A Story of Two Landscapers and One Reminder on Motivating Your Team

Two landscape architects woke up today and essentially performed the same job, executed the same tasks, and worked roughly the same hours. Let’s call these two landscape architects Joseph and Christopher. Joe works for a landscape company and spent his day at the homes of clients of the company, planting annuals and mulching beds in their yard. Chris works for a large energy corporation on their in-house facility team. He also planted annuals and mulched at the corporate offices. Which landscaper is most likely to find his job rewarding? Who is more likely to enjoy his job: Joe or Chris?

According to research conducted by Lixin Jiang, Thomas Tripp, and Tahira Probst in The Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, the landscape architect who works at the homes of clients is much more likely to find his job satisfying. And it makes complete sense when you think it through. Joe is a linchpin in his organization. He is much closer to the mission of his organization and much more connected to the people the organization is designed to serve. He learns the names of the families, hears from the homeowner how awesome the newly planted flowers look, and feels helpful when he gives watering instructions. His company is a landscape company and he is a landscaper. His role is essential to the company and he knows it. Chris, on the other hand, works for an energy company. Landscaping isn’t their mission. And while folks are proud their corporate offices look nice, the corporate offices aren’t why the company exists.

The research behind the stories of two landscapers reminds us of one big key to motivating your team: Great leaders get their teams as close to the mission as possible. Great leaders constantly remind their teams of the mission, the why beneath all the work. When activity isn’t rooted in mission, motivation can quickly fade. When actions aren’t grounded in a cause that impacts real people, the collective commitment of the team won’t be strong.

So what is the manager of the corporate landscape architect to do? The manager there has a more difficult job, in terms of motivating the team, than the manager at the landscaping company. The manager should work to connect the landscaping, even at the corporate office, to the family receiving air conditioning in their home because of the energy company. Something like—“If our campus looks great, it causes our team here to be more likely to do great work today because they see we are a place that cares about details.” You could say that feels cheesy or forced, but Chris is going home unmotivated. So if you care about how he views his role, help him see the bigger picture and connect him to the mission. If leaders fail to connect their teams to the bigger mission of the organization, they will fail to motivate their teams as they should.