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Retaining Top Talent

The Guileful Glamour of Greener Grass

We've all heard the age-old adage that "the grass is always greener on the other side." It's a sentiment that resonates deeply, often driving us to seek new opportunities and experiences in the pursuit of something better. Many of our clients have shared their accounts of these quests, where individuals within their organizations set sail for the allure of greener pastures, only to find themselves retracing their steps back to familiar shores.


This phenomenon is rooted in a cognitive bias known as the “focusing illusion” – a tendency to magnify the importance of one aspect while neglecting the broader context. Just as we view a distant lawn as greener due to our limited perspective, we can fixate on specific aspects of new opportunities while downplaying potential downsides. The result? A journey embarked upon with high hopes, only to be met with the stark realization that the perceived advantages were mere mirages.


The focusing effect explains why, when we are dissatisfied with one or a few aspects of our jobs or organizations, we imagine that any job without those specific problems will be superior. This ignores many other facets that might be better, the same, or worse in any new position. Our minds often disregard the familiar and mundane, allowing us to focus on potential threats or irritants, while swiftly adapting to and ignoring what is pleasant.

If we're not careful this effect can severely hinder our goal setting and strategic planning. Frequently, goals are set in response to deficiencies or problems that we see the organization is facing. In doing so we take for granted strengths we have in other areas and end up unconsciously ignoring them. Such a process results in a yoyo effect; we end up accomplishing the stated goal and solving the problem… in doing so, we take our attention off of the former strength… which becomes tomorrow's problem. And the cycle repeats: brown grass to green grass to brown grass to green grass. Ensuring that goals are declared in areas that are already strong in addition to areas we want to develop is crucial to a balanced planning process.

This illusion isn't limited to the professional realm; it extends to our personal relationships as well. We tend to magnify a few traits and give them undue priority when comparing current relationships with potential new ones. However, this can lead to overlooking the holistic dynamics that shape our connections. Couples may imagine that a new partner without specific flaws would be a superior match, only to discover that the new partner comes with their own set of habits or features.

But here's the twist: the return effect – the magnetic pull that draws individuals back to their origin. The very pastures they deemed less verdant regain their allure. This nuanced interplay of perception, change, and adaptation offers invaluable insights for leaders and employees alike.

If we leave employees to their own view of reality, there's a high probability that the focusing effect will cause some to seek employment elsewhere. They focus on the deficiencies or problems of our organization and take for granted… unconsciously the strengths or benefits, in fact they don't even notice all the positives and strengths. The focusing effect instructs us that we must direct our employees focus to all of the strengths that they might take for granted. This, in itself, can be a strategy to improve employee retention.

In the context of leadership, this journey underscores the significance of holistic evaluation and the fallacy of fixating on isolated challenges. It reminds us that while change can be transformative, it's our ability to navigate complexities that truly defines our journey. Rather than chasing an illusory ideal elsewhere, we are prompted to introspect and nurture our current environment, fostering growth and resilience.

Do you know where the grass is actually always greener? 

Where you choose to water, tend, cultivate, and remain committed. Don't fall for the illusion that the solution to your leadership frustrations, work tensions, and life struggles is "out there somewhere." True transformation starts from within, where the seeds of commitment and mindfulness are sown, cultivating a landscape of authentic growth and fulfillment.


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