The other weekend, I was walking around my neighborhood and was taken by the number of people who were outside, tending to their yards and gardens. People were weeding, planting, watering. Not surprisingly, the gardens that were getting the attention were really pretty. Not that other houses didn’t have lawns or flowers. They did, but many of them just seemed random and overgrown. It dawned on me then that gardening is a fantastic metaphor for how to nurture and manage Company Culture.
Whether or not you “tend to it,” culture will exist. Just like, even if you don’t water, plant, or weed, you’re likely to have some sort of greens growing in your yard. But, if you want your garden to be lush or if you want your Culture to be strong and a positive force on an organization that helps attract and retain people, you need to constantly pay attention and tend to them.
I was curious to see how well the gardening metaphor would fit culture so I searched instructions on how to have a nice garden. Below are the 10-step instructions I found on the Better Homes and Garden website and, wouldn’t you know it, the steps they outline for tending to a garden are very appropriate for tending to Culture.
Here are the steps, straight from the Better Homes and Garden site.
1. Get An Idea - Is this going to be a vegetable garden? An herb garden? A flower garden?
With culture, figure out what you need your culture to be – what behaviors you want people to exhibit, what skills you need, etc. – if you want your company to be successful.
2. Pick A Place - Almost all vegetables and most flowers need about six hours of full sun each day. Spend a day in your chosen spot and watch how the sun moves across the space.
In terms of culture, honestly assess the current environment. What about it fosters the kind of culture you want? What are its weaknesses? You need to know so that you can actively “cultivate” a good culture.
3. Clear The Ground - Get rid of the sod covering the area you plan to plant.
To manage culture so that it’s an asset, you have to not only enhance the good, but also diminish what runs counter to it. So, actively plan how you’re going to do things differently so that the “bad” is diminished.
4. Improve The Soil - Invariably, soil needs a boost.
Whereas Step 3 is to start diminishing that which detracts from your culture, this step is about boosting the “good.” Figure out what kinds of things would enhance your culture and implement those.
5. Dig Or Don't - Digging loosens the soil so roots can penetrate more easily. But digging when the soil is too wet or too dry can ruin its structure.
This one is interesting as it relates to culture. As mentioned above, regardless of whether you actively manage culture or not, it will exist. It is the by-product of every single person. In an ideal world, a really positive culture will evolve organically. But, sometimes, you need to guide it in the direction that supports your company. By the same token, you don’t want to force every component of culture. In other words, look around and embrace the things that are organically evolving in your company.
6. Pick Your Plants - Choose plants adapted to your climate, your soil, and the amount of sunlight in your garden.
This one is pretty basic – make sure you hire people who will be productive members of your community and who not only possess the technical skills, but also the company values.
7. Put Them In The Ground
Make sure you onboard people well. This means not only giving them insight into tools they’ll be using, benefits, etc. but also insight into the company vision, mission, strategy, values, etc.
8. Water - New transplants also need frequent watering -- every other day or so -- until their roots become established. After that, how often you need to water depends on your soil, how humid your climate is, and how often it rains.
Basically, this means keep actively tending to culture – make sure people get feedback, recognition, mentoring, training, etc.
9. Mulch - Same as Step 8:
Pay attention to how culture is evolving and manage accordingly.
10. Keep It Up
Your Cultural garden is on its way. Keep watering when needed, and pull weeds before they get big or overtake the plot. Culture management, like gardening, means staying active with how things are evolving and continuing to “weed,” “water,” and show TLC.
Managing culture is not an easy task. It definitely requires attention, effort and constant care to make it something that you are both proud of and enjoy, just like a garden. But, if you put the effort in and, better yet, surround yourself with others who are willing to lend their green thumbs to the endeavor, you can create a really amazing and award-winning culture.