Archive for February, 2011

Organizational Landscaping

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Spring is just around the corner here in the Carolinas, and like many Englishmen abroad, I take great pride in my “garden”. Gardening to me, of course, is not tending to a vegetable plot, but what is more commonly referred to as “yard work” here in the US (I’m bi-lingual these days). I also find great satisfaction in planning out what plants to use, where and when to plant them, and how to maintain them so that they remain healthy. Not so dissimilar to running an organization, really:


Picking the right flowers, shrubs or trees requires insight in to not only which ones look good, but which ones like the shade vs direct sunlight; which ones like dry sandy soil vs heavy clay; which ones are resistant to deer and rabbits who can eat all your hard work before breakfast. Every yard that I know has a combination of all these conditions. An otherwise good shrub or tree planted in the wrong place will die.

You also need to understand which plants will look good next to the others: It’s no good having a yard full of “show” pieces – they end up competing for your eye. Good landscape architecture requires the selection of a few strategically placed high-visibility items surrounded by less showy other plants that provide a foundation to frame the show pieces. At the risk of mixing my metaphors, having teams of all quarterbacks or all point guards will not win many games!

Anyone who has hired should see the parallels here: Selecting the right worker requires more than looking at just their job-specific qualifications. It requires consideration of how they would fit into the company culture and their ability to work with other staff. The same candidate may make a great SW development PM, but be abysmal in customer engagement situations. Someone with a history of work in a highly structured buttoned-down corporation may not do well in a shorts-and-Tevas startup.


Most plants look great when they’re first put in. They often have flowers and bright shiny leaves from their coddling at the nursery. Even after a year or so they should still look good as they mature. But there comes a time when they start over-growing the plants next to them, or getting so tall they obscure the view out of a window.

That’s when it’s time to prune the shrubs. All too often, however, the pruning is left too long and the large amount of plant to be cut off ends up leaving an ugly bare hole in the landscape for a season or two. It is far better to “nip” small amounts off at regular intervals before they get too big. One of the biggest compliments a gardener can receive is that it doesn’t look like their garden ever needs pruning. The secret is that it gets pruned regularly so that there are always other leaves or flowers left showing.

It is no different dealing with personnel issues, where bad behaviors or poor performance should be addressed quickly with small remedial actions rather than waiting for it to blow up and require something more drastic. This also applies at the group level, where teams need to be assessed and re-shaped regular intervals and not allowed to grow to the point where mass layoffs are required.

Training and Development

Very few plants can just be put in the ground and left to their own devices to grow. They need additional assistance, particularly to get them through their first full cycle of seasons. Water is required as a minimum. Adding fertilizer will accelerate growth, and disease or insect sprays will protect that growth.

Providing the time and resources for relevant and forward-looking training provides the fertilizer for organizations. Providing good pay and benefits helps protect it against loss.

At the same time, new plants should always be picked smaller than the required size and allowed to grow into place. It may take more time to get the desired effect, but the result will be worth it, especially if the new plant is surrounded by older established plants that can “carry the eye” until the new ones are ready. Think of it as succession planning for gardens!

Strategy vs Execution

Personally, I like shrubs. You can get them in all shapes, sizes, colors and textures. When established they take very little effort to maintain and look good year after year. This is unlike flowers – particularly those that die off each year and need to be dug out and replaced. This is too much effort for me! I want to be able to balance the time required to take care of the existing plants with the time to plan out what else I can do to enhance it.

Business leaders require a similar balance of Execution and Strategy. This is not easy to do, as leaders all too easily become so drained or distracted by the here-and-now that they neglect planning for the future.

So how green is your thumb?