Start listening

Retain valuable employees by learning to communicate and developing goals.
A graphic of people having a conversation with the words "start listening."

Many business owners and managers in the irrigation and landscape lighting industries are worried that they cannot find good employees. The fact is, you will minimize that problem and do yourself a huge favor by engaging your team members and preventing the good ones from leaving in the first place. Remember the old, yet true, saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

What is your strategy to maximize your employees’ engagement and retention levels? If you don’t have an intentional strategy, then you have an unintentional strategy that disengages your employees.

Remember, the profitability and overall success of your company depends on how committed and engaged your team is. It doesn’t happen by accident, but by design. Why not start the next season with a plan to build and maintain a strategy to maximize the engagement levels of your team?

Here is a simple formula I created to help my clients make this happen in their organization.

I call it the START Formula for Employee Engagement and Retention.

S – Stop what you are doing and schedule time to sit down with your employees one at a time and have a heart-to-heart discussion with them.
T – Talk about what is important to them. Ask them about their family and their professional goals for the year.
A – Ask them what skills and tools they need to advance their career in your company.
R – Repeat back to them what you hear them saying. Look for ways you can support them in their quest for these skills and tools.
T – Take the time to periodically have a conversation about the progress they are making with their goals and how you and your organization are able to reinforce their efforts.

Strategy in motion

Let’s look at this formula in detail and see how you can put it to work for you.

Stop what you are doing. It is probably not the best strategy to believe that you will find some time in the future to “think more about” how you want to sit down and schedule heart-to-heart meetings with your employees. As consultant and author Mel Robbins says in her book titled “Stop Saying You’re Fine,” if you can’t commit to doing something within the next five seconds, the chance of you doing it at all diminish rapidly. So, to make something happen and set yourself up for success, get into action by taking the first step within the next five seconds.

Talk to them about what is important to them. Too often we talk with others about what is most important to us. We forget that they have a family. They have personal issues. They have hopes and dreams that most people never really ask them about or take the time to listen to them about.

Ask them what skills and tools they need to take their job performance to the next level. I remember when I was 15 years old and I wanted to learn how to play the guitar. I went to my parents and they agreed to let me start taking lessons. However, with three older sisters, a younger brother and my dad’s blue-collar factory job as our sole source of family income, there was not much extra money to go around for luxuries like a new electric guitar. They suggested I use my dad’s old classic guitar until I could save up enough money from my part-time job at a car wash to buy it.

The neck was too big for my fingers and the steel-wound strings were brutal on my fingertips. I used it for about six months until I was able to save up the money to buy my first pre-owned Fender Duo Sonic II electric guitar and an amplifier. As soon as I started playing that electric guitar on that amplifier, my desire to play the guitar skyrocketed.

Here is my point. It is a lot more fun and enjoyable when you have the right tools to do your job. Think of that from your employees’ perspective. Ask them about what tools they could use to do their job better and take their performance to the next level.

Repeat back to them what you hear them saying and look for ways you can support them in their quest for these skills and tools. Once they tell you which skills and tools they need, ask them, if they were to acquire these, how it would help them do their job more effectively and efficiently. Be open to seeing how these classes, training, coaching, and equipment or software upgrades will help them be more productive and not just an unnecessary expense. Once you come to an agreement, make sure they get the training, coaching and tools they need and want.

Take time to periodically have a conversation about the progress they are making. From time to time, on a regular basis, make time to have short conversations on the progress they are making. Offer suggestions and additional help as needed. The key point is to keep this dialogue going on a regular basis. This will help to eliminate any snafus that are sure to happen on their journey to professional development.

Remember, your biggest enemy is not your budget or your competitors. It is that nasty “I” word: inertia. This is the inertia you use that prevents you from moving forward on the good ideas you come across in your professional and personal life.

Tom Borg is a business consultant who works at the intersection of leadership, communication and culture. As a thought leader, he works with his green industry clients and their leadership teams to help them connect, communicate and work together better without all the drama. To ask him a question please call 734.404.5909, email him or visit his website at

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