Lessons From An African Chicken Farmer


What can we learn from a chicken farmer in Africa?  Peter is a chicken farmer and producer based in Eastern Africa.  He is ambitious, just like every entrepreneur I have had the pleasure to coach.  And like all my clients, he is teaching me.  In his case, he is teaching me a lot.

It would be easy for me to dismiss Peter because he is just starting out.  I’ve been working and learning for over 30 years now.  The thing is, people like Peter have so much to teach us.  Not because they know a lot but because they are so curious and eager to learn.  They will explore and do things I would most likely overlook.

The big question

My biggest learning from Peter arose earlier this week.  A couple of weeks ago I asked Peter to meet with his team to ask them what they cared about.  I ask this of many team leaders, and they usually come back with a nugget or two.  In Peter’s case, he came back with a treasure trove of learning.

Peter faces a challenge to reduce staff turnover.  Chicken farming is not seen as a high status business.  It is a good starting job before employees move up to bigger and better things.  Peter doesn’t see it this way, he wants to change the market for consuming chicken, and improve the lives of thousands of people.  As an aside, getting to work with people who have big ideas is an exciting part of my job.

So how could Peter reduce staff turnover?  We brainstormed some ideas and then agreed the best approach is to go and ask the team.  The best ideas are often the most simple, and most overlooked ones.

breakthrough Results

Peter shared the results of his conversations, they were amazing.  He has learned his staff would like to have an ownership share in the company.  They want to take on more responsibility.  They feel they have ideas to contribute that they haven’t been able to share to date.  Imagine being told your team wanted to act like an owner and take more responsibility?  This is a game changer for Peter.

So what can we learn from a chicken farmer in Eastern Africa?  Conversations are the basis of our success.  When we have meaningful conversations with our team members, good things will happen.  It sounds simple and in some ways it is.  It also takes courage to have the conversation.

Seeing how impactful these conversations are for Peter, what conversations do you need to have with your team members?  When are you going to have them?


Note:  I changed my client’s name to respect his confidentiality.