Are weeds choking your corporate garden?

I’d venture a guess that many corporate executives are lousy vegetable gardeners. They don’t tend to their people gardens either; regular care and feeding are tasks that fall to the bottom of the To Do list. After awhile, the garden gets overgrown with some bad weeds, who start impeding the growth of the more valuable plants.

Eventually, the corporate gardener can no longer ignore the fact that the garden has become a tangled mess of poor performance. The bottom line suffers; the vegetables are small and the yield is disappointing. The weeds have taken over and the best plants are getting choked out. The corporate gardeners get together and decide that they have to do something.

Rather than taking the time to do the weeding and fertilizing necessary to save the best plants, they prune the garden by cutting everything evenly across the board. Then they step back and hope the good plants will be able to compete against the fast growing weeds.

If this analogy sounds familiar, perhaps it is because you have experienced some corporate pruning of your own. Across the board layoffs are often an attempt to deal with long standing performance problems that were never addressed and allowed to grow for too long. Rather than the care and feeding that regular, honest feedback can bring, they wait too long to act and then overreact.

If I had to name one of the biggest problems I see in organizations today, I’d have to include in the top five the inability to be straight with people. It ruins careers, slows production and destroys morale. It kills the corporate garden. Often, problem performers will be allowed to thrive at the expense of the best workers. Why? Some managers fear a confrontation if they give honest feedback. Some organizations will tolerate a smart, technical person who produces good results even though they are toxic to others.

Good gardeners know that a healthy productive garden takes regular maintenance and a decisive hand that isn’t afraid to weed and prune on a regular basis. They know that problems that aren’t nipped in the bud will mean more work later.

Here are some gardening tips:

  • Leave enough space between plants so they will have enough room to spread and reach their full potential. People need room to try new things and grow in their jobs. They need enough space to be visible and to show off their best features.

  • Don’t under or over fertilize. If you don’t praise enough, the plant will be stunted and may not flower. If you over-fertilize, you will kill it with kindness. Plants, like people, don’t need constant or insincere praise. But be sure to give them a boost when they deserve it and make sure they know they are appreciated.

  • Some plants like sunshine and some prefer the shade. Plant people where they will do their best. For example, give an outgoing, dynamic person plenty of sunshine and room to spread. A shade loving plant may be happier in the background doing meaningful but quieter work.

  • Prune for best effect. First-time gardeners are always afraid to prune a healthy plant. They think they will kill it. On the contrary, when you pinch back and keep the plant from spreading wildly, you encourage stronger roots and an abundance of new buds. Set expectations and boundaries and give corrective feedback when needed. It makes the person strong, resilient and healthy.

  • Water regularly. Give enough information on a regular basis about new company initiatives, sales and operational performance. Information is source of all growth and sound decision making. Without it, people make mistakes and become stunted in their jobs. Water often and deeply, rather than a once-a-quarter splash of information.

  • Visit the garden often to check on progress rather than waiting until the end of the season. Frequently visits will enable you to get to know your plants on a more personal basis. You’ll be able to prune and water as needed and kill a few bugs as soon as they appear.

  • Know when to give up on a plant. Sometimes a poor performing plant just needs more attention or to be moved to a better location. But when you’ve finally decided the energy isn’t worth the results, it’s time to dig it up and give it to someone who can give it a new home.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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