More than a paycheck

More than a paycheck

Employee motivation was a major topic at the 2018 NALP Leader’s Forum.

January 26, 2018

Above: Erica Dawson of Cornell University told NALP members that motivating employees goes beyond a paycheck.

The National Association of Landscape Professionals hosted their 2018 Leader's Forum in Punta Cana Jan. 25-27 where employee motivation was a main topic. Here are some highlights from the event.


When you take a look at your staff, there’s a good chance that only 30 percent of the group is highly engaged in their job. About 50 percent are not engaged and are just there for a paycheck. Even worse, 20 percent are highly disengaged.

Erica Dawson with the Samuel Curtis Johnson School of Management, Cornell University, gave those numbers during her keynote, “Why we work” during the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ Leader’s Forum at the Hard Rock Hotel in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

“If you have 10 employees only 3 are saying they are actively into the work they are doing,” she said.

While the 20 percent who are highly disengaged is basically a lost cause, the 50 percent who are not engaged can be won over, Dawson said.

They may enjoy the job, but it’s not a place of satisfaction. Happiness is judged by how far away they are from their weekend.

“This is a huge missed opportunity in the work force,” Dawson says. “There is a lot more that is possible for these people.”

But before you just throw money at them, even if that is what they ask for, realize that may not be the best solution to making that employee more engaged.

“There’s not a lot of evidence this is true,” she said of just increasing pay. “Pay is unrelated to work satisfaction.”

Dawson said the best way to engage employees is to find out their core values and bridge those values to the job.

Core values aren’t the following: Competencies – things you are good at; Shoulds – “I should have more control, I should have stood up for myself;” Wishes; A company motto or virtues.

“Your core values are much more personal than that,” she says. “Your values are really your north star.”

To discover your core values, Dawson recommends looking to someone you admire and asking yourself what is so compelling about that person. Also look to moments where you sacrificed something – look at the reason why you made the sacrifice and the answer could lead to a core value. Finally, talk to someone about a “peak moment” in your life and explain why you felt so happy about that moment.

If you can find out your employees’ core values, you can craft their job to mean more to them.

This is what you should be doing as a business owner, “Instead of finding a bigger bonus for somebody,” Dawson said.


Sometimes a gift card to a nice restaurant isn’t the best way to recognize an employee’s good work.

Such was the case for a client of Sean Martin’s, when the assistant professor at the Carol School of Management at Boston College was a business consultant. This client always gave employees a gift card to an upscale restaurant to show the company’s appreciation for a job well done.

Except one day, an employee gave the gift card back to the human resources manager. The HR manager couldn’t believe it because the manager would love a gift card there, Martin said. But the employee explained the gift card meant she had to buy a nice dress, find a baby sitter and if they go over the gift card amount, its money out of her pocket.

“There is a disconnect over what managers do to motivate and what actually motivates the employee,” Martin said. Martin’s session, “Diversity that is hard to see: Motivation and the psychology of social class,” at the Leader’s Forum dealt with how lower income employees view motivation differently compared to upper class employees. Here are some tips from Martin on hiring and retention.

Stay away from groups. When you want unfiltered feedback on your company, don’t ask employees in a group setting. They won’t give honest feedback, or maybe any feedback. “They are afraid of looking stupid,” he said.

Invite conversation. Martin says to avoid telling people, “Don’t bring me a problem unless you have a solution.” That’s a great deterrent in finding out about problems in your company.

Understand priorities. Martin said studies show that people from lower class incomes prioritize community/family more than any job. “That social capital they develop in their community is far more important than paycheck,” he said.

Don’t speak up. Martin says many lower income employees don’t want to speak up when there is a problem because they operate under a “don’t complain, don’t speak up” point of view. “You might have to put in an extra effort,” to train the workers to speak up, Martin said.

Illustrate the value of the work.  A study was done with low wage people who made calls to solicit donations for a university. The job was so bad it had 350 percent turnover. The study broke the employees into two groups. One group continued to do the job as is, and the other group had lunch with students who received scholarships because of the phone calls the employees made. A week after that lunch, a number of job performance measures increased including donations and phone calls made for the group who had lunch with the students.


The CEOs Unplugged panel featured: Paul Fraynd, Sun Valley Landscapes; Chris Joyce, Joyce Landscapes; Jennifer Lemcke, Weed Man USA; Jason Mathers, Monarch Landscapes; Mark Tomko, Metco Landscape. 

The panel, facilitated by Scott Jamieson, vice president of community partnerships & Midwest division leader with Bartlett Tree Experts, touched on topics such as work/life balance, managing email and morning routines. Below are some lessons from the panel.

Describe the position. Mathers said his company was losing people as his company grew. The employees would fit when the company was one size, but as the company grew bigger those people weren’t a good fit anymore and they would be fired. To stop the turnover, the company began doing profiles of key performers and use them as a benchmark of who would fit at the company and then write a job description. As the employee was mentored, Mathers could track key indicators and work on the areas the employee was struggling. If it didn’t work out and you had to fire someone, you could pinpoint the area that caused it. 

Accept reality. As business owners and executives, Lemcke said sometimes you have to accept you can’t be all things to all people, and sometimes a good work life balance isn’t possible. “Once I accepted that I gave myself a little bit of a break,” she said. She’s started running again. Joyce said he started to realize that he wasn’t going to be the best dad all the time. “Let’s be honest, you do what you have to do,” he said.

Rise and shine. Fraynd said he doesn’t look at his phone for an hour after waking up, and it’s helped him ease into his days. Joyce goes to a 7/11 for coffee every morning where he can hear the same group of guys sit at a table and complain about everything as he gets his coffee. He then drives to work and has his fill of negatives for the day. When he’s at a meeting he remind everyone attending to be positive and not become a member of the “Breakfast club of broken dreams.”

Sponsors of the event included: Caterpillar (Platinum), Bayer (Gold), John Deere (Silver). Other sponsors included: Toro, Aspire, GIE+EXPO, Syngenta, Bartlett Tree Experts, Gravely and Vermeer. 


NALP Executive Director Sabeena Hickman said the organization has seen 35 percent growth, and will continue with their focus on increasing the workforce through moves like their career website and a planned career day in April.

NALP's new board of directors: 


President: Jeff Buhler, Massey Services

President-Elect: Andrew Ziehler, Ziehler Lawn and Tree Care                   

Secretary/treasurer: Shayne Newman, YardApes

Immediate past president: Jon Cundiff, Weed Man



Bruce Allentuck, Allentuck Landscaping Co.

Jason Becker, Caterpillar

Mike Bogan, LandCare

Pete Farno, Bayer

Jeff Fedorchak, TruGreen

Paul Fraynd, Sun Valley Landscaping

Bob Grover, Pacific Landscape Management

Phil Key, Ruppert Industries

Roscoe Klausing, Klausing Group

Joe Kujawa, Kujawa Enterprises, Inc. 

Frank Mariani, Mariani Landscape

Joe Munie, Munie Greencare Professionals Inc.

Tim Portland, Yellowstone Landscaping 


The association also handed out two awards:

Woman Entrepreneur of the Year: Jennifer Lemcke, COO Weed Man USA. Lemcke has been with Weed Man for more than 25 years, working alongside her husband Chris and father Roger Mongeon, CEO of Weed Man. Lemcke has been instrumental in the growth of the franchising of the company in the U.S., recently reaching the $100 million milestone. Lemcke said when she is at industry events she is usually the only woman in the room, but recently taught a class at BYU and half of the classroom was female students.

“It was very encouraging,” she said.

Lifetime Leadership Award: Frank Mariani, CEO of Mariani Landscape of Lake Bluff, Illinois. Mariani is the second generation to run the family-owned Mariani Landscape, building it into an award-winning company, servicing some of the most prestigious properties in the Chicago area.

Mariani says one of the most important lessons he’s learned during his decades in the industry was that not everyone was like him.

“I lost a lot of good people that way,” he says. “You can learn from those mistakes you make and share them with somebody else so they won’t make the same mistake.”