The first time I took up gardening I failed miserably. Only 10% of my crops were harvested and only a few of them were edible. My second time, someone who knew more about gardening advised me, I was able to lay out my vision, and they helped me make it happen.
While spending time in my garden, I realized that company culture is very similar to a garden. Here are a few things that I've observed:
Start with a vision. The vision you have for your culture is how it will most likely manifest. The vision for your culture can be adjusted but you need a starting point.
Within your vision lie your values and cultural traits which are the product of your values. If you value taking care of others, making mistakes that lead to growth, empathetic listening, or being present, those values will turn into the type of culture (and working environment) you will create.
But the first step to accomplish anything with your culture, similar to having a healthy garden, you need to have a vision of what you want.
See want you want to plant and how you want to plant it.
Planning. Many things go into the planning phase, in my case I removed a lot of existing weeds, broke up the soil, watered it, and road tilled it! That took a lot of planning and hard work.
There is no underestimating the amount of planning and dedication that goes into a company, most of it behind the scenes and not so glamorous.
Making the for crafting the plan for your culture and doing the work needed to make sure it’s successful, is something that can pay off tremendously. Companies investing in their culture from the beginning see results sooner and those results are more likely to be permanent.
Planting the right team. Knowing when it’s the proper season to plant seeds or plants makes a dramatic difference to the richness and growth of your crop.
Similar to hiring, how and when you build your team makes a huge difference.
Looking at your hiring through cultural lenses can help you change the perspective and path of how you hire. For example, if you haven’t accessed the vision for your culture the way you set up your team will be different than if you had. To pull from a point earlier, for a culture of empathetic listening, your first few hires need to be empathetic listeners. Of course, they need to be able to do the job well, but empathetic listening should be one of the boxes that are top of the list and checked off.
Taking this piece seriously changes everything when it comes to building the right team.
Remove the weeds early. Once everything starts growing and sprouting, it’s so exciting. This translates into having your vision set, your plan executed, and your team in place. You'll begin seeing things come together.
Without much warning, the weeds start to come. At first they start off looking just like your plants. Small, harmless and even pleasant to look at. However, those weeds begin rooting in and soon they'll be large and taking over the garden.
If you aren’t regularly monitoring your garden, that little tiny plant will soon be a big plant and create some costly damage. Weeds don’t provide any value to you or your garden, they do the polar opposite. Weeds silently choke out the healthy plants from under the ground even before they become a huge eyesore.
The “weeds” in culture are sometimes unresolved conflict, lack of clear expectations, bitterness, a joke taken the wrong, or lack of clear direction that eventually creates frustration.
The key is catching and addressing these things early. While most people tend to avoid conflict assuming it will “all blow over” in the morning or it is not a priority. That method does not usually work well, and the unresolved issues come back around even stronger. Create a culture that successfully handles and addresses conflicts. An unresolved conflict is like a cultural weed that needs to be pulled before it takes root.
Have a plan for the bugs. When I planted my garden I hadn’t seen any bugs, in fact I had the picture perfect garden. But as soon as my garden started to grow, bugs started coming and they came fast. Bugs showed up uninvited to eat my plants and caused infection. I realized that whatever method I needed to use to remove or prevent bugs needs to be sorted before my garden was planted.
Thinking back, a good friend who is an amazing gardener did warn me about this before I planted my garden. I’m sure it’s safe to say we all have those people in our lives that have been there before and could offer up some knowledge that could save us a headache in the future.
Very much like a culture, things show up to eat at your people and try to infect areas in your company and environment.
For example, I think it’s helpful for startups that have drinking environments to make it 100% clear that they use drinking as an occasional social tool and not as a team-building or dependency mechanism. It should also be stated that if any employee may have a history or struggle with alcohol or addiction, that the company should invest in a plan and resources to provide support.
This is a whole other topic in itself, but regular people deal will addiction and if that isn’t taken into account it will come out in some way and reflect on the culture and the company.
I've covered having a vision, planning, and hard work, the team, removing the weeds early, and having a plan for the bugs.
I have a few more points, but I want to wrap up with one last point and that is...
Know when to harvest.
Once you harvest your garden your plants have so many different uses. You can cook with them, make medicine, or even sell them, but if they stay in the ground too long or not long enough the harvest won’t be right.
If your culture stays in one place too long or not long enough it won’t yield the proper results.
One soft area that I encourage my clients to take part in is regularly scheduled team building and bonding events. Companies that do it every once in a while don’t do it long enough to see the impact on their culture. Some companies do it a too long not realizing the energy in the culture might have changed - and that might require some adjustment in that area.
Knowing what areas of your culture are ready for harvest and which ones are not will help you reap all of the work that you have sown. It’s an exciting time when you can look back at all the hard work you’ve put in and everyone will enjoy the results of that.
Wherever you are within your culture it’s never too late to start doing better. I evangelize company culture because I believe that it is within the culture that we learn and exhibit the right way to treat people. The power lies within your people and a healthy strong culture only helps them thrive and do better.
For that to happen, the work must be put in, there is no magic culture pill or switch that will make everything right. Similar to my second garden, having someone come alongside you to show you how to get the type of culture you really want. People are the key to everything and a strong healthy culture is the key to your people.
Let's start a culture discussion. Leave your thoughts and comments below.
Thank you for reading!