NPR posted a blog a few days ago discussing a new theory about what may have happened at Easter Island. Easter Island, if you don’t remember, is an island in the Pacific Ocean where the famous and mysterious giant head statues (moai) are located. It has been long thought that Polynesians, whether a family or individuals, canoed to the island and created a small colony. At the time it was settled, the island had an enormous number of trees (the article cites as many as 16 million) and within a few years the settlers, who were farmers, had burned down essentially all of the trees to clear land for farming. As a result of this exploitation, resources became thin and eventually the people died out.
However, a new theory has emerged which hypothesizes that Easter Island was actually a sort of success. The Polynesian settlers that came over in canoes brought rats with them. The rats, in a very short period of time, multiplied at a furious rate and began eating the root systems of the trees. Essentially limiting the ability for new trees to grow. While the humans did cause some of the damage to the ecosystem, rats decimated the resources.
So what were the inhabitants to do? In order to eat, the new theory is that they ate the rats and were able to grow at least a minor amount of vegetation. And thus the community survived for a significant amount of time and was considered a success.
This got me thinking about business, and how businesses operate. How many businesses consider themselves a success but are, essentially, eating rats to do it?
Some things to think about:
– When you accept a customer, are you doing so just because you need the income, even if you don’t like the ethics of the company or the personnel working there?
– Is morale among your employees exceptionally low or employee turnover unnecessarily high?
– Is there a high burn-out rate in your company? Are employees, especially the ones near the bottom, drones doing menial process jobs with little satisfaction?
– Is growth stagnant, but at least you’re still covering your expenses?
These are signs that you may be surviving on rats. Your business isn’t failing, but the day to day life is unpleasant. Other companies in the same industry seem to have more fun, more profit, more growth, higher enjoyment and success rates. They’re probably not eating rats, but instead have learned to make tasks meaningful and give employees a sense of ownership over their work. They enjoy their customers and feel they are able to select prospects that are a good fit for their business.
So how does a company begin to change?
– Give your employees a sense of accomplishment and pride in their jobs. Teach them to do more than just processes.
– Listen to employee feedback and take it seriously. Good ideas don’t always come from the top, and oftentimes the best ideas come from those in the trenches.
– Empower your employees to make decisions. Maybe it’s not possible to allow them to make company-altering choices, but the simple act of giving them trust and ownership over their work can go a long way.
Don’t settle for eating rats to survive.