Whose Garden are you Growing?

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

I would like to take this opportunity to thank those previous employers who once treated me poorly. 

I’m not being facetious. I am truly grateful to them for providing environments in which I grew in patience, resilience, empathy and understanding, all while learning from both their and my mistakes. It took me a while to recognize that they were growing me for the benefit of others they would never know. Truly, I wouldn’t be who I am today without these people.  

Truth is, every employer is growing a garden. The only question is whose garden are you growing?

Growing your people

I’m not much of a gardener, but I have friends who are exceptional gardeners.

It’s a lot of work. Breaking ground, tilling, sowing, watering, feeding, de-weeding, and pruning are common activities requiring constant attention. Then there’s a litany of not so common activities: deciding what to grow, planning when to plant your seeds, fencing in your garden to keep out scavengers, maintaining your tools, and protecting your garden from pests are a few of these activities. 

Organizational culture is similar to a garden. It, too, has many correlated activities. Interviewing, hiring, onboarding, training, teaching and correcting are a few of those activities. There’s also mediating disputes, improving communication, and ensuring healthy relationships for employees and customers alike. And let’s not forget leadership and vision casting, not to mention the actual operations everyone is charged with performing. 

People, like plants, need care and attention, perhaps even more so. I’m confident that, for every gardening activity, there is a correlated organizational activity. 

How are you going to grow your employees when you might not know what they need?

This analogy 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, requiring 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 and their associated skill sets in your organization (good luck with that), this would only mean that the organization can’t function or grow without you. Goodbye vacations. 

For the rest, how are you going to grow your employees when you might not know what they need?

The fortunate thing about both plants and people is that you don’t grow them, at least not directly. Instead, you provide the right environment for them to grow. Each of the activities listed above, if done correctly, provides a healthy environment. It’s up to leadership to provide the environment, and just as a neglected garden is easy to identify, neglected organizations also reflect the level of care and effort provided by leadership. 

Are you addressing the needs of your employees? Do you know what those needs are? Have you conducted a comprehensive needs assessment capturing those challenges? If so, when and how often? 

Are you humble enough to accept what your employees tell you? Do you have the will and courage to act on what they tell you? Are you willing to create the kind of environment where people can thrive? Or is your garden neglected?

This is the kind of Q and A true leaders engage in everyday. When your focus is people first, it comes as easy as grandma puttering around in her garden.  

If not, your people will still grow, just as something will take root in a neglected garden. Although neglected organizations sap the spirit of many, some overcome in spite of the stress. Suffering either forms good character, or kills it, and good leaders earn what they possess. 

And when they have given you all they can, earning the growth they gained in the process, they’ll find a better garden and give their best fruits to someone else, all while leaving you with the weeds.

So I’ll ask you again: whose garden are you growing?

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