Motivate without money

Motivate without money

Features - Cover Story

Cash is great, but employee appreciation takes the cake. Here are the five ways to show them some love.

April 3, 2014
Ellen Ely
Industry News

appreciation cakeImagine the owner of your company came to you and said: “You’ve been doing an excellent job. All your sites look great. Take these tickets and show your family a good time.” When you looked in the envelope, there were four tickets to the opera! How would you feel?

The opera may be the perfect reward for some people, but not all. How could this attempt to acknowledge your good work be more effective? By personalizing the reward. They could have found out your favorite sports team or restaurant, and surprised you with a reward you’d really enjoy.

1. Practice the platinum rule.

Most of us grew up understanding the “Golden Rule;” treat others the way you want to be treated. As knowledge of human motivation evolved, we now suggest practicing the “Platinum Rule," treat others the way they want to be treated.

Consider the “reward” of asking an employee to give a presentation in front of a large audience. You might love the opportunity, but others could literally become physically sick with worry.

There are people who strive to be put in leadership positions and others who reject promotional opportunities year after year. We need all types of people in our industry; the highly ambitions and the quietly content.

By getting to know peoples’ preferences, you avoid embarrassing mistakes (that cause the employee to feel disrespected) such as:

  • Inviting a vegetarian out for a steak dinner.
  • Offering to buy a drink for someone who is an alcoholic.
  • Sending flowers to someone with allergies to flowers.

You may ask, “How am I supposed to know those kinds of things about people?

Ask. Simply, ask.

Personalization also motivates people to want to change. By acknowledging each individual’s strengths and weaknesses, employees know their performance is recognized. The more people feel noticed, the more willing they are to accept corrective feedback.

2. Separate feedback.

Of all motivational techniques, I consider separation of feedback the most essential. Many years ago “sandwiched feedback” was popular. The intention was that corrective feedback should be given between two praises. This technique was designed to be used in marriage counseling, to keep married couples from killing each other. Some management gurus ran with the idea, and we have had confusion in the workplace ever since.

Here is an example of “sandwiched” feedback. Suppose one of your customers said, “The colors look great this year. But the shrubs and trees are very raggedy. You guys are way behind on pruning. But we have had a lot of compliments on the flower bed at the entrance.” What would you focus on? Would you carry back the compliments to the account manager, or inquire about the pruning?

What if the same feedback were separated? You could share the praise, and at a later time, preferably the next time they are going to the site, you would make sure to share the complaints. You would give the corrective feedback as instructions – it would be perceived as a delegation. If the feedback is mixed, the recipient usually only focuses on the negative, and feels dejected.

If you separate the praise from the complaints, a person feels motivated by the praise. Then you give them a delegation (not a criticism), to fix the problems, and you can praise them again. Obviously, it is better to give praise, a delegation and then more praise versus mixing feedback perceived as just criticism.

It takes control and concentration to separate feedback. For best results, give corrective feedback BEFORE the employee can accomplish the task, and praise AFTER the task is completed. Ultimately, if the task is not done correctly, you give Work Improvement Discussions (WID), then ultimately warnings that could lead to termination. It’s far better to keep employees motivated than to have to go to disciplinary measures.

In the case of a performance review it is necessary to mix feedback. In day-to-day management, separating feedback will be much more effective.

3. Hone your listening skills.

To personalize motivation we need to “listen between the lines.” The best way to do this is through open-ended questions.

Try to practice the open ended questions, who, what, when, where and how (WWWWH). People are most motivated when they are totally clear on what is expected of them. By asking these questions, you can “test for understanding” AND hear the individual’s concerns and preferences.

The WWWWH is essential to effective delegation. For example, when asking an account manager or crew leader about a new landscape installation, ask questions such as:

  • Who did you speak to about the installation?
  • What does the customer want done first?
  • When does the job need to be completed?
  • Where can you fit it on the schedule?
  • How much plant material will this job require?

Put post-it notes in your truck, on your desk and clipboard with WWWWH. If you use these questions, your employees will be clearer and therefore more motivated.

In addition, you will get to know your people much better.

4. Acknowledge diversity.

Many of us work side-by-side with individuals from other groups, whether they are cross-generational or cross-cultural. The same issues that separate us (age, race, nationality, religion) can make the workplace more interesting and stimulating.

In the landscape industry, we enjoy working with a large Hispanic population. One company wanted to recognize the crew’s good work so they asked their team what they would like to do to celebrate. The crew members wanted to put on a pig roast, cook all the food and bring the music. Even though it was a lot of work, they were thrilled to share a bit of their culture. The bonding that takes place in culture sharing is a tremendous resource to promote loyalty. A pig roast or traditional Latino foods can be much more beneficial to your team than a pizza party or hot dogs and chips.

Other groups that require a thoughtful approach are employees of various generations. Baby Boomers (1946-1964) may have a different sense of urgency and loyalty than Generation X (1965-1080) or Generation Y (1980-1995).

For example, the orientations to work assignments vary widely. They might ask:

Baby Boomers: “Tell me what needs to be done.”

Generation X: “Show me how to do what needs to be done.”

Generation Y: “Why do I need to do this?”

To personalize your motivational approach for each generation, consider:

Baby Boomers: Meet with them in person. Focus on one thing at a time. Tread lightly on technological demands.

Generation X: Avoid small talk. Be direct. Use email. Don’t micro-manage. Acknowledge their hunger for change.

Generation Y: Ask their opinions. Expect resistance to “boxes” (chain of command, job descriptions). Provide frequent feedback. Use technology whenever possible.

When working with these different groups, meet them where they are. Remember, everyone tunes into WIIFM – What’s In It For Me.

5. Unload dead wood.

Nothing can bring down the morale of an organization as quickly as an unreasonable or negative, cranky boss. There is a saying in the human resource field that “people quit managers, not companies.” Everyone wants to be treated with dignity and respect. If you tolerate just one hotheaded jerk manager, you can loose an entire branch of excellent employees, even if you have a wonderful company.

As a manager or owner, it is essential that you are really aware of your team’s morale. It’s not just money that motivates; it’s personal pride from doing a good job and receiving recognition.


The author is president of Landscape Training Solutions and chair of the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance Education Committee. She can be reached at