Building a Profitable Interiorscape Company with the Oreo Cookie Principle

Reviewing, evaluating, and possibly criticizing is sometimes part of the job. If it’s part of yours, this simple approach could make it more profitable for everyone.

“Sandwich every bit of criticism between two layers of praise.” (Ash, Mary Kay. Mary Kay (New York: Harper & Row, 1981)) This is not the first time this bit of wisdom has been stated. After all, as the song from “Sound of Music” says, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…” Sometimes, though, it seems easier to put the criticism or problem out there, and let it go at that.

For instance, maybe you have a plant technician whose replacement rate for 6” plants in low light is too high. You might say nothing or only note the situation on supervisor evaluations. You let the problem fester, start feeling more and more frustrated with the tech, until you finally call them in, confront them, and maybe even end up firing them. This is certainly not a good way to handle the situation. Alternatively, you may call them in for a discussion, start by telling them “there’s a problem,” state that they’re losing too many small plants, and finish by making it clear that you expect the problem to be resolved. This approach might work, but it leaves some issues unresolved, principally “why” the problem in the first place. Also, it fails to address the simple truth that people like, and respond to, the feeling that they are valued. You’ve missed a chance to not only improve the tech’s performance, but also to nurture their positive connection to you, the company, and their job.

There is a better way.

The Oreo Cookie Principle works something like this. You call the tech in for a discussion and begin by thanking them for their good work, especially their reliability, strong customer relations, success with large material – whatever they’re good at; then bring up the weak point of small plants in low light, supported by specific examples or supervisor evaluations; and finish by making it clear that you have every confidence that they can fix the problem and their accounts will soon be “A1A.”

This tactic leaves the tech feeling good about themselves, your opinion of them, and naturally leads to your asking something like, “So do you have any thoughts on why you seem to have more problems with the small plants?” You can then have meaningful discussion with the tech – perhaps some retraining will help, maybe rescheduling is in order, or perhaps something else all together.

For example, I once worked with a tech who was a hard worker, reliable, well-liked by the customers, and his plants were thriving – but they were always dusty. We had a good old “Oreo Cookie” discussion about it, and it turned out that although he loved horticulture, and had no problem with customer relations, he just couldn’t see himself walking around with dusters and cloths and cleaning things all the time. However, because we had a good relationship, I knew that he was into dog shows, so I suggested he change his vision from “cleaning” to “grooming,” and he was able to continue with no more problem.

The Oreo Cookie Principle has a lot of applications beyond dealing with situations that are your job to improve as a manager or business owner. Children, online discussions, a spouse’s annoying habit, even customer requests – almost all interpersonal relationships are improved by remembering the power of praise as a behavior-changing tool.

Ultimately, doing what you can to ensure that your employees feel important, respected, and valued, is one of the bedrock foundations for building a profitable company.

Featured image by penguincakes / CC-BY-2.0

Marlie Graves, known as The Ficus Wrangler, has been keeping plants beautiful, training techs and relating to clients at half a dozen companies for 30 years. She studied creative writing and psychology in college and went on to start an independent film company with her first husband. She decided to focus on plants full time after completing the NYBG Horticulture School interior landscaping course. Marlie is retired, operates "The Ficus Wrangler" YouTube channel, contributes regularly to several houseplant forums, and is working on a plantcare book based on professional methods.

NewPro Containers
  • Michael Tyler

    Umm, the song “Spoonful of Sugar” was from the movie “Mary Poppins.” You got your Julie Andrews movies mixed up. Great article, though!

Join the Community