A few posts ago I wrote about Erica Andersen and her cool book, Growing Great Employees: Turning Ordinary People into Extraordinary Performers. Here’s part two of a Q&A with Erica. She’s the founder of Proteus International, a consulting firm that works with CEOs and top executives of many major corporations like Molson Coors Brewing, MTV Networks, and ESPN. Here is part two of a Q&A. Enjoy!
Q: I like your gardening metaphor very much. Can you give readers the “cook’s tour” of your useful and easy-to-apply comparison?
A: This may be a longer tour than you had in mind – but here are, in my mind, the key comparisons between gardening and managing:
1) You can’t make plants grow.
In my early gardening years, I was very impatient. After a few seasons, I finally figured out that you can’t actually make a plant grow. You can prepare the soil, buy the right plant for the space, create the optimum conditions for it to thrive – and then see what happens. As a manager, I came to the analogous conclusion: nothing I did would make employees grow. It became clear to me that, as in gardening, I could only establish a good environment, get the right “plant” for the workplace and the job, and create the optimum conditions for him or her to thrive.
2) You have to prepare the soil
When I first began gardening, I read an article about the importance of soil preparation, and it made a lot of sense to me. So I dug up the top layer of my soil, and mixed in lots of compost. My plants loved it. They put down roots and thrived.
For a manager, the analogue is listening. If you’ve ever worked for a manager who didn’t listen, you know what a thin, poor environment it creates. Listening to your employees (and your customers, colleagues and bosses!) is a powerful way to loosen things up and allow the exchange of information, insight and concerns to create a rich environment for innovation, learning, and results.
3) Get the right plants for your site
Year ago, as a gardener in Colorado, I quickly discovered the importance of selecting plants that would thrive in a dry climate. I could long for roses and delphiniums, but if I tried to plant them in my garden, they wouldn’t last long.
In the same way, I’ve noticed over the years that really good leaders get very clear about the kind of workplace they want to create, and the kind of jobs they have, so they’ll know what kinds of people will flourish there. Being able to pinpoint the characteristics of your workplace and your jobs will help you choose people who have those characteristics – and who will thrive in your environment.
4) Pruning, though weird, is essential
I suspect that every gardener experiences a moment of standing before a plant with a pair of pruning shears in hand, thinking, “Am I actually supposed to cut into this living thing with these sharp blades?” And the answer, oddly enough, is – yes. Plants do better when you cut away the dead or overgrown parts: then they can put their energy into growing strongly and cleanly toward the sun.