Seed World

How Great Managers Keep Employees


Half of employee retention begins before you make the hire.

Have you ever had one of those work days when nothing went well? Your boss yelled at you, you felt overwhelmed, and you just didn’t want to do it anymore?

What about a day where everything went perfect? You received some praise, you finished all your projects on time, and you felt that this really was the place you were meant to be?

Both those days actually have a name: there are “shove” days (or days that make you want to leave) and “tug” days (days that make you want to stay), explains Leadership IQ Founder Mark Murphy, who spoke at the Independent Professional Seed Association’s Annual Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Yet, one of the most difficult things to realize as a manager is that everyone can have different “shoves” and “tugs.” What could be a tug day for one person could be a shove day for another. A manager needs to recognize the shoves and tugs for their best employees.

How do you manage that, though? How can you learn the shoves and tugs for all of your best employees?

It’s simple: he says, “You ask them.”

“What you cannot do is ask people ‘What demotivates you?’ You cannot ask in the abstract,” he says. “If you ask in the abstract, you’re likely to hear things like weather, location and money.”

When discussing demotivation, Murphy says that it’s important to ask very specific questions, because specific questions lend themselves to answers that a manager can fix. Managers can do nothing about the weather; you can’t make somewhere cold magically warm. Therefore, when holding this conversation, it’s best to ask direct, specific questions to find controllable solutions.

Angie Holm

Angie Holm, human resources head at Syngenta Seeds, LLC, agrees that employee engagement is key: “There’s a strong correlation between employee engagement and retention. When employees are aligned with the organization’s values, understand how their work helps deliver on the strategy, have meaningful development plans in place and work in an environment of trust, the workplace is both an engaging and exciting place to be.”

Holm says that it’s important to engage an employee as soon as they begin. “We focus on getting the best out of each other by enabling career development,” she says. “We are focused on helping employees understand their passions; we bring clarity to their roles and enable their development through solving business challenges. When employees are empowered, we all win.”

By encouraging employee engagement and learning specific things that demotivate employees, a company can increase employee retention.

Murphy notes that it usually takes four to five months after having honest conversations for employees to change from “suspicious” to “involved.” A suspicious employee doesn’t understand the reason behind the shoves and tugs conversation and gives superficial answers. However, after a “suspicious” employee sees and hears about some of the changes made, they change into an “involved” employee, or someone who actively participates in the conversation and openly speaks about challenges within the company.

“People need to know that what they do matters,” Holm says.

It’s also important to recognize the work style of employees. Murphy says that you might have a power-driven employee, who likes individual projects and gaining promotions, and you might have an affiliate-driven employee, who wants to feel like the company’s one big happy family. It’s necessary to note that not all companies are able to work with all types of employees.

For example, Murphy explains that it could be difficult for a power-driven employee to work with a more affiliate-type company — they don’t want a company that promotes “everyone’s equal” or where “we must come together for a 100 percent consensus before moving on.”

“Your company has a vibe to it,” Murphy says, explaining that it’s even possible for different sectors in your company to have different work cultures. For example, your sales department could have a different culture than your operations team. When you end up hiring someone who doesn’t fit your work culture, that person will generally be gone within six months.

“At Syngenta Seeds, we have a culture that is less interested in levels and hierarchy. Instead, it’s focused on hard work, collaboration and honesty,” Holm shares. “‘We are all in this together’ is a clear theme of how we treat and engage people.”

So how do you make sure it’s a good fit for everyone within your company?

It’s important to be honest with yourself about the culture of your company, and then to be transparent.

“Why people stay at an organization is a very personal decision,” Holm says. “What that means for employers is that it’s important to cultivate a culture where everyone feels they can be themselves. It’s up to us as leaders to understand what that is for each of our people.

“From a recruiting perspective, the most important consideration when advertising jobs is to share the culture and values of the organization,” Holm says. “For example, at Syngenta Seeds, we are currently looking to hire many positions to support our growth. We are looking for passionate people who want to make an impact in agriculture. To help convey the enthusiasm and passion that drives our business, we posted a video to explain our values to potential candidates so that they could understand how Syngenta could be the right fit for them.”

Murphy agrees: “People are more likely to stay with your company if they like the culture and if they believe you’re authentic.”

On the ground, this means instead of making a generic, boring job ad, it helps to look at your shoves and tugs and determine why people quit and why people stay. That way, you can determine your company’s culture and then write a job ad to include some of these concepts. By writing in “if you aren’t like this, then don’t apply,” Murphy suggests that you have the potential for higher retention.

“The typical job interview process fixates on ensuring that new hires are technically competent,” explains Murphy. “But coachability, emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament are much more predictive of a new hire’s success or failure. Do technical skills really matter if the employee isn’t open to improving, alienates their coworkers, lacks emotional intelligence and has the wrong personality for the job?”

When you’re authentic and transparent, you’re more likely to gain employees who match your company’s culture, and therefore, you provide a healthier work environment for them as well as obtain an employee that matches the desires of your company.

“In the end,” Holm says, “balance is an important part of life — both personally and professionally. As employers, respecting that reality is crucial to helping employees find fulfillment in their careers.”