Having grown up in the country, I know that farming can be a tough profession. The long hours, physical exertion, financial planning… the work doesn’t stop. However, in the rolling hills and green pastures in England’s south-west, at least we didn’t have to contend with hungry lions looking for an easy snack.
The story is rather different for some farmers in Namibia. Reading an article earlier this week it seems lion attacks are pretty much par for the course there.
According to the article, to combat this human–wildlife conflict, the farmers have traditionally approached it as a “management problem where solutions lie in technical changes or financial incentives”. This seems to make sense and may be a familiar approach for those of you who face external challenges in your own in businesses.
Indeed, in the face of external market forces or other pressures, companies often aim for process improvement and product innovation as they seek to get that edge on the competition – our own equivalent of a lion attack, if you will.
Finding the right strategy to give our companies the best safeguards against those “attacks” is crucial, whether it be to improve operational efficiency, increase employee engagement, having a greater customer focus, finding and developing the best talent or looking to product/service innovation.
So far the parallels between what happens on the farms and what happens in business in response to those attacks are pretty clear. However, in the article I was reading, those lions seemed to be selective about which farms they attacked in a way that external pressures on a business might not be.
Even more interestingly, the lions seemed to attack “racist” farms, or farms where the “predominantly white owners were racist and/or abusive to the invariably black workers”.
I admit, I clicked on the article because the title drew me in, I wasn’t expecting to end up reflecting on how this is a perfect (if extreme) example of something that we see every day in milder forms, namely: the unintended impact our own attitudes can have on those around us.
Without giving too much away, the gist of the article was that the lions do not actually discriminate or specifically choose racist farms to attack. All other things being equal, hungry lions are not the unlikely champions of human rights that the title would seem to suggest, and are just as likely to try to attack racist farm “a” as they would be to attack farm “b”, much in the same way that market forces or any other external events can indiscriminately put pressure on a whole industrial sector.
The key is in how prepared those farms are to deal with those attacks.
As part of the research into why some farms were disproportionately affected by lion attacks, the authors of the article “started to ask farmers and their staff more about their working relationships and how they felt about working on farms.”
This is what they found:
“What we discovered was there were farms where the managers were both racist and violent towards their workers, which demotivated employees to perform well at their jobs. Racist managers also tended not to see the benefits of training their staff in more effective livestock husbandry, meaning employees were not skilled in protecting their cows and sheep from predators.”
We know from our own research that motivated employees are more likely to go the extra mile, what we would call “discretionary effort”. What this study shows is not only that demotivated employees will not make any extra effort, but unhappy employees may actually actively harm your business.
Indeed, In the case of Namibia, farm owners’ behaviours caused their workers to sabotage efforts to avoid attacks and in fact made the situation worse: “Poor treatment of workers by farmers resulted in vengeful behaviors, such as livestock theft and wildlife poaching”. In a business context, where good treatment and high engagement leads to positive discretionary effort – what would “bad” treatment lead to?
Thankfully, the behavior of most of the companies we know of will not compare with the extremes of some of the farm owners, however it does provide us with an opportunity to reflect on where we focus for top performance.
Like it or not, lions are out there and will attack – the real question is: what are you doing with your employees to make sure you not only safeguard your business, but also grow it?
You can find links to the original articles below as well as a link to our linkedin company page where you can find information on how we help our clients around the world to safeguard and grow their businesses through effective leadership.