When we think about traditional metrics of success that a business reports on, it’s common to focus on shiny profit margins and pie charts that signal growth in customers. However, as we rightly ask for more from the organisations and leaders we engage with, an essential question organisations should ask alongside these metrics is — how can we nurture our teams as part of a winning strategy?
When we think about creating more human-first organisations that have the ability and agency to positively change the world we live in, an essential first step is starting to understand and value the needs of humans who work within these organisations.
This thinking requires a mental shift.
No longer would organisations focus on company benefits only to extract productivity, innovation, and creativity from their teams — sometimes known as the burn and churn of people. Instead they would also look at how they can enhance the holistic identities of their teams in order to help them expand their skills and reach their full potential for themselves and their communities.
Chief People Officer at Qualtrics, Russ Lawaray believes that doing so “can extend the life of employees at your company, but also bring clarity to how and when they should embark on the next stage in pursuit of their dreams.”
The importance of nurturing your people
Nurturing your people will be a future requirement of good leadership and essential in our fast changing and networked organisations. But even without a change in mindset and structure businesses will find nurturing their teams is a good business decision for their metrics today. Happy team members not only boost morale, productivity, and company revenue, but studies also suggest that replacing an employee can cost businesses up to six to nine months of their salary on average. Equally attracting the people they need will not be possible if they are not helping individuals and teams rapidly learn and accelerate in their careers.
If we zoom out further, not only does nurturing the needs and ambitions of your people serve in the best interests of business retention but as we think about how to build sustainable models of working and protecting our team’s mental health, physical health and curbing burn-out, nurturing those that work for us, is perhaps the only way forward in a fast-pace, chaotic environment. As Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard believes:
“there is a powerful connection between treating our things as disposable and treating the people who make these things as disposable.”
How to nurture your people: Patagonia leads the way
The idea of nurturing the people they employ with a long-term vision for their wellbeing and success is an idea that’s long been driven by Patagonia.
Known for its sustainable mission to save the planet, the outdoor apparel company, also has a mission to create sustainable working models for their people, taking its cue from the universal and ancient principles of agriculture.
“Regenerative agriculture says that instead of ripping into the ground at the end of the season, you just put a new seed in. You leave the community intact, and the seed goes into a rich growth community. I started to wonder, what processes do we have in HR that feel more extractive in nature, and what processes do we have that are more regenerative in nature?” says Dean E. Carter has been Vice President of Human Resources.
On a mission to save the whole planet, the Patagonia leadership realised that this includes the humans within it and more specifically the humans that worked to build their company. And it seems that this approach is working with a huge number of positive metrics including a turnover rate of only 4% — the average in US companies sitting around 22%.
While nurturing teams will be highly dependent on the contextual wants and needs of people at both a collective and individual level within your organisation, here are some examples of core principles in companies and leaders who facilitate these ideas.
1. Fostering a culture of holistic living
It’s not news that teams have lives outside of the workplace, but less thought is given to how workplaces can encourage their people to thrive within the different spheres that they inhabit.
Patagonia understands that those who work for them are likely find joy in the outdoors and have rolled out a work schedule that gives their people a three-day weekend every other week. Employees can work nine hours a day from Monday through Thursday and eight hours on alternating Fridays. Then they get every second Friday off.
“We hire people who love being outside, people who love the outdoors,” says Dean E. Carter, “so when the surf’s up, they’re going to be surfing anyway. If we didn’t have a Let My People Go Surfing Policy, we’d have a lot of performance action plans.”
Furthering this idea, Patagonia also offers subsidised, in-house childcare services and pays for nursing mums to bring their baby and a nanny along on business trips — the childcare benefit that has been offered since 1983. The result? Nearly 100% of new mums return to work at Patagonia.
While flexibility can look different for different team members, setting an ethos and a culture that embraces different flexible working arrangements and understands that productivity can fit outside a nine-to-five timeframe can help people feel valued, understood and importantly trusted to do great work alongside all the other requirements and commitments they have.
2. Facilitating learning and growth
Russ Laraway also believes that an essential way to nurture employees effectively is by helping them to articulate a long-term vision for their careers and helping them build tactical strategies to get there. As humans we have an intrinsic desire to grow, develop and tackle new problems. Laraway understands that if it’s not happening within his team’s current roles, they will try and find it elsewhere.
“Companies face both a threat and an opportunity when it comes to their employees’ long-term career aspirations. First, the threat: if managers just lead their employees merely with the day-to-day in mind, they’ll lose some of their best people sooner than they might have otherwise. Laraway has found that career conversations — deep, meaningful dialogue coupled with action plans around measurable goals — go a long way in keeping them around for longer.”
In addition to our desire to grow, we are now living in a time when the pace of change we are experiencing — in this moment — is the slowest we will experience in our lives. Thus as technological, cultural and social change speeds up all organisations are going to need to invest in scalable learning so their people and the organisation can thrive. This is going to change the concept of us preloading learning (school, university, colleges) to work and change it to working in order to learn!
“Work is where disruption is taking place, not in the classroom. Formal, structured education’s ability to simulate the transforming workplace decreases as the leading edge of technology rapidly advances. We must reverse this disconnection by bringing learning and work together.”
Dr. Sean Gallagher
This change in mindset is going to be the key to us succeeding as individuals and companies, and it starts with leaders understanding this and building an agile learning mindset themselves and in their organisations.
3. Adopting a serving mindset
Another principle in adopting a nurturing culture for their people is for leaders to take a position of servant leadership. This was a term first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf and asks for leaders to approach situations, organisations and colleagues from the perspective of a servant first — looking to lend their presence to answer the needs of the organisation and others. They also aim to address the wants and requirements of their teams with the goal of enrichment and growth.
“Your people will grow with or without you. The question is who will they grow into?” Laraway poses to those he speaks to.
As companies spend hours thinking about nurturing strategies for their customers, less often do they think about what it means to nurture those within our organisations in a way that meets their needs, wants, and even their dreams. And as we begin to usher in a new way of thinking about leadership and the way we work, assessing the organisations we are in and how we can start to build foundations that serve to sow seeds of growth is perhaps the only way forward.
The nurturing of people in organisations is a pretty obvious concept. As the earth needs to be nurtured or it turns to dust and erodes away, so do humans if they are seen as resources to extract from and allocate. Embracing these principles and the potential that is inside each person you work with, is part of the journey of becoming a leader.