I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the organizations I once worked for who treated me poorly. I’m not being facetious. Thank you, for providing an environment from which I grew in resilience while practicing empathy and learning from my, as well as your, mistakes. My current and future employers will likely thank you as well, even if they don’t know who you are. Truly, I wouldn’t be who I am without you too. I’m sorry for not telling you sooner; I didn’t recognize the value of what you gave me.
I’m not much of a gardener, but I have friends who are exceptional gardeners, and it’s a lot of work. Breaking ground, tilling, sowing, watering, feeding, deweeding, and pruning are just the common activities for whatever you’re growing. Then there’s a litany of not so common activities: planning, calculating, fencing, maintaining your tools, and protection from a host of factors.
Organizational culture is similar to a garden and has many correlated activities. Interviewing, hiring, installing (of new hires), paying, training, mitigating, and correction, along with vision casting, calculating (math is math), settling disputes, seminars and industry news, and legality. Neither list is exhaustive, and yet I’m confident that for every one, there is a corresponding other.
It raises a simple question: what are you growing?
Just saying you are growing your employees is not an answer, anymore than if I said I was growing fruits and vegetables in my garden. Different staff fill different roles, and require different skill sets to grow. Unlike plants, there are far more varieties of people than there are plants in a garden, and their care is more complicated than just watering them with a paycheck.
Even if you’re the guru who comprehensively knows all the roles in your organization (good luck with that), this would mean it can’t function without you (no vacations!). For the rest of us, how are you going to grow your employees when you might not know what they need?
The beautiful thing about plants and people is you don’t need to grow them; you just need to put them in the right environment and watch them grow. It’s up to leadership to provide the environment. People, like plants, need the same care and attention, perhaps more so.
Just as a neglected garden is easy to identify, organizations also reflect the level of care and effort leadership places in their staff. Are you addressing the needs of your employees? Do you truly know what those needs are? Have you conducted a needs assessment, comprehensive enough to capture their challenges? If so, when and how often?
Are you humble enough to accept what your employees tell you, no matter how much it may sting? Do you have the will and courage to act on what they tell you? Do you have awareness of what you don’t know? Can you incorporate others on your team who may have the answers you don’t, regardless of their position in the organization? Are you bold enough to ask them for their solutions and humble enough to accept their ideas?
These are the kinds of questions and answers servant-leaders engage in everyday. When your focus is people first, it comes as easy as grandma puttering around in her garden.
Is your garden neglected? Just like something will still take root in a neglected garden, some employees will still grow in a neglected organization among the weeds, and this is also natural. Although neglected gardens sap the spirit of many people, some overcome, not in spite of the stress, but because of it. Suffering either forms character or kills it, and good servant-leaders have earned what they have. When they have given all they can, and earned all they were meant to earn, they’ll be offered a better garden and they’ll leave you with the weeds. It happens, no matter the culture.
Which leads to a parting question. Whose garden are you growing?