Employee Empowerment and Retention Through Sowing Carrots

  Hort Snacks - August 2018
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 At this time of year, you are just past the mid-point of your summer growing season, with eyes on the end of the season and the fall. Your focus is probably on maintenance – keeping the plants healthy and growing, harvesting the crops that are ready, and getting the crops to the customers. These are good focal points for any producer to have.

At the same time, you are also focused on helping/encouraging any employees to maintain a steady, constant pace and get the most value from their labours. With labour being one of the most significant production expenses in any operation, this is good business practice. Employees are a critical component in any operation (unless you like to work like a rented mule). Keeping your employees productive is challenging, especially since no two employees are the same. To put a twist on it, how many of you think about employee retention mid-way through the season? That topic is probably not even halfway to the forefront of your mind. You might even question if they are related. I’d suggest three things. First, employee productivity is pivotal to successful, profitable operations. Second, employee productivity and employee retention are intricately connected. Third, employee retention (and rehiring, recruiting, etc.) is like many important issues; we don’t deal with them until after the fact or “later”, which is too late.

So what do carrots have to do with any of those three things? Allow me to explain.

A number of years ago, I took part in a tremendous leadership course. Like all good courses (in my opinion), I came away not just with many tidbits of information and tools to use in different aspects of my life, but I had also taken a good, long look at myself from different angles; I saw ways to make some improvements and changes. One thing that was discussed was the importance of offering feedback: specific, direct feedback, coupled with suggestions for continued action. It could be used constructively, or to express appreciation or thanks. Following the course, with these things on my mind, my brother-in-law shared a few different books with me which highlighted the importance of recognition and introduced the concept of “creating a carrot culture” within any particular organization.

“Managing with Carrots” – Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton
“24-Carrot Manager” – Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton

Carrots = recognition and rewards (in a range of forms) and the authors postulate that organizations that freely sow carrots throughout (and encourage them to grow and reseed) have higher morale, greater productivity, better retention and greater creativity. As growers of carrots (and other things), who better than us to apply these sample principles.

Employee Productivity (Happy employees work harder and better)
Employees are critical to any operation. They do a lot of the work, are often the face of the operation and, if harnessed correctly, can contribute to taking your operation on to bigger and better things.

Things have changed since your father’s and grandfather’s generation (note - if you are the grandfather, you’d better tune in even more). People aren’t content to work just for the sake of working. They want “more”. More could be any number of things. Many workers need motivation more than direction. They want to know why, even more than how. They are motivated differently and have different expectations from their jobs. Most want to be valued not only for their blood, sweat and muscles, but also for their individual spark and creativity. They want to be involved. This is a pretty big shift, but an important one to understand.

By taking the time to recognize our employees (or even those who encircle us in our different “lives”, a.k.a. roles), we strengthen our relationships and solidify their ties to what we are trying to accomplish and to our organization.

By recognizing the potential value of each individual (not just in our minds, but showing it externally to the individual), we suddenly have someone that is walking right there alongside of us. We get someone that is committed not just to putting in time, but that wants to make things better and more successful. People become creative, innovative and at that point, productivity has the potential to really explode.

Employee Retention (Happy employees will stick around and keep being productive)
I’m not all that old, but even I can see a serious shift in the attitude and work ethic of “young” workers (like it or not, they are the future workforce). It is harder to find good workers than ever before and even harder to keep them. Yet, we don’t spend all that much time of this aspect. As I suggested before, we often don’t think about retention until we see the back end of someone. Too late.

If we accept that recognition is the way to make people happier and more productive, it isn’t a long leap to see that the same principle applies in retention. Productive employees feel valuable and valued employees will stick around. As humans, we tend to stay where we are happy. Applying significant effort to recognizing our employees will pay dividends towards our long-term success.

Sowing Carrots – Providing Recognition
So, how does one provide recognition and express appreciation for your employees? How do we reward not just good behaviour, but recognize and encourage great innovation and significant, meaningful contributions to the operation? How do you help employees feel valued or that they are a contributing part of your operation? The first important step for any of us is to realize that people aren’t clones, but have different wants and needs and are motivated by different things. According to Gostick and Elton, you need to recognize that employees want more than just bread, but need carrots as well.

One of the more traditional ways to recognize, motivate or reward has been to provide monetary rewards or incentives, but one thing that the authors suggested was that money (or bread) is not the greatest motivator, at least not in the long term. Gostick and Elton say that “Money doesn’t buy love; it doesn’t buy happiness; it doesn’t buy commitment”. And that is really what we are after, isn’t it? Commitment.

Gostick and Elton outline a few of the things that employees are really looking for, or the carrots that need to be offered to employees. They say that employees “crave:
  • Knowing what is expected of them
  • Having the tools to do a good job
  • Having the opportunity to do what they do best
  • Receiving recognition or praise for good work”
These seem like pretty simple things, but ultimately, aren’t these what any of us want? To clearly understand the goals and direction we before us; to have the right tools, so that we can actually do the job right; to be able to focus our energies and attention on what we excel at; to be recognized for doing something worthwhile, in a way that is meaningful to us.

The beautiful thing is that sowing and providing carrots doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking or expensive. It can (and probably should) be made up of small, simple and definitely genuine things. Personalized, individual actions can really give long term value to both you and the people that work in your operation. In my travels across North America, visiting different operations, I’ve seen some interesting examples. Bucket washing “parties” accompanied by ice cream and water fights. Spontaneous snack delivery. It doesn’t have to be crazy, just creative and appropriate to your specific group.

To give the last word to Gostick and Elton, “In today’s competitive crunch, nothing beats carrots. Stick with bread alone, and you might just end up toast!
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Robert Spencer.
This information published to the web on July 30, 2018.