I recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica. It's a beautiful place filled with lush green forests and long, sandy beaches. I highly recommend it with the minor caution that it's still a country that is improving its infrastructure. Basically, that means that getting around is a long process, not for the faint of heart (lots of mountainous, cliff-edge roads) or the impatient (it takes about three hours to get anywhere).
Surrounded by a variety of nature, you can't help but think about rain forests, ecology, and sustainable/renewable resources. In addition, we saw quite a few eco farms and other volunteer service projects (here's one example near where we stayed) in our travels.
Costa Rica has protected about 25 percent of the country's land area and announced plans to become the first carbon neutral country by 2021. Pretty impressive, but logical when you think about it. They are trying to maintain and protect the one advantage they have over almost every other country: their natural resources. And so should you.
Think of your employees as your natural (human) resources. More importantly, think about your employees as renewable resources. A resource that is renewable is one that is not used up faster than it's replaced. So the question is: Are you using up your employees faster than you are retaining them, or replacing them?
We've written lately about employee dissatisfaction, and we've seen a trend toward more people leaving than getting laid off. Employees are forced to do more with less, wear multiple hats, or work longer hours. The result is that many companies are forced to try to sustain, renew, and build their resources all at the same time.
So where do you focus? My short answer is that you should focus on your current renewable resources -- your employees. It might be attractive to look outside for those dissatisfied employees looking for a change (and you should always be interviewing), but like Costa Rica, I think it's better to focus on what you have now.
The key is to work a "renewable resource" (also known as retention) strategy into your workforce strategies. That might mean re-evaluating your current strategy and adjusting your approach. For example, outsourcing recruiting or contract labor management.
Here are a few other ideas to think about:
Listen and engage. This is important anytime, but critical right now. Your resources might have ideas if you take the time to listen.
Get help. Look for ways to leverage contract workers or other outsourcing engagements to continue to push projects forward. Action and forward motion is always better than stagnation.
Challenge without overwhelming. Look for ways to divide the workload by challenging a variety of individuals, not just your go-to staff. You might find a diamond in the rough.
Segment and evaluate. Now's the time to take a look at your workforce and understand how you are using employees and non-employees. Just looking at it could give you new ideas to try.
In our challenging economy, we all need to think about the resources and advantages our companies have over the competition. And like Costa Rica, if we have limited resources, we need to focus on the resources we have and make the most of them.
One interesting story related to the history of Costa Rica is the story of Minor Cooper Keith. In the late 1800s, he was involved in building the railroad in Costa Rica, which was a financial disaster for him.
Instead of walking away, he turned to selling one of the country's prominent natural resources: bananas. In doing so, he made millions and single-handedly impacted trade and the economic future of Central America. It turns out it was the perfect, sustainable, and renewable resource.