Hiring Best Practices

Hiring Best Practices

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC

Hiring is one of the most difficult challenges that a business owner faces, especially in the tree care world. Despite the frustrations that hiring presents, you can get great employees on your team by setting up a structure for your hiring process. And as you know, better employees will help your company grow which in turn will attract even more all-star employees.

Here are my four Hiring Best Practices that you can use to assemble the best team possible.


1.Initial Paperwork: Job Description, Application and Background Authorization Forms 

To get the right person for the job, you must be able to define the work that you want them to do. Having written job descriptions for each position is a critical. The job description can be used to promote the position opening as well. An application for employment that includes authorization forms for background checks, including driving record checks is the second part of the initial paperwork that you should have before you hire someone. Checking the applicant’s references and driving record should be one of the first things you do to assess their potential for employment with your company.


2. Interviews – I recommend that the interview process is done in three steps…

 Start with a phone interview with a few predetermined questions. You can find out a lot of great information about the applicant before you spend any more time on them by simple talking to them over the phone first. Two things that you will notice immediately with a phone interview are the punctuality of the applicant and how prepared they are. Do they answer right away or does it go to voicemail? You will be able to tell if they are driving (risky behavior?) or sitting in a quiet area. Ask questions to gauge their devotion to safety and how important it is to them as well as what their past experiences are.

If they pass the initial phone interview, schedule an in-person interview with the hiring manager and one of the potential crew leaders. Having two people in on each interview helps protect your company for any he said/she said arguments that may arise if an individual isn’t hired by your company.

The last interview should be an informal group interview where the applicant gets to meet some of the crew members that they would be working with to learn how their personalities will fit with your current team. The hiring manager and crew leader should not be present during this time so the applicant feels secure to be him or herself. The best way to facilitate this is to have the applicant drive out to a job site for a quick lunch with the crew. It is very obvious who will fit in with your culture and who will not during an informal interview like this.


3. Physical Testing 

After the applicant passes each of the interviews, it is time to see if they have the physical skills and capabilities necessary to perform the job. This can include having them do a skills test for knot tying, chainsaw knowledge or a climbing test. Perhaps you want to see their tree ID skills or plant health care knowledge. A driving test with one of your larger trucks and trailers is also a great idea to complete at this stage of the hiring process. Lastly, have the applicant go into your local Occupational Health Clinic for a pre-employment physical or ergonomic assessment. This is imperative step to make sure you are not hiring a Work Comp claim!

One very important thing to note on pre-employment testing is that no matter what skills you test for, make sure they are directly related to the job they will be performing.


4. Post Hire On-Boarding 

After the applicant has made it through all of the interviews and pre-employment testing, you must make sure the beginning of their employment goes smoothly. This is the time to establish a fantastic start to their career with your organization. Having a proper new employee training and on-boarding procedure is very important in giving that new team member the best attention right away.


If any of this seems overwhelming remember the goal is to hire the best person possible. I’m sure you have hired someone you shouldn’t have just because you needed another body on your team. Looking back at that, it is usually easy to see how you spent a lot more time and money on that person than you would have if you spent your time finding the right fit for your team. I guarantee you won’t regret starting to implement these best practices into your hiring process the next time you need to add someone.

If you are struggling with finding new employees for your company, reach out to an ArboRisk team member today to discuss our Hiring & Recruiting Thrive Package.


Succession Planning

Succession Planning

Written by Kevin Martlage

The great Mark Twain once wrote, “Plan for the future because that is where you are going to spend the rest of your life.” This quote embodies what I feel is a key point when you think about the importance of succession planning. Without properly planning for the future from a personnel standpoint you may still be successful, but can you sustain that success when unforeseen, or even planned, circumstances or opportunities arise?

My personal definition of succession planning has been developed over 25+ years of leadership roles in both the for-profit and non-profit setting. While I have worked with some very specific succession planning processes like the one we used at FedEx Office, I have also had to develop my own when the organization I worked for did not have anything specifically outlined. Regardless of the process used or my thoughts behind succession planning, there is one key aspect that makes it one of the most important things you will do as a business owner. That one aspect is sustainability. 

Throughout my career leading 100’s of employees and volunteers both domestically and internationally, I have created a process for succession planning that is based on the intentional development of my team as they continue to advance the strategic direction of the organization. Specifically, that definition is:

“Succession planning is an intentional leadership development process that ensures 

Strategic, operational sustainability and growth for any organization or team.”

So that is my definition of succession planning, but why is succession planning important and something you should consider? If I completed an informal survey of the tree care industry regarding issues impacting the sustainability of each company, I can almost guarantee that employee retention and development would be in the top 3. Additionally, I would argue that other things keeping Tree Care company owners up at night, besides revenue and finances, is what happens if someone calls in sick, decides to leave my company for another job, or that tenured employee decides to finally retire? Who are we going to promote as we introduce our new service offering, or who’s taking over for me when I decide to retire? All valid questions that typically are not addressed until one of those things happens. All those reasons listed are why succession planning is important and should be carefully considered when running your business. 

If you do succession planning research online, you will find numerous definitions and approaches to the process. However, you will quickly notice themes to succession planning, regardless of your approach, that must be in place. Those themes include:

  • A formal process to evaluate your team
  • Understanding the critical positions necessary to sustain operations
  • The ability to identify key skills necessary for each of those position
  • Intentional commitment to aligning individual skills with your strategic direction
  • A process to intentionally and transparently develop your team to ensure critical positions and skills are maintained should someone leave or get promoted
  • An intentional commitment to excellence and to the process 

To start the development of your organizational succession plan, I would recommend you begin with the creation of an organizational chart for your company. If you already have one, great. If you do not have one, you can easily create one using Power Point or simply draw it out on a white board or piece of paper. This visualization will help you in seeing your organization from a holistic viewpoint and will allow you to facilitate the next part of the discussion. 

Next, I recommend you identify a few key aspects of each position you have outlined. To help facilitate this part of the conversation, a best practice is to bring in a third-party consultant or trusted advisor to help ensure confidentiality, transparency, and consistency in the conversation. This will also allow you as the business owner to remain impartial and critical as you discuss the following for each position:

  • Length of time in position
  • Top 3 skills
  • Potential position vacancy in the next 6-12 months
  • Ability and desire or that person to be promoted to the next level

Those last 2 questions may be difficult for you, or your leadership team, to answer and will involve some level of confidentiality and intentional conversations as you assess your team regarding those areas. However, they are critical pieces of the overall process for you to consider as you continue to create your success plan. When evaluating those last 2 areas, I recommend considering the following criteria:

  • Position vacancy in the next 6-12 months
    • Is the employee on performance management or at risk of losing their job?
    • Are they well placed in their current position?
    • Will the position be vacated by the person being promoted internally?
    • Are they ready for and eligible for a promotion within the company?
    • Is there potential for them to leave the company for another position?
  • Ability, opportunity, and desire to be promoted to the next level
    • Do they want to be promoted?
    • Are they ready to be promoted to the next level?
    • Are they well placed in their current position?
    • Do you foresee them filling the next level position within your company?
    • Is there an opportunity for upward advancement within your company?

Once you have identified these areas for each member of your team, you will start to identify some gaps or opportunities for focus to ensure proper succession planning is in place. This process can take some time to go through, but it is critical as you continue to plan for the strategic sustainability of your team. 

As you identify those opportunity areas, the next step would be to plan how you will address and fill those gaps to ensure sustainability. This can be done through strategic hiring of new employees, creating employee development action plans, and having critical conversations with the team. For suggestions on how to develop these follow up pieces of your plan, I would recommend you reference the following Arborisk Articles I have previously written:

  • “Outlining a Career Path for Your Team”  – January 2022
  • “Building Trust with Intentional and Transparent Communication” – May 2022
  • “Reaching New Heights by Planting a Tree” – September 2022

Creating a succession plan and critically assessing your team and company will help to ensure operational sustainability. This will also strategically prepare you for any upcoming scheduled service disruptions regarding personnel, as well as be flexible and prepared for the unforeseen. The items outlined in this article are provided to help you understand the importance of this process, but I would encourage you to also reach out to the Arborisk Team if you would be interested in discussing succession planning further. 

The Arborisk Thrive program provides helpful information regarding effective hiring, recruiting, on-boarding, leadership development, and succession planning.  Please check out the Risk Management Packages located on the Arborisk Insurance website to learn more. 

If you want your company’s leaders (managers, crew leads, etc.) to grow professional and truly become extraordinary, check out ArboRisk’s Thrive Leadership Development Package! Our experts will work with your leaders one-on-one to build their leadership skills, thereby increasing team loyalty, efficiency, and profitability.


Working with a Recruiting Firm

Working with a REcruiting Firm

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC

I recently used a recruiting firm to hire our latest team member and let me tell you, I was overwhelmed by the ease of the process and the quality of the candidates that we received. I was so impressed that I felt that I should write this weekly tip about working with a recruiting firm to encourage tree care companies to look in this direction for their next hire. 

Historically, I had been closed off to the idea of using a recruiting firm to find new employees as I figured the recruiting firm would have a hefty price tag for finding top talent for me. However, like many tree service owners, as my business has grown so have my responsibilities and the time that I can spend on any one area of the business has shrunk as I’m pulled in so many directions. I’m sure most of you can relate to the feeling of not having enough time to commit to finding great people for your company, but knowing that it should be a priority of yours. This feeling ultimately led me to contact a recruiting firm to inquire about candidates for a new position that we had just created. I still was skeptical but thought I should give it a chance.

Immediately, and I mean immediately, after getting off the phone with the recruiter, I had 12 resumes of very qualified potential employees. They were 12 individuals of varying backgrounds and experience, probably all very capable of doing the job that I didn’t have to go find. All I had to do was tell the recruiter which ones I wanted to interview and they facilitated the conversation. Now, the rush of emotion that came over me was totally different. In a matter of minutes, I was feeling so confident that we were going to find someone to fit our agency that I realized the power that this form of hiring has. 

We ended up doing an initial interview with 5 of the 12, a second interview with 3 of them and a third interview and personality profile assessment with the final 2. The outcome was hiring a fantastic new team member (Hey Liz!) in a matter of weeks as opposed to the process taking months if I had to do it alone. Not to mention the fact that I can almost guarantee our paths would not have crossed if it were not for the recruiting firm.

Though I’ve only had one experience with working with a recruiter, I did learn a few tips that I want to share with you. 

1. Understand the Value of Your Time – The time that it took for me to hire through the recruiting firm was a fraction of the time that it would have taken me and my team to post the job posting, filter through resumes, set up initial interviews, etc. All of that time that I would have spent on those activities was focused back into our business, where it allowed me to make a bigger positive impact for my team than the fee we had to pay the recruiting firm. In our situation, we paid 25% of her first year salary as the fee for the recruiting firm bringing her to us. At first, that seems like a lot of money, but considering how easy it was and how I could focus on what I needed to for the business, this cost was well worth it.

2. Know What You Want – Because recruiting firms have so many candidates to send your way, knowing exactly what you are looking for in an employee is a must before working with a firm. We created a job posting with required experience included so the recruiting firm knew what not to send our way, which is such a tremendous help when trying to hire, I can’t even explain how much that fact helps. We also had internally discussed the role and how this new person was going to integrate with our team. This allowed us to quickly work through the interview to narrow our focus. 

Within the tree care industry there will be some roles that you need to hire for that will work well with a recruiting firm and others that may be difficult. Discuss that with the recruiter so they understand your entire business and staffing needs. You may have heard people talk about only using recruiters for management positions and that is because those positions can be more difficult to hire for and have a larger risk (both positive and negative) to your business due to their responsibilities. 

3. Have Hiring Process Ready – Over the years of working with tree care companies on our Thrive’s Hiring & Recruiting Package as well as hiring employees myself, I’ve learned that having success in hiring starts with having a well defined hiring process. One that is repeatable and consistent from interview to interview, position to position. The consistency is the only way to adequately compare candidates to each other and give everyone a fair shake. Before engaging a recruiting firm, make sure you know how you want your hiring process to go. Will there be multiple interviews with multiple people on your team? Will you have any background check (driving record) or skills test needed? Think about all of the steps that you will want to have the candidates go through so you can tell the recruiter from the start.

4. Give it a Try – My last tip is to actually just give it a try. Don’t stay closed off to this potential avenue of new employees for your team. There are many different recruiting firms that specialize in the green industry that will have some common experience to help in the tree care space. I also have heard of tree care companies looking at recruiting firms that specialize in trucking, because we all know that an arborist is actually a trucker first, then an arborist. 

If you are struggling with finding new employees for your company, reach out to an ArboRisk team member today to discuss our Hiring & Recruiting Thrive Package.


Properly Insuring Rented Equipment

Properly Insuring Rented Equipment

Written by Tom Dunn

Just as employees are the valuable life blood of a successful tree care company, the equipment that is used to complete the production work is also a critical piece of the puzzle and insuring it properly is of utmost importance. Your equipment is typically covered under an Inland Marine/Contractor’s Equipment insurance policy, which is a pretty straight forward insurance policy until you start renting or borrowing equipment to or from others.  We’re going to go over some of the coverage concerns that you need to be aware of when you rent or borrow to or from others. 

Renting/Borrowing Equipment From Others

There will certainly come a time due to unforeseen events like equipment breakdown or theft or just not owning the right piece of equipment to complete a specific job requires that you lease, rent or borrow a piece of equipment to meet your tree care business needs. Your Commercial General Liability will pay for injuries or damage you cause while using a rented piece of equipment, however, the actual rented equipment itself likely will not be covered. Most insurance policies exclude property that is temporarily in your possession. 

So how do you insure the physical damage to the piece of rented equipment? If you are renting from an established equipment rental business, they may offer equipment rental insurance. We often recommend tree care companies to take the rental insurance if it is available depending on the cost and terms of the coverage. 

If you do not choose to purchase the rental agency’s coverage, or they don’t offer it, then you need to look to your current Inland Marine/Contractor’s Equipment policy for coverage. There may be a small amount of coverage (usually only $25,000) for this automatically built into the policy. Check with your insurance agent to learn what your policy covers automatically for rented equipment. If the piece of equipment is under that automatic coverage limit, then you should be just fine. 

When the value of the rented equipment is more than the automatic coverage limit, then you will need to add coverage for the rented equipment directly on the policy. For a short term rental, this is done with selecting a limit of coverage that is equal to the value of the piece of equipment. For a long term rental, you may be able to add the exact details of the machine onto your policy. Depending on how your insurance coverage is set up, there may be a reporting condition that requires you to report the total amount of expenditures for contractor’s equipment that is leased or borrowed from others within 30 days from the end of your policy. This could create an adjustment to the overall premium. 

Another word of caution. If you are renting a piece of equipment and are required to sign a rental agreement make sure you read and understand your obligations. The contract may say that you are responsible to replace the piece of equipment with a brand new, similar make and model. The majority of rented equipment insurance policies only provide coverage on an Actual Cash Value (ACV) basis, which means they don’t pay for the replacement cost, but rather the value of the machine in today’s world. There can be a significant difference in these two amounts and therefore could create a number of associated out of pocket costs. 

Equipment Rental contracts also usually have some form of indemnification/hold harmless language that has someone agreeing to hold another harmless for certain claims, losses and damages. While these are commonly used, there is no standard language used and some indemnification clauses will be more one sided than others.

Renting/Borrowing To Others 

On the flip side, what if one of your valued employees asks if they can “borrow” a piece of equipment to do work at their own property? As soon as your equipment leaves your care, custody and control, your Inland Marine/Contractor’s Equipment policy will stop and there will be no coverage for the physical damage to that piece of equipment. Because there likely is not going to be a contract in place for this equipment with whoever you borrow to, you will not be reimbursed if the equipment is damaged or stolen. 

Your liability exposure from the borrowed piece of equipment would likely be covered under your General Liability policy, however as a business owner, you are increasing the exposure unnecessarily not to mention also increasing the wear and tear on the equipment. Unless you are going to have the employee sign a contract and provide rented equipment coverage for the damage to the equipment, our recommendation is to avoid this situation and don’t rent/borrow your equipment to anyone.   

To conclude, here are three takeaways for insurance concerns and rented equipment:  

  1. Before you need to rent equipment, make sure you understand obligations of any rental contract. 
  2. Talk to your agent to see if you are adequately covered under your contractor’s equipment policy.
  3. Avoid the practice of letting employees borrow company equipment for their personal use. 


If you have any other insurance related questions, please connect with an ArboRisk team member today. We have many resources that can help you with this, in addition to our Thrive Risk Management Program, which can provide one-on-one help to take your business to new heights.

Tom Dunn

Pollution Liability

Pollution Liability

Written by Mick Kelly

No matter your exact operations, every tree care company has an exposure to pollution liability. From transporting PHC chemicals to running chainsaws and equipment at the jobsite to performing maintenance on their vehicles in their shop, tree care companies need to understand what the potential for a pollution event happening to them is and how to properly protect themselves from a costly remediation. Fortunately, there are insurance policies that you can purchase to transfer the risk of the remediation cost to, however, the world of pollution insurance can be a bit confusing. 

In this article we’ll talk about the most common liability exposures that tree care companies face and which insurance coverage/policy you can buy for it.  


What is Pollution Liability Insurance?

Pollution Liability Insurance is coverage that protects a business against liability (or alleged liability) from damages or injury caused by pollutants they work with or produce. The coverage protects against claims for contamination of soil, water or property along with bodily injury, illness or death. Gas and airborne pollutants are also covered. Pollution liability insurance is also known as environmental liability insurance or contractors’ pollution liability.

Pollution liability used to be included in general liability policies but started to be excluded in the 1980’s due to the size of the claims being made in regard to asbestos. Nowadays, Pollution Liability Insurance policies are standalone policies and are usually set up on a claims made basis.

What is a pollutant?

A pollutant can be any substance that is discharged or ends up somewhere it shouldn’t be. While toxic substances or poisonous liquids are the first thing that come to mind, everything from water, cheese, milk, lead or carbon monoxide can be considered a pollutant if introduced to the wrong environment. 

I have herbicide/pesticide applicator coverage. Why do I need a separate policy?

Many tree care companies are growing their Plant Health Care side of their businesses and will often have Herbicide/Pesticide applicator coverage. While some companies will include limited pollution coverage in with their herbicide/pesticide applicator coverage, most policies will not react to a pollution event. 

The herbicide/pesticide applicator will cover instances where there was a mistake in the application such as a lawn being burnt due to a bad mix or overspray killing some trees or shrubs that weren’t supposed to be sprayed. 

In the event that the tank carrying the herbicide leaked onto soil or into a water source, a pollution policy is what is needed to cover remediation of the soil/water and to pay for any loss of income your client may suffer due to not being able to use their land. If the pollutant was deemed to have caused bodily injury, the pollution policy will also cover the damages and any judgment handed down.

What does a pollution liability policy cover?

Legal defenses – The policy will provide a specialized lawyer who can help determine if there is a case against you. If there is a case, legal costs, fees, defense costs and settlements/judgements are covered. 

Remediation – Clean up and contamination of hazardous waste are covered and tend to be the bulk of claims. For this reason, there are usually high deductibles on pollution liability policies that can be adjusted if desired.

What isn’t covered?

Asbestos – typically this is excluded from all pollution policies.

Intentional Acts – if it is found that a pollution was carried out knowingly, the policy will not cover any of the above remedies. 

Fuel Tank coverage

Many tree care companies now have their own fuel tanks on site. A benefit to this is that employees can go straight to jobs from the main workshop without having to make any detours or stops, which often lead to accidents or claims and certainly lost time scanning the aisles of the convenience store.

However, if there is an issue with the fuel tank, most General Liability and even most stand alone Pollution Liability policies won’t cover it. 

A stand alone tank pollution insurance policy will be required to cover Third Party Liability, Loading and Unloading, Site Pollution Liability, Spill and Overfill coverage and Business Interruption. 

Detailed descriptions of tanks along with photos and operating procedures are required for quoting and issuing coverage. 

What if my truck gets in an accident carrying my herbicide/pesticide?

In the event that your truck gets in an accident, spills the contents of its tank and pollutes an area, herbicide/pesticide applicator coverage will not respond. While a stand alone pollution policy may respond, usually a Broadened Auto Pollution endorsement or Broadened Transportation Liability Endorsement are needed on the auto policy to cover the loss. 

Varying from carrier to carrier, the coverage may be added to the policy to cover all vehicles or may be added to an individual vehicle. 

As you can see there are a lot of pollution liability concerns for tree care companies and a variety of nuances to the coverages/policies that you can purchase. If you want to find out more about Pollution Liability policies or find out if one is a good fit for your company, please contact an ArboRisk team member today.

Tom Dunn