As talent development professionals, we are relied upon to serve as the master gardeners of sorts for our organizations, constantly preparing a rich foundation to optimize performance, planting seeds to ensure a robust workforce, and growing star performers that contribute to a company’s prize season.
As gardeners know, any single day’s activity isn’t performed in isolation. Tasks build upon one another to form an entire year’s harvest. At a certain time of year, for example, roses are pruned back to the point where they’re almost unrecognizable. Pruning is a calculated activity, practiced by the most skillful of gardeners. When timed just right, it produces its greatest reward months later.
We see similar exercises in business, too. Midyear budget revisions provide a greater likelihood that annual forecasts stay on track. Performance reviews summarize employee results, highlighting key strengths and offering feedback on skills to develop in the coming year. Succession planning efforts establish long-term, strategic plans and create an ongoing supply of well-trained people ready to step into key positions as needed. While these individual efforts are often cumbersome, when done effectively their yield is strong.
What lessons from prize-winning gardeners can we borrow to enhance leadership success?
Start from the ground up. People require different elements to reach their potential. To develop a plan of growth, first assess the climate. Leaders with a strong sense of strategic vision may be quite disconnected from the perceptions and attitudes of their staff. To be successful, organizations must understand and meet the unique needs of their employees. Creating optimal conditions in which people can thrive includes ensuring a sense of purpose is felt, that people feel recognized for contributions and have growth opportunities. Much like a gardener analyzing soil, you need to do a climate survey to assess whether an existing business environment is poised for optimal health.
Honor natural life cycles. To everything there is a season. If your organization is in its infancy or is launching a new product line, strategy and innovation will be key elements to achieve success. Large growth periods need substantial investment in human capital and infrastructure. Growth inevitably slows, allowing for other opportunities to fine tune existing resources. And still, there may be unpredictable or volatile years resulting in decline. Monitor conditions carefully and use the appropriate tools and materials for the season upon you, always planning for what lies ahead.
Look for dead wood. Where are you investing time and energy that is no longer serving your organization’s core strength? One doesn’t need to wait for a particular time of year to take part in this exercise. Regularly assess whether or not your time is being spent on those business priorities that yield the greatest results. The Pareto principle teaches us that, for many events, 80 percent of results are generated by only 20 percent of our activity. Remove completely those tasks that drain your time without return on investment. Delegate small items, avoid the pitfalls of moral judgments and “shoulds,” and instead pay attention to where you get the most bang for your buck.
Know what disease looks like. Are you continually running on empty due to spreading yourself too thin? To reach optimal productivity requires good health. Ensure you’ve got the right nutrients to sustain peak performance. Schedule walking meetings to get fresh air and exercise. A change of scenery can inspire creativity and help generate new ideas. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. If your environment has become toxic due to a particular employee, invest in addressing the issue to avoid spreading this type of sickness to your teams. Conversely, morale is an indicator of well being.
Adapt to your environment. Your ability to adjust to changing situations and circumstances is one of the most valuable skills to contribute to the workplace. Just as a change in climate requires plants to acclimate, constant shifts in business demand leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence who see value in new opportunities rather than shying away from them. Adaptability isn’t simply a matter of survival of the fittest leader. Rotating employees into different positions as a regular practice better equips the entire workforce.
Understand that weak stems don’t produce vibrant blooms. When companies participate in the social promotion of staff, selecting the most technically savvy or senior employee to run a team rather than an individual exhibiting the skills needed to successfully manage people can cost the business millions. Effective managers inspire teams. They are able to articulate their vision and build the trust and relationships needed to execute that vision. This trust promotes a culture of accountability where people know what’s expected of them and how their individual work contributes to the greater good. Don’t recruit or promote an employee based on performance in a different set of conditions expecting similar results. Teams, and ultimately businesses, will never fully blossom in these circumstances.
Remember that growth is continual. No matter how effective in your role, keep stretching yourself to greater levels of capability. Much like prized roses, this may require training or structural support. Create a development plan aligned with the growth of the business. Where might there be opportunities in the coming 1-3 years that you can prepare yourself for today? Assess your current skills and map out an action plan to address any gaps. Identify resources available to assist you in achieving your goals, whether finding a mentor, taking advantage of a tuition reimbursement program or stretch opportunities where you can gain a new skill through a new work project or by serving on a committee.
As a master gardener of talent development, you are tasked to create conditions that assist individuals to be successful. With thoughtful planning and ongoing maintenance, you and your organization will also reap many benefits, including: lifelong learning, stress relief, economic success, and community building.
© 2016 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.