A few years ago at my firm, we were doing culture workshops with teams around the world. In Houston, one group talked about a specific value/operating principle, ENGAGED – “Actively Play Your Part in Making Marsh Extraordinary.” There was a discussion about the idea of the proverbial grass being “greener” at competitors.  Colleagues shared, “at Aon they do this or at Willis they do that” and that maybe everyone should go work elsewhere. At the back of the room, some very wise woman piped up and said, “If the grass is brown, water your own damn grass!” Amen - I couldn’t have said it better!

Jumping the fence

It’s typical to think that if we are dissatisfied at work then we should jump the fence and leave for somewhere else where grass is green. And it seems like an efficient, low-risk, low-effort sort of thing. This ain’t it so we go somewhere else. Yet consider the idea of transforming the grass where you currently are from brown to green. It’s about being a citizen of your firm and taking ownership of that community. Fundamentally, it’s about stepping up and being a leader regardless of your role or position, title or level. 

What's causing the drought

It helps to know where the brown grass is by understanding the source of your dissatisfaction. Typically it falls into one (or more) of these four categories:

1. Your job - specifically what you expect or desire to get out of that role, including the work that you do, the rewards and the scope of responsibility.   

2. Quality of relationship with your manager - this is a huge one. Do you get each other? Do you get support and guidance? Do you have style that works? Do you understand how to be successful with each other? Do you trust each other?

3. The work environment - What's the context for work?  What’s the culture like? How does it feel to walk in and be in the office?  And, is the culture something that works for you and something that you like being part of?

4.  The type of organization - Is this a high growth company? Is it a turn around? What's the mission of the org and do they live up to it? 

Taking ownership

Understanding why you are dissatisfied can help you pinpoint exactly where you need to aim that sprinkle.  When you figure out what is driving your dissatisfaction, determine which drivers you think are addressable.  It may be that you are in an industry that is inherently risk-averse so the type of organization and the work environment is conservative at all firms in that field. Moving to a competitor in the same industry is not going to solve that. So it is not something you are going to be able to transform.  But maybe there is something that is workable. If things are chaotic and disorganized, that is something where you can bring structure, process and order.  So take that on, work with your management and look at what you can get done. Think of it as homesteading or community gardening; taking an area that was either untouched, neglected or abandoned and then taking ownership and transforming it into something great.

Low risk strategy

Watering your own brown grass can be a lower risk strategy than jumping the fence to another firm for greener grass.  This is because you have much more data about your current situation or current firm than you would about some potential hypothetical at a competitor or some other type of company.  You probably have a lot of “known knowns” and have a decent point of view of what's movable and what’s not. Engaging in a discussion with sensible management at your firm can help you validate your assessment.   

The upside

If you are able to grow green grass at your own firm, it is extremely rewarding.  You will feel accomplished knowing that you’ve been able to transform something.  Plus, you will have the confidence to be able to “green up” brown grass that you may find later in your career in other roles or at other firms. Being a green thumb has the potential to take your career to new heights because the things that dissatisfy you probably dissatisfy other people too.  They probably reduce morale and hinder performance, which increases the likelihood and speed in which employees jump the fence. If you are able to address these issues, you will be recognized as someone that makes the environment better for everyone. which will only bolster your career opportunities and your personal brand at your current firm.  


So next time you’re considering jumping the fence for greener grass instead, why don’t you grab the hose and water your own damn grass! 

Photo Credit: Creative commons-licensed photo provided by Monkey Mash Button  http://www.flickr.com/photos/monkeymashbutton/