As we head into the third month of the new year, I want to continue the conversation about improving your business performance by reducing employee turnover. As discussed in my recent LinkedIn article (read), focusing on improving retention of your best employees is a critical, strategic play to reduce turnover. There are many actions that you can take as a business owner or manager to improve turnover. For now, I want to focus on what I have experienced as having the greatest impact - cultivating talent.
To begin, let's discuss the purposeful analogy of cultivating. Throughout my childhood, my father and his brother grew most of the vegetables that my family ate. My mother would have dinner ready when my father arrived home from work so that he could eat and then head to my Uncle's home where they farmed together. He worked most evenings until dusk, from early spring planting into the last of fall harvesting. It was work that took commitment and dedication, and it brought immense satisfaction with each delicious meal that we enjoyed. Whether planting by seed or seedlings, the same land preparation was required. The soil was tilled, often with nutrient material mixed into it during this process. Next planting furrows were lined into the soil before the planting could begin. Once the garden was planted in early spring, the work did not end; rather, regular tending and maintenance of the plants were required to ensure an abundant harvest. This included training beans onto poles, removing weeds that would rob the vegetables of important resources, pruning runners to increase production, treating pests, and so on.
Why did my father and uncle give so much of their personal time to farming instead of buying vegetables at the grocery store, as so many others in our community did?
As business owners and leaders, we are keenly aware of the costs and effort expended to recruit new employees; and yet, once those recruits walk through our doors, we step away and leave them to figure things out for themselves. This approach is akin to a farmer dropping seeds along the furrowed ground, walking away from the field, and returning in a month to find that many of the seeds have been stolen away by birds, others have rotted in overly damp soil, and less than 40% have begun to sprout.
In addition to meaning preparation in the context of gardening, the word cultivate is synonymous with these words - FOSTER, NURTURE, and ENCOURAGE. To get the highest possible return on our investment known as hiring, our work cannot stop once the position is filled. Our systems, processes, and culture must be designed to firmly plant each employee into the company so that strong roots are formed.
As with plants, each individual has specific needs and tolerance levels. If the fertilizer or light is too strong, the plant begins to brown and becomes less healthy. Similarly, you must adjust to individual employee needs. Some need more specificity about their role or guidance in completing tasks, while others experience that same level of attention as micro-managing their work.
Regardless of these nuances, all employees thrive when they receive regular and authentic appreciation for their work and experience feeling of success in their role and belonging in the company that they have joined.
After several weeks to months on the job, if you have created a strong medium for "roots" to form, employees will show strong, healthy growth. This can create the need for a bigger container and the expansion of your responsibilities in tending their continued maturity as an important member of your team.
Let me conclude by stating the most important part of this analogy - The gardener must be present and have his/her hands in the soil regularly.
As the owner or business leader, it is healthy for you to delegate tasks. Delegation, however, is not the same as abdication. Just as with my father and uncle, economics, quality and value are important outcomes in business. Whenever you know that you can save money and get better quality, you have the start of a powerful value proposition.
If you have a small company where you know every employee by name, get directly involved with the steps outlined above. If your organization has many layers of management, lead the charge in establishing the systems, processes, and culture that reinforce cultivation of talent throughout the company. Consultants specializing in organization development, such as me, are great partners in assisting with the design and implementation of these. If you are ready to make talent cultivation part of your employee retention strategy, let's connect!
PS - My special discounts for coaching and consulting work expire at the end of this month, so don't delay.
A Little Help From My Friends
In celebration of Valentine's day this week, I am writing about my appreciation of a dear friend, colleague, mentor, and coach, Geri. Whose peer coaching and mentoring have you valued over the years? Join me and express your appreciation this Valentine's Day to the colleagues in your life that have aided you on your journey to becoming your best self.
My appreciation and respect for Geri is the result of deep and powerful conversations I had with her during one of the toughest years of my career. What is the real stand-out here, and this is really about who Geri is as a person, is that she showed up for me with support, coaching, and tough love when needed, and she and I had only been working together for a few months. On paper we were peers, but in reality, she had more wisdom and experience than I had accumulated at that stage of my career. From the very beginning, however, what made her stand apart from all my other peers was how she showed up in every conversation. Geri made curiosity the center of all communication. She was not judgmental or engaged in one-upsmanship parrying in meetings. Rather she was truly interested in learning about the thoughts and perspectives of others around her. She didn't seem concerned about being right or being the smartest. When you engaged in dialogue with Geri, her focus was only about supporting the best conversation and creating something mutually beneficial. I think that it was this characteristic that made it easy for me to show my vulnerability and ask for her coaching to help me build new skills at showing up differently in my conversations and interactions with those I sought to influence.
Six weeks into the new year is a pivotal time for most of us in assessing where we are with the goals and energy we felt at the New Year. Setting goals or making resolutions is automatically an act of vulnerability because we are committing ourselves to do something that is beyond our comfort zone. Sharing that vulnerability with others can feel scary, but it also can generate a different accountability partnership that can spur greater success.
When you tell someone with whom you regularly interact what you are trying to achieve and the specific actions that you are committed to doing toward that goal, you can then invite that person to help you notice when you are on path, when you achieve victories (big or small), and when you have slipped into old behavior patterns that you are trying to change.
There is no doubt that we are conditioned to respond to rewards, and yet we often fall into the all or nothing trap, instead of noticing and celebrating the smaller steps forward that can string together into a much bigger outcome with consistency. That's where a peer coach is helpful. Let me clarify this idea by sharing more about my experience with Geri.
Early in my career, I was in an expert consultant role. My job was to go into a business situation, assess, and tell the business leader what s/he needed to do. In my new role, I was being asked to shift from expert to coach. This required developing and refining a different set of skills such as listening, asking generative questions that expanded and deepened conversations, noticing what was not being said, etc. These skills are in some ways antithetical to the expert consulting approach because they are much more tentative and focused on opening and broadening rather than narrowing and deciding - a more natural fit to my ENTJ personality. I invited Geri to observe me in staff meetings and client meetings to help me notice what was effective, when I made choices consistent with practicing my coaching skills, and missed opportunities to use those skills. The added benefit that I didn't anticipate at the time was the impact this had in facilitating my whole peer group and manager noticing me showing up differently. This resulted in changes in assumptions and beliefs about what work I was capable of doing and how well I was performing.
My growth during that time in my career was monumental because it fundamentally transformed my perspective, beliefs, and approach as a professional. I am certain that my ability to learn those skills and make them such a natural part of what I do would not have happened without the gift that Geri gave to me in agreeing to be my peer coach.
We have all heard that the greatest rewards often come when we take the greatest risks. Choosing to share your goals for self-improvement with others and inviting them to become part of your feedback and reinforcement system may feel like you are taking a risk. I believe, however, that this is the accelerated path to transformative change. Double down on your goals - ask a friend to be your coach or accountability partner and Ignite Your EXTRAORDINARY!