Team Building: Why Employee Recognition and Incentive Programs Matter - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Team Building: Why Employee Recognition and Incentive Programs Matter

Photo: Martin Landscape

Because people spend a significant amount of their lives working, it makes sense individuals want to be somewhere they feel their efforts are acknowledged and celebrated.

Recognition is among the top three most effective non-financial factors when it comes to employee retention. Not only does recognition improve employee retention, but it also helps promote desired behaviors and fosters positive attitudes among your team.

“Recognition is calling attention to or acknowledging a person’s contributions to an organization, as well as their accomplishment and positive behaviors that influence others, and in turn, it helps us build a culture of engagement and support employee retention,” says Valerie Lane, HR director for Martin Landscape, based in Port Royal, South Carolina.

Lane says they discuss their recognition programs from day one with employees and the programs are linked to their core values of passion, pride, teamwork, relationships as well as their vision statement and company goals.

“It’s to immediately get them bought into core values, to modeling the positive behaviors, to getting those customer compliments coming back from our clients,” Lane says.  

Photo: J.W. Townsend Landscapes

Leigh Townsend, president of J.W. Townsend Landscapes, based in Charlottesville, Virginia, says they love recognizing their staff because they are their best and most valuable asset. He advises taking really good care of your staff and publicly recognizing their achievements every chance you can.   

“We recognize milestones such as birthdays and work anniversaries monthly at our company breakfasts,” Townsend says. “We also recognize awards, accomplishments, certifications, client testimonials, etc. Every month we recognize the Gardner of the Month and Supervisor of the Month; each receives a gift card. We also recognize crew members by giving out two preferred parking spots. The gift cards and parking spots are given to staff who have delivered a high-quality product and/or customer experience.”

Dave DiGregorio, VP of sales for Ground Works Land Design, based in Cleveland, Ohio, feels recognition is an important way to positively reinforce good behavior and outstanding culture.

Types of Recognition and Incentive Programs

There is no one size fits all for the perfect recognition or incentive program, but all three companies believe it is a good practice to have a mixture of individual and team-based recognition and incentive programs.

“Ultimately, we do a combination of both as we want to encourage a team approach across all parts of our company,” Townsend says. “Our concern is that if we over-incentivize teams OR individuals, then there is the tendency to build silos (walls) within the organization. We want to reward specific behavior, but not at the risk of hurting our culture.” 

An example of one way that landscape companies can acknowledge individual employees for their positive behavior is how Ground Works awards $100 in cash during their Monday morning meeting to any employee who gets mentioned in a Google review.

A Martin Landscape employee receiving a culture coin. Photo: Martin Landscape

“It’s a direct reward,” DiGregorio says. “It makes the guys feel good and on the back end for the company, it makes such a big impact to get those organic Google reviews.”

At Martin Landscape, employees can earn culture coins when they display positive behaviors such as being safe, doing a great job or creating or improving a process. Team members can save these culture coins up for PTO, Martin Landscape gear, dinner with the team or a chartered fishing trip.

“It makes it fun, and it gives the employee the opportunity to choose because they can continue to save these coins are something that they want,” Lane says. “Or they may say, ‘You know what, I think I want to go ahead and cash in some of these coins now and get that hat or shirt’ or wherever the case may be.”

Townsend says they had a former employee start an award called “The Townsend Way” about 10 years ago, which is awarded to an individual who has gone above and beyond.

“The best example of going ‘above and beyond’, and this is the one I’ve been using for 10 years, is the staff member who gets back to the office after a long day in the field, punches out and walks to their car,” Townsend says. “However, on the way to their car, they notice a late delivery of plants has just arrived and that our nursery staff need help unloading it. Rather than just getting in their car and leaving, they put their stuff down and walk over to help unload the truck. Nobody asked them to do it, they just noticed that help was needed, and jumped in. That’s The Townsend Way!”

As for how to incentivize the team as a whole, DiGregorio says they have recently introduced profit-sharing where any employee who has been with Ground Works for a full year is eligible for profit sharing the following season.

Photo: Martin Landscape

“We always felt it’s important to have a team incentive that everybody’s working towards the same goal,” DiGregorio says. “We have seen great retention this year. We’ve had more people work through a whole season, through a full winter and into next season than ever before. I do think there is definite value. I think people know, ‘Okay, I made it through the whole year. I’m eligible now for a potential payout of thousands of dollars at the end of the year.’”

One of Martin Landscape’s team recognition programs focuses on safety because they want a culture of safety in their work environment. Managers will come together and grade how the team has performed as it relates to safety. The safest team gets a magnet they can place on their truck that says ‘Safety Award Winner On Board.’

“It’s more of a sense of pride thing, it’s a bragging moment for the guys,” says Wade Martin, owner of Martin Landscape. “We’re trying to get some camaraderie out there.”

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.