Agriculture is the cultivation of plants, fungi and growth of animals and other life forms for food, fibre, bio-fuel, medicinal and other products used to sustain and enhance human life. Until the Industrial Revolution, the vast majority of the human population laboured in agriculture. Initially, agriculture was subsistence farming for self-consumption, but in the last century with the opening of world markets, agricultural techniques and methodology have vastly improved. Although many of these have increased crop yield, they have at the same time caused widespread ecological damage and negative human health effects. Selective breeding and modern practices in animal husbandry have similarly increased the output of meat, but have raised concerns about animal welfare and the health effects of the antibiotics, growth hormones and other chemicals commonly used in industrial meat production. Genetically modified organisms are an increasing component of agriculture, although they are banned in several countries.
In the last couple of decades, there have been worldwide cries for more sustainable and human-friendly/land-friendly farming practices. Organic farming has become very popular, excluding the use of “unnatural”/synthetic farming aids and relying on “natural” (such as bone meal from animals or pyrethrin from flowers) products to enhance growth. Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony. There has been further research into the use of probiotics – the development and production of non-toxic, fully bio-degradable and sustainable probiotic-based chemical alternatives. These products have been designed as a direct replacement to many man-made toxic chemicals currently being used in homes, commercial businesses and agriculture operations and they are having great results.
The above concerns regarding sustainability and the general health of the human being and the environment equally should be the concerns of leadership in business today. Executives want growth in their respective businesses, but are their attempts at this development sustainable and human-friendly? Too often one hears of radical interventions that produce immediate cost-saving measures, but damage employees, clients or the brand/s in the process. Perhaps business executives and other leaders need to heed the basic agricultural principles that nature offers:
- Understanding the ground – from an agricultural perspective, is the ground suitable for crops or livestock? If crops, what kind would flourish? If livestock, how hardy do the animals need to be to survive with minimal care and attention? From a leadership view, what is the right strategy to follow? How can we optimise the conditions that we have to make money sustainably? What should we really be doing? Do we understand the business cycles (the timing – e.g. speciality biscuits sell well in holiday periods)?
- Ploughing the ground – the ground needs to be prepared for an optimal growing season. Special care needs to be given to nurturing fertile soil. Business executives need to focus on change leadership – how do we need to prepare the employees for the envisaged way ahead? What vision needs to be communicated? Are there any new skills that need to be taught?
- Planting the seed – making sure that seed is planted appropriately and has the best chance of successful growth. Seed only germinates under the ground – care needs to be taken to get the seed to the correct depth. As managers, we need to ensure that people are fulfilling the roles that are appropriate to their giftedness. Are they at the correct level for them to be able to express themselves fully?
- Nurturing the growth – administering the nutrients and creating the right environment for optimal development. Within business, this not only refers to training and development and the provision of workshops and resources that enhance skills, but also to a learning environment where information is passed freely across levels in the organisation.
- Reaping the harvest – gathering the ripened fruit and getting it to market. In the work environment, this refers to capitalising on the assets (employees) that have been developed, empowering them and giving them worthwhile projects and responsibilities to fulfil. This “setting the employee free” to express him/herself and demonstrate value is a critical component of employee retention and the growth of confidence amongst the staff.
- Rewarding the labourers – making sure that salary/bonus is commensurate with the work that has been accomplished to get the products to the market finally. In business, unrewarded effort, innovation and project success leave feelings of emptiness. Recognition and reward are seen as expressions of value for teams and employees and boost spirit and confidence.
Cultivating success requires leadership influence. This organisational development process is strategic to build the necessary capacity to ensure sustainability and ongoing business growth. Tapping in to the creativity and passions of your people will give your business a strategic advantage and will, in all likelihood, impact staff retention positively.