Commentary

Crop rotation in the human workforce

April, 2022

By: Frank Olsson

President of New Zealand Europe Business Council

Success as a leader and manager is related to being a role model and inspiration for everyone we deal with. This is not in itself enough as we naturally need some expertise and qualifications for whatever business we are in. My contention is that in recruiting and promoting, the hard skills-side of the equation is over-weighted, and the interhuman soft skills are underrated.

It is through inspiration, team spirit and showing the way that leverage of the many can be mobilized and take us to higher levels. Unless you are radiating harmony and confidence, how are you ever going to inspire others to feel enthusiastic and apply their wits to the progress of your agreed purpose, vision, and goals?

To stay at the top of our capabilities, we need to project positively to all we interact with, and this is only possible with a commitment to lift spirits, your own, and those around you. This projection is not limited to staff, customers, or any other segment of stakeholders. For impact and credibility, it needs to be 360 degrees and be practiced at all times. Sounds like a big ask? Yes, it is, but it is very rewarding for others and self.

A familiar concept in agriculture is crop rotation. By shifting grains used in a regular fashion, not only are yields increased but environmental effects are also very positive. How does crop rotation help the environment? Less fertilizer is required and less pollution is emitted. The addition of a single small grain crop can reduce fossil fuel use, pollution and damages by about one-half, according to research.

My view is that similar gains are achievable with a human workforce if well led and structured. Challenges for all endeavours requiring participation by many people is dwindling motivation, monotony, fatigue, stress and boredom. Addressing these issues, I contend, has the potential to make a significant difference to the wellbeing of your people and organization.

Anything we do for too long gets tedious and exhausting. The concept of crop rotation has equal value for us as human beings in terms of what we can and should do to keep fatigue and boredom at bay. Our minds and bodies become less productive by monotonous use for a single cause.

The potential in applying these principles to our work and private lives are obvious. Try to break out briefly every hour, if only for a couple of minutes. You don’t have to do something non-work, just changing the gist of what you do can suffice. A phone call rather than writing, a personal meeting rather than analyzing, a walk to the water cooler, moving around among your people asking them how they are doing – reminding yourself and those around you that we are first and foremost human, and workers second. It doesn’t have to be long – a few minutes can do the job. Lunch offers an opportunity to refocus as well, and it is good to try to have lunch with someone, preferably different people, to learn something new and pick up on currents and views. Where the culture and climate are good, learning is a privilege rather than a chore. People naturally want to learn. 

Another analogy is that when your PC starts to act up you re-boot and that normally takes you back into action. I believe it is the same with us humans. We need to re-boot regularly, just as flowers benefit from re-potting. Schooldays are normally structured with regular breaks. This is not a waste of time but reinvigorates brains and bodies for more learning or the next challenge.

Leaders and mangers need to be seen to be human, lest you risk alienating yourself from customers and staff who are bound to have normal human feelings and aspirations. You have to be careful that your desire to be a good role model doesn’t backfire, such that you are in fact looking more like a machine than a human. Working long hours and looking exhausted are not success criteria. If that is required all the time you may lose perspective and reduce opportunities for people to regenerate their energies for the next challenge. 

Under normal conditions, you should operate with a degree of reserve, i.e., retain a quantum of space and energy to bring out in an emergency, just as any budget should provide for contingency. When exhausted, your ability to role model care and enthusiasm and to be inspirational are also likely to be reduced. Retaining your sense of balance and being well rested is important but rarely get a mention in management literature. Granted, some people need to be wound up a little, but particularly among young professionals the problem is more often the opposite; an urge to run faster, produce more and work longer hours in a quest to show commitment, often to the detriment of balance, good judgment and sound prioritizing.

A really valuable employee, especially on management level, not only does his / her job well, but ensures that he / she is an inspiration for all around them to be motivated, happy, and appreciated. 

frank@olsson.co.nz

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