a man short. So it's a balance of what you need. But there needs to be intentionality behind it and why we do this. So even if it is a 30 minute on your first day, what does that first week look like? Are we checking in with them after the first day when they come in? Hey, how was your first day? What went well? You know, it turns out I didn't have a set of pruners. Okay, we want those pruners ready for them day two before they show up. So that, hey, they were hurt. They understand that when I ask for help or I need something, I get it. Right? And that they're not out on their own fending for themselves on day two. And that daily check in or the end of the week check in, make sure there's some intentionality behind it and grabbing them and saying, Hey, how did your first week go? [00:10:00] Let's talk about it. Not just grabbing them in the parking lot and saying, hope you had a good first week and letting them drive off. Right. pull them in early if you have to go meet them on a job site and, and really, you know, take the time with them to understand also how you can get better for the next person. I think that's, a key to first impressions is they can go stale, right? And that process needs to continue to involve, evolve as they go. You hire more people and you're going to find great ideas. You're going to find some not so great ideas coming out of these people, but they've also worked a ton of places. So take what you can and, and implement what you can as well, and keep getting better every day. Who leads the new team member checkups? Tommy Cole: Yeah. Love it. So who, there's also gotta be an owner, like who's in charge of these, these updates and these who's, who's in charge of checking in with people, the crews or the support team, the [00:11:00] project manager that's newly hired. Like we always talk about ownership at the day. So you're probably going to, I probably know your answer, but let's, let's get from your side of the. The cards. Barrett Chow: Well, I think it's twofold. There's two owners in this. In my opinion, one, it's your human resources and your support staff, right? The way I've always looked at human resources is it's your hospitality division within your company, right? They are there to support employees that they. Can have the best experience possible, but like myself, I was working in landscaping for five plus years. I still don't know how half of the equipment works or how jobs are supposed to be installed that technical level of it, or that field work side of it. That's where the manager needs to step in as well, because this is where the manager is building a relationship and And making sure that they understand their employees so that they can train, [00:12:00] develop, or even lift up stars and high potential employees who, who may have undersold themselves in the interview process. Tommy Cole: good. Barrett Chow: Employee Handbooks Tommy Cole: Okay. So let's talk about Barry. Let's talk about handbooks One of those things that is a bit awkward in most landscape companies is this handbook. Like you got to have one, but listen, it's not the sexy thing of like the tractor or the truck or whatever it may be, the logo and all these things that we all worry about. This is the last thing that a business owner wants to deal with is this thing called the handbook until It becomes an issue, right? So let's give our audience from your perspective, like, if you don't have a handbook, what needs to be done? How do you navigate through the handbook with your team? How do you get involved in all that? And how do you update it? Kind of give me your experience with every, with everywhere you've been [00:13:00] based on our clients today. Barrett Chow: Yeah. I mean, I think the first part is owners think that handbooks equal handcuffs, and that's really not the situation. Handbooks really set the rules of engagement for the entire company. They allow managers to manage without having to go to HR or go to the president. Or the owner for every single answer. Hey, can I fire this person? Can I promote this person? What days do we have off? Right? It does ease a little bit of those managerial issues that you see, but you see companies be super successful with handbooks, especially because it empowers employees and gives a lot of the basic knowledge to all employees. And it's consistent. Handbooks can be updated every year. It takes about, you know, anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days to a couple of weeks, depending on [00:14:00] how far behind you are. Right. But in this day and age, laws, paid sick leave, Compensation. These types of things are changing so rapidly that you want to be updating this at least annually. People also tend to say, Oh, I have to put everything in. in that handbook. No, you don't. You know, handbooks can be super simple. They don't have to be 40, 50, 60, a hundred pages. I've seen 96 page handbooks. I've seen 17 page handbooks. Which one do you think got read the most? Right. But in that 17 page handbook, it laid out. This is what happens if you're late. This is what to do if you need to call out. This is who you could talk to, right? It made it very simple and it eliminated those questions. And it made sure that all of us played by the same rules. Now, when you get into 96 [00:15:00] pages, what is really going in there? Are people reading it? Because you'll get to a point where you can overwhelm staff. With policies, you know, and, and rules, this isn't meant to be the catch all for everything it's really supposed to be the guidelines of how our company operates, you're not putting process and procedures in there unless it's. something around how to call in sick, right? Or when you're sick, this is how you do it. Those are basic that, that all employees should be following. Now, when you start thinking about what should go in there and what shouldn't go in there, that is, that is where Somebody like myself or an HR professional or even legal counsel can help decipher what goes in there But you know, I think about things of you know what do you want people to sign and acknowledge to right if you have a just [00:16:00] say A travel reimbursement policy that needs to be updated Maybe quarterly because of certain rules with the government reimbursement. They changed the rate on gas mileage. Say that, do you want to be updating your handbook every time that amount changes and push it out to all employees? That can be a standalone policy. Not everybody may be eligible for that too. So you can have them sign that policy on the side. And keep it in their file and keep that handbook from growing and growing and growing, especially when policies stop applying to every position, except for one, it just adds noise, but it also opens you up for, well, why do they get that? And I know, right. It can actually cause more headaches than help. If you go too far, you can overdo it on a handbook, right? And if every single reason is listed in there. Of what to do or when you should call out sick. [00:17:00] The one reason that's not listed, they're going to find, right? So, this is where you have to be also creative and open with your language. That's why I say guidelines, not rules, right? They govern the company for sure. But you know, there are definitely some hard, fast rules that we have in those handbooks that we want. To uphold our culture and legally have to in some instances, but for the most part, you've got to have a little wiggle room or a little bit of gray area in there so that you can operate your business as well. Tommy Cole: Yeah, very well said. How to build an employee handbook Tommy Cole: So a handbook needs to happen, right? For business owners, right? in more for a, a guideline deal, it's not a mandatory deal. I don't think, but, but it is something that is highly, highly, highly recommended to get done as a guideline. What would a business owners today do to kind of get one or get a guide on how to do one?[00:18:00] Barrett Chow: Yeah. Tommy Cole: there? Barrett Chow: There's tons of free resources out there. There's a ton of handbook builders out there. You know, one of the things that I always direct my clients to is. Check with your benefit brokers, see what resources they have. There's a lot of free resources out there. That these bigger benefit brokers have access to because they supply it to thousands of clients, right? And some of these handbook builders are very basic of here's generic language that you can use and go modify it to your heart's desire. There's ones that are very state specific of, Hey, we have these certain laws in Colorado. You have to make sure that these are in there. Now, whether you put them in there or not is. Your risk tolerance as an owner. And I've always been in the, in the camp of get a handbook done and send it to an attorney. [00:19:00] Right. And if it's blessed by an attorney and it supports your culture, it's going to create a lot of efficiencies and really help solidify that culture that you're looking to build. Tommy Cole: Yeah. Love it. Love it. So the takeaway here is to get a handbook, business owners, get it to your employees. How often should you review changes to handbooks with your team? Tommy Cole: I get often a question,Should you review the handbook with all employees? When there's changes annually, or is there like an acknowledgement that there's been some changes done? Like how does that work Barrett Chow: So that is. A two part answer there. One is the severity of the change, right? How drastic is it? Because if it's changing your culture, you want to make sure everybody Knows why you made that change. And that is more of why you get with everybody. They don't get input on it, right? Some companies do that. I think it really delays the process [00:20:00] and can add a lot of confusion to what the end goal is. So I really think that it stays within that leadership team to make those big changes. But it's up to the company to really make sure that everybody understands those changes. So that's a big one. Smaller changes. If you add a holiday, things like that, you know, that can, that can be acknowledged in an email, but my preferred practice is, If you make any changes to the handbook that it's re sent out for acknowledgement, right? And in a signature, that is where tools like DocuSign and electronic signatures, where you can push it out to everybody all at once, track who signed it and who hasn't, so you can follow up with them. Even if you have to bring them a physical copy and have them sign a physical copy, you at least know who's missing, right? And you can keep those up to date. And all new employees. Are, always signing the updated version. Tommy Cole: constantly? Got it. And [00:21:00] those should be stored with the business, right? And located somewhere, whether it's a hard copy or digital copy. That's probably another thing that's often missed in an HR perspective is do we store all this stuff? Like, we like paper, we hate paper, but like, I would just, in my perspective, is recommend some sort of a software that you can store all these things. And it's live and you have access to it, probably a hard copy as well, just in case is, is that correct? Barrett Chow: Yeah. So, you know, there's a few ways to look at it too. One, I would say, Hey, you should always have a hard copy to show employees and point to policies that either they need help with training with, or can reference themselves. So you can say, Hey, page 32, this is where you're going to find our time and attendance policy. And this is how you can walk through with them, right? And this is where the benefit of somebody in HR can coach managers to handle these issues on their own [00:22:00] so that there's not a line outside HR's door every single day managing these employee relations. The, the other side of it is, you know, me personally, I always kept a hard copy. And bookmarked the changes throughout the year that needed to be had. So I didn't have to go digging through it every single November to find out, Oh, did we make that change? Where was it? What, what page was it on? and it always kept it front of mind for me. But you want to make sure that you're,saving it in a secure place so that nobody is getting in there and making changes. wholeheartedly on it, making sure that track changes never turns off on that document ever so that if anybody gets in there. You know what changed and whether or not the handbook has been updated fully. Tommy Cole: Oh, well, very, very well said, Nonmonetary Compensation Tommy Cole: let's move in gears to something else. And this is a subject I really love because we talked about this in a peer group meeting not too long [00:23:00] ago. It was like mind blowing from my perspective and I think of a lot of other people's perspective, but we don't think about this, as an HR or people type, issue, but non monetary compensation. What the heck does that mean? Because we, we also think like, in order To make people happy, we have to pay them, right? That's just kind of what we're sort of known to do. But like, let's just put that to the side and you, you've gave a really good presentation on this. What do you mean by all that? Barrett Chow: Yeah. The way I view non monetary compensation is how can we support our culture, support our employees and help them grow or provide them resources that isn't just straight money. And there's things I look at is, you know, people may call it monetary compensation, but an extra PTO day, [00:24:00] right. Or setting up rewards around goals that are monetary for the company, but can provide a long weekend if we sell X amount of mulch, right. Or, Hey we're going to have a family. Barbecue, right? Where it's not just employees, we get to bring your entire families in and make it feel more of a, of a culture event versus a work event and, you know, some of the other non monetary compensation. Aspects that I, that I really can nerd out on and dig in deep are, are benefits, you know, your health insurance, your dental insurance, your HSAs matches and, and how you build that benefit package out. But even things like anniversaries, right? Those can be a powerful tool. To use, can you buy an [00:25:00] anniversary? No, you have to earn it. You have to grid it out. That's tenure. So if there's a, you know, like an embroidered vest that says five year anniversary, right? People want that. And it's not, it's not a 5 vest from the thrift store, right? This is, we're talking something that people want North face LLB and whatever it is, something of good quality to the point where people go, how do I get that? You earn it, right? And, and you only, you can only get this by being here. And those are, those are definitely ways to do it. We've even seen some, some companies set up, like I talked about time off, right? For, for their team. If we hit these goals, we shut down for the week because we've. You have earned this and you would have paid them there for being there anyway. But now they're getting paid to be off, be at, be at home with their family and their families recognize [00:26:00] that as well. And I think that non monetary compensation is a great way for small businesses to grow, to be able to catch up to some of those higher compensated companies that are buying talent. Tommy Cole: Yeah, I love it. I love it. I, I gotta bring up this little story. This really disturbed me a while back when I saw this and this just kind of paints the picture, but. I saw on social media where there was an employee working at a fast food place for like 30 years, like it was his anniversary and he's never missed a day in all this time is an unbelievable story and the fast food chain, like gave him a sack full of some candy and like bumper stickers and a key chain. And I'm going, that is absolutely awful. Like that's all you can do for the amount of years of. Of the blood, sweat and tears. And by the way, perfect [00:27:00] attendance, like unbelievable. So don't, don't be that person. Don't be that owner. Don't be that company. Like do something good for these VA these, these assets that are running your business, Barrett Chow: Exactly. Well, I also think about how do you, how do you take non monic non monetary compensation from, you know, a blanket level of the whole company down to individual positions, right? Can foreman take home trucks? Can project managers take home trucks? You know, we don't, we see that as a company asset, but we are not paying them cash to take it home. Right. But they get the benefit of, Hey, I don't have to drive my personal vehicle. Get personal gas, right? These are the things that add up that on a day to day basis can cost an employee more. But if you remove that barrier or that worry from them by saying, Hey, here's a [00:28:00] truck to go to and from work and to your job sites with, don't worry about anything. The gas is on a company dime. That is where, okay, they're looking out for me in other ways than just trying to throw more money at me. this is actually helping my life in a different way. Tommy Cole: Yeah, love it. I've actually heard we've had some clients that are doing some. financial literacy type courses to help them. Or it may be, getting their license in a landscape professional, irrigation professional, backflow professional, because at the end of the day, we're all professionals. We're no different than the electricians and the HVAC and plumbers, right? Help with their certification, help with their financial knowledge, Barrett Chow: I would even, yep. Tommy Cole: or whether it be at. That's a support. Barrett Chow: Yeah. Well, and I would also say, you know, there's a, there's a certain point where non monetary compensation [00:29:00] can lead to higher monetary compensation. And I think that that's. And that's exactly where I think you were going to with the certificates. Hey, we need a certified irrigator. We'll pay for the test, right? There's no cost out of the employees, but that's an investment in them. They get their license. They feel good. They feel taken care of. And then when performance reviews come around the next time, Hey, you know what, you got a certification. We can now give you a higher pay rate. So, you know, they can lead from one to another, but there's, you know, I'll go back to the word intentionality. There's gotta be some intention behind it. Not, and there's, it's got to align with their job. You're not going to send, you know, an irrigator to go get a professional engineering. certification. It just doesn't make any sense, right? So it has to make sense and it has to align with their job. Tommy Cole: So awesome things about non monetary compensation. This [00:30:00] has been great. And, and I want to do like a little bit of a recap because you said a lot of amazing things. So like the, the, the onboarding orientation has to be a game changer from day one. And set the tone. Be ready. Set the impression. And I also want to add a little caveat. Have a 30 day follow up, a 90 day follow up, 180 day follow up, right? 365 day follow up well with intentionality of being with that employee, like a, a one year onboarding process. Like be really intentional about that. I, I love it. The handbook questions, oh my gosh. I'm willing to bet more than 50 percent don't really have a handbook of landscape owners. Like I can guarantee that get a handbook. There is unlimited resources all over the internet, everywhere. Friends and family that have access to them, just download it and get it started and then hand it off to a [00:31:00] professional to review short and sweet. Right, Barrett Chow: Start small. It doesn't have to be massive or thick or or any of that to be a handbook. It just has to support your culture and get it going. Tommy Cole: right. Love it. Love it. And then the the non monetary compensation, it's, it is great. There's an endless amount of opportunity. PTO, rewards, benefit, HSAs, anniversaries, which is my favorite, one year anniversaries make it a gigantic, huge, big deal about being there for one year to 20 years. Certificates, professionals, all of those things. Barrett Chow: There's an endless supply of non monetary compensations. Any nugget, one nugget last to leave with our audience about anything to do with people and culture and HR that you would leave for us and go boom. You know, the nugget I think about to leave people with is The [00:32:00] people are your most important assets and how you treat them ripples through your entire business. So I think that that first day impression that taking the effort to make new people feel welcome and excited will continue to make new clients feel excited. It'll make business feel exciting. It'll make everything feel better and continue to grow, right? And if you don't take care of your, your, your employees, why should they take care of your clients, right? And why should they take care of each other? It's a really big trickle down effect. Tommy Cole: Yeah. Barrett Chow: starts at the top. Tommy Cole: Love it. Starts at the top. Exactly. Well, it's been a pleasure, Barrett. Thank you again. We're going to have you on again later this year, because there's many hours of conversation on this topic. So thank you for joining us. It's been a pleasure and we'll see you next time. Barrett Chow: Awesome. Thanks, Tommy. Thanks for having [00:33:00] me. John: Ready to take the next step? Download our free Profitability Scorecard to quickly create your own baseline financial assessment and uncover the fastest ways to improve your business. Just go to McFarlinStanford.com/scorecard to get yours today To learn more about McFarlin Stanford our best in class peer groups and other services go to our website at McFarlinStanford.com And don't forget to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. See you next time on the Roots of Success.