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Why Managing People Is Like Gardening

Why Managing People Is Like Gardening

by Frank Roche on May 23, 2007

in Management


I spent a lot of time in my garden this past weekend. I like gardening, especially the quiet time to do a little thinking. And often, when I have time to think, I think about HR. (Yeah, I know there are other things to think about, but I was gardening and Dancing With the Stars wasn’t going to be on for a couple of days.)

Good HR is Like Good Gardening
I was spraying Miracle Grow on my plants. I doused the forsythia, soaked the Austrian Pines, and gave a good drink to the cherry trees. My wife spent the whole day outside, too, weeding, cleaning, and pruning. (See where all this is going?) And as I was using the Miracle Grow, I thought about how good HR is like good gardening. Here’s how:

  • Fertilize Frequently. Sure, plants will grow on their own…as long as the conditions are right, you prepared the soil just so, and they’re placed in the right location. But how often do all those circumstances come together? Also, you want your plants to grow healthy, strong, and quickly. You don’t have a lifetime. And it’s the same with your employees: Sure, they can grow on their own, but how much fertilizer — and I don’t mean manure — do you use on them? Isn’t it better to use the equivalent of Miracle Grow on them? To give them all the advantages you can to help them grow as quickly as they can?
  • Pull Weeds When They’re Small. Weeding is best done when weeds are small and before they get established. Plus, weeds pop up all over the place, and you have to be diligent to keep a clean garden that thrives and looks like what you imagined. Have you ever left what we used to call a “pricker bush” grow for a few weeks in May, then when you go to pull it out the thorns stick in your hands and you can’t really get the entire root? That’s what happens when you let little problems grow into big ones. How many times have you said to yourself, “I should have gotten rid of him when I had the chance,” and then had to deal with the repercussions of progressive discipline and severance payments? Weeding out prickly and unwanted employees early is a real necessity.
  • The Best Time to Plant a Tree is Ten Years Ago. This is one of my all time favorite sayings. And, it’s just so true. New gardeners are always tempted to plant showy annuals. They’re easy, they’re not fussy and they don’t cost much. Plus, they don’t really require much in the way of preparation — buy a flat of petunias, plop them in, and voila: instant garden. Kinda. Actually, knowledgeable gardeners know to plant trees first. Trees start slowly, but they form the basis of an entire garden. They anchor the plants and they tie all the garden elements together. If you mean what you say about talent management, then selecting talent for 10 years down the road, and nurturing that talent, will pay off greatly. Great companies know this formula and the difference between petunias and oaks.

How Does Your Garden Grow?
Those are three major elements that link gardening and HR practices. There are a number of links, which I’ll write about in the next week or so. Those include:

  • Water Deeply
  • Select The Right Plants for Your Climate
  • Some Plants Like Full Sun and Some Like Shade: Know the Difference
  • Managing Garden Pests
  • Keeping the Roots Cool: The Benefits of Mulch
  • Plant Diversity Makes for Interesting Gardens
  • Concentrating Visual Focus: The Rule of Three
  • Good Gardening Requires Getting a Little Dirt Under Your Fingernails

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