Building Your Team: Celebrate Your Staff with Internal Recognition Programs - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

We recently updated our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use this website, you acknowledge that our revised Privacy Policy applies.

Building Your Team: Celebrate Your Staff with Internal Recognition Programs

Photo: Koehn Outdoor

There are multiple ways to express your appreciation to your employees, but internal recognition programs are particularly useful for improving morale and motivating the desired behaviors in your team.

“Everybody’s a little different, but we feel that generally speaking, most people want to feel good at work,” says Dave DiGregorio, VP of sales for Ground Works Land Design, based in Cleveland, Ohio. “They want to feel noticed. They don’t want to feel like a number.”

Types of Programs

Green Lawn Fertilizing/Green Pest Solutions, based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, decided to focus their recognition program around safe driving after implementing the telematics device Azuga three years ago.

“The number one goal is to get our team members home safe every night,” says Alex Wolfington, senior vice president of business development at Green Lawn Fertilizing. “I think that is really important. It’s also just the safety of everyone on the road. When there are incidents or accidents, it does cost money and cuts down on production time. But the biggest thing is getting people home safe every night.”

Green Lawn Fertilizing’s program places all of their employees with an Azuga safety score of 91 or higher in a raffle and those with higher scores have more raffle tickets.

Photo: Koehn Outdoor

David Koehn, president of Koehn Outdoor, based in Jacksonville, Florida, says they didn’t have a formalized recognition program for their field-level employees until two years ago when they started the Koehn Outdoor Superstar program. Team members are nominated by their peers for different categories, including the positive attitude award, initiative award, cleanest truck award, team player award and crew MVP.

Koehn says the first Friday of every month, they will recognize their team for the stars they earned the month prior. They provide breakfast and play the Rocky theme song as the winners walk up to receive their awards.

At Ground Works Land Design, they host a meeting every Monday to highlight company wins, employee anniversaries, and they also recognize crews that receive a positive Google review from a client. They receive $100 for each review.

MSNW Group, LLC, based in Ferndale, Washington, has had their recognition program, CHAMPS, for over 15 years. They recently updated it so they can reach their geographically dispersed team members with the platform Reward Gateway.

“Through this online program, all team members can recognize anyone in the company displaying safe work behaviors or actions which are directly reflective of one or more of our company values,” says Joseph Bushey, human resources director for MSNW Group, LLC. “Supervisors also have a monthly budget which can be used to provide recognition with a monetary value.”

Organizing Your Award Program

If you don’t have a formalized recognition program, take some time to consider the behaviors you want to recognize and the criteria you are judging them on, the rewards you want to provide and if these are for individuals or the whole team.

Koehn says they selected their award categories based off their company culture versus being number-driven.

Photo: Koehn Outdoor

“I just didn’t feel that was going to be a fair driver for the employees to have a fair shot at winning, but everybody can show up with a positive attitude,” Koehn says. “Everybody can show up with a smile and everybody can be organized and help their teammates.”

Ground Works similarly looks to recognize employees who are good stewards of their company values by being punctual, having a good attitude and being a good person.

“Those are three easy things that you can control that when done consistently allow others to view you as a professional,” DiGregorio says. “Those are the things we look for and we definitely recognize, and we try to celebrate in front of everybody in the crowd.”

Bushey says they seek to recognize actions or behaviors that display a safety-minded approach to work, and behaviors that embody MSNW’s core values.

“MSNW’s is genuinely aligned with company values and tailored to the preferences and needs of our team members,” Bushey says. “Our program allows for regular, sincere acknowledgment paired with meaningful rewards, which ensures our team feels valued.”

Green Lawn Fertilizing’s program is data-driven based on each employee’s driving score. The score is determined by hard breaking, speeding, and fast take-offs. Wolfington says that they’ve seen a huge improvement in their team’s safe driving year over year.

“There can’t be any gray,” Wolfington says. “It has to be black or white. It can’t be favoritism or choosing the technician that produces the most money. It has to be based off of data.”

Green Lawn Fertilizing is able to coach and change employee behavior as they receive new driving data daily.

With the Koehn Outdoor Superstar program, anyone who is nominated receives a star for a certain category but their supervisor, account manager and production managers will determine who is the standout employee of the month.

Green Lawn Fertilizing awards the winner of their safe driving program with a Ford F-150 at their safety meeting kickoff the following year. They also offer monthly awards from $25 to $100 to the top 10 drivers with the best Azuga scores.

Koehn’s crew MVP receives a wrestling belt that they pass to new winners each month. Employees can also use their stars to cash in prizes like a PTO day or a pair of new work boots. He feels it’s more fun for his team to be able to choose from different tiers of rewards, so they have options to save their stars or select a prize that requires fewer stars.

One of the rewards Ground Works will provide their employees with is money to shop at their online store, where they can buy more company-branded merchandise, such as a new Carhartt jacket.

Green Lawn Fertilizing also recognizes the branch with the safest driving for the month and each driver at that branch receives a $25 gift card they can use for Azuga rewards.

Koehn says they currently focus on celebrating individuals but are considering having a special quarterly incentive if the company hits certain goals. He says individual recognition creates healthy competition between employees as everyone wants to win the cleanest truck award.

“Making sure that they are cleaning and maintaining their equipment was important,” Koehn says. “Getting them recognized for doing that has definitely helped create that as part of our culture and keeping your trucks clean and organized. It’s really helped protect our assets.”

MSNW also prefers to recognize individual success through CHAMPS, but Bushey says they also celebrate company milestones and credit those successes to the entire team.

DiGregorio says they’re very team-driven and want individuals to succeed, but at the end of the day, it’s about company growth and performance. They had some individual incentives in the past but they’re moving more to a team model of recognition.

“It makes you feel more part of the team and we can win bigger that way,” DiGregorio says. “It’s just like team sports. Everybody wants to win a Super Bowl. Nobody wants to be the guy that got the most passes or got the most yards. That’s great, but at the end of the day, we want to win Super Bowls. You do that by the whole team being great.”

Crafting An Effective Program

Consistency is one of the main keys to having an effective recognition program. DiGregorio says making good on your promises will determine how successful your recognition program is.

Photo: Green Lawn Fertilizing

“That’s probably the biggest letdown that we can do as leaders is make promises and not make good on them,” DiGregorio says. “So just making sure that we really follow through on our end, and making sure that we celebrate it in front of everybody as much as we can. That peer recognition goes a lot longer, than let’s say, pulling somebody in one-on-one and just saying, ‘Great job.’”

Koehn says they make a point for their award days to be a fun time to build camaraderie. Wolfington says presenting these awards in front of the rest of the company is important to influence behavior changes.

“I think it’s important to have the monthly individual rewards and also the team rewards so even if your score is not the greatest that certain week you know you need to get your score up because the other people in the branch are counting on you,” Wolfington says.

Bushey believes having public and private recognition is necessary for a successful program, which is why they provide both options.

One challenge to be aware of is employees becoming jaded if they aren’t selected for an award. Koehn says they are mindful of this and while they won’t provide handouts, they encourage their staff to put their best foot forward as they will get nominated.

“Everybody has that opportunity to shine and as long as you’re consistent with that, and it’s not something that you’re giving that same star or that same award to that one crew,” Koehn says. “Because then it will lose its luster.”

Wolfington says by making their safe driver recognition program a raffle, it gives everyone with a score over 91 a chance to win the new truck.

Bushey says they strive to ensure their recognition program is transparent, inclusive and diverse so there are multiple opportunities for various roles and contributions to be acknowledged. They seek regular feedback from their team members.

“When evaluating a recognition program, it’s vital to actively solicit feedback from team members across all levels, ensuring the program remains relevant and effective,” Bushey says. “Aligning the program with company values, including safety policies, reinforces its integrity and purpose. Additionally, frequent and transparent communication about the program’s criteria and successes strengthens its impact, driving continued participation and overall success. Inclusion, transparency, and alignment with organizational goals are the foundation of an effective recognition strategy.”

This article was published in the November/December issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Edge magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.