I’ve always loved growing things. As a child, I’d wait with fascination to see how the little seed in the cup would turn into, first a little green sprout, and then a beautiful flower. But it took patience to get to the bloom, and that wasn’t always my strong suit.
Over the years, I’ve expanded my skills as a gardener both indoors and out, and I’ve come to appreciate the parallel between growing a beautiful landscape and growing a healthy culture. I’ve learned that, in order to surround myself with beautiful growth, I have to take the time to cultivate the soil with nutrients and aggressively prune back unhealthy branches to allow the best to take root and expand. Your culture is no different. If you want to have a positive and healthy culture, you need to have the patience to lay the foundation (mission, vision, values and standards), and have the courage to trim away what isn’t working, whether that is old processes or disengaged, resistant staff. That’s hard. It takes patience and guts at the same time.
A few weeks ago I was consulting with a large organization whose leaders are striving to make significant culture change. During an employee focus group, one of the discussions touched on the hardship of working short-staffed and with disengaged, negative people. I asked the group if they would rather work short or work with a disengaged individual. Virtually every group said they would forego full staffing if it meant working with negative individuals. They would rather work short than have to work with negative co-workers.
This was an eye-opener for many of the leaders. They were afraid to prune back the negative, disruptive people because it would leave a void in the staffing for a period. But just like in gardening, sometimes you have to trim back the old in order to focus the nutrients on new and better growth.