March 15, 2015
By Jacki Hart CLM
Prosperity Partners Program Manager

Jacki HartI think most of us turn the page of our calendar on the wall with a degree of hesitation at this time of year.

MARCH. Rapidly followed in 31 short days by APRIL. And off we all madly bound in various directions with enthusiasm, energy and hope. You might be asking yourself, “Yikes! Where did that lovely stretch ahead of winter planning and making improvements for this time of year go?”

This month I’m pretty sure most of you reading this will either be conducting interviews, or overseeing people who do. It’s an important task and a difficult one to do well. It’s pretty tough to demonstrate hard skills for the majority of our industry’s tasks, when sitting in an office. And, as we all know from experience, when it comes to how good someone is at any given task, we can all pretty much be a legend in our own minds.

So, where does that leave you as an interviewer, trying to determine who to hire? My suggestion is to focus on what you can absolutely determine in an interview, and follow your gut on the rest. Here’s how:

Soft skills  

A mentor of mine once told me that you can teach most people to do pretty much any task, but you can’t teach them to smile. He was right. Soft skills speak to attitude, communication style, self-accountability, diligence, perseverance, willingness, adaptability, kindness, sense of humour and honesty — to name but a few. Think for a moment about who you want in your midst, on your team, chatting with your customers. Someone who has all of the attributes and more than I listed above? I would.

In my opinion, one of the important steps in this process is to reflect on the qualities your best employees possess. Not their hard skills, their soft skills. If you’ve taken the Prosperity Partners Build Your Prosperity workshop, you’ve taken the time to determine your business Core Values. The non-negotiable soft skills are baked into your company culture, policies and procedures. If you haven’t yet taken this important step to clarify WHO your business is, now’s a really good time, so that you can build a right-fit team. When you have aligned people, there’s less friction, fewer problems, better communication and great collaboration.

If you took your list of soft skill qualities, and use it to devise an open ended questionnaire (i.e. questions that you can’t answer with a yes or no), your interviews will reveal each candidate’s soft skills. Your interviews will also let you know WHO each candidate is, more than what they know and how to do. Try it! I guarantee you’ll find more right-fit people who are easy to train, and willing to be trained.

Using the short list I mentioned above, here are some examples of open-ended questions that reveal specific soft skills:
  • Describe an experience you have had when a task you were doing was corrected by a co-worker or supervisor. Was that a comfortable experience? Why? Why not? (accountability)
  • What do you enjoy most about working in an environment like ours? (engagement)
  • Describe the best experience you have had working with a team. (respect, sense of humour)
  • Using a work example, can you tell me about a time when you had to really persevere and go beyond your normal tasks in order to meet a deadline? (perseverance, willingness, diligence)
  • What is it about our company or this job that encouraged you to apply for this position? (self accountability, honesty)
  • Tell me about the best job you have ever had, and why you liked it so much. (communication)
  • In terms of the people you work with, describe a perfect fit for you. (kindness, cooperation)
  • How do you know that your work is achieving or exceeding required standards? (diligence)
At the end of the interview, share the soft skills you think are important, and ask the candidate if they can describe an example of how they may have demonstrated these in a previous job. Listen for authentic answers.

For other hiring and people management resources, go to:  to access our free online Human Resource Tool Kit. The Tool Kit offers various resources for managing the people in your business.

Join the Network

The Peer-to-Peer Network is a powerful, new tool to bring industry members together, to benefit all. Facilitators Jacki Hart and Tim Kearney know landscape industry challenges first-hand. To join, visit, and type Landscape Ontario Peer-to-Peer Network in the search box. Members may participate in the next face-to-face Network event, Mar. 26 in Oshawa. Space is limited; Sign up The topic is “Develop a Positive Culture; Find Qualified People.”

Free prosperity tool: Contractor / Sub-contractor safety policy

A free tool from the Prosperity Partners resource library is a best practice guideline for updating safety policies between contractor and subcontractor. It’s a simple list to help monitor the safety policies of all companies you work with. Download this free resource underneath the Operational Excellence heading at

A wealth of other free resources is available at
The templates are organized by Prosperity Pillar, and can be customized to suit your business needs.

Jacki Hart may be reached at