What a farmer taught me about employee retention

ROB green-brown-grass

When I’m not working with clients, I’m often working the land. I own a small farm just outside Melbourne, on which we run some beef cattle.

When I bought the property, I was eager to learn some tricks of the trade from the former owner, an experienced man of the land with over 50 years in gumboots. Having made a significant investment in my cattle, I was concerned for their safety and security, so I asked him what he considered to be the best type of fencing.

He sized me up for a moment and then in his laconic, Aussie drawl, he stated, “The best fencin’ is to make sure that your grass is better than the grass next door.”

Oftentimes, it is the simplest truth that is the most enlightening. I’ve never forgotten this key lesson; a lesson I regularly apply when talking with clients about organisational leadership.

Of course, he was completely right. If a neighbouring property cultivates greener, more luscious grass, the cattle will simply push through a weak fence, to reach the grass that is much more appealing than what’s on offer in their own backyard.

But if the pasture is tended with care, the cattle have plenty of fresh water and can expect a hay supplement during the long winter months, they are more likely to stay put.

The setting may be different but the same theory can be applied to employee retention. Organisations with less-than-satisfied employees are more likely to experience an exodus in their pool of top talent. Losing these A-players slows organisational momentum and growth, increases expenditure and impacts negatively on morale.

Whilst it’s easy for leaders to agree that retaining happy, motivated, engaged ‘A-grade’ employees is vital to long-term success, many organisations limit their employee retention to well-worn practices, thinking no further than professional development offerings and reward and recognition programs.

In my experience, it’s more about the principles.

Creating a purpose-directed, values-driven organisation in which employees can believe is the first step. Having a challenging, aligned strategy that engages their minds to conceive a strong future is the second, and the third is creating a working environment that enables them to achieve their personal potential, whilst contributing to organisation-wide performance.

Whilst the practices can be readily costed and copied, this combination of principles creates in employees a strong sense of value that they know will be difficult to find elsewhere.

Ensure your grass is greener than the other side, giving plenty of incentive for key employees to stay and productively graze – otherwise you may soon find your corporate pasture empty.