Planting for tomorrow

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” – Martin Luther

Tis the season for holiday treats, festive jingles, gathering with loved ones, stressful to-do lists and the arrival of beautiful seed catalogs. Okay, the catalogs may only be familiar to those who enjoy gardening. However, knowing they are landing in mailboxes throughout the country as inspiration for warmer and more colorful months soon to come is just one more subtle sign of hope in the midst of winter.

Martin Luther’s quote (above) about planting apple trees was spoken in the 16th century during a time of cultural transition not unlike our own where change is swiftly moving, causing tension, and pushing us forward. Why would planting anything, much less an apple tree that can take several years before it bears fruit be a good idea?   

Let’s first look at what it takes for these trees to grow. Most extension agents and master gardeners advise planting apple trees – and all other fruit-bearing trees – as early in the spring as the soil conditions will allow. The ground needs to have thawed enough for a hole twice the size of the tree’s root ball to fit. The soil must be porous enough for water to drain and not drown the young roots. It also needs to be dense enough to retain moisture so the roots can access it as needed. Neither sand or clay is ideal.

All fruit tree crops prefer full sunlight. And, the weather has to be warm enough to make young saplings comfortable and eager to grow, but not so hot that they grow too quickly overwhelming themselves with branches, leaves and fruit before they have strong enough roots at their foundation to support themselves.

So, what do cultural change and planting trees have to do with the workplace? A lot, actually. Consider how similar planting trees is to growing and managing your team. Here are a few of the parallels we see:

1)    Cultivate new talent and skills before they are needed.

We need to be on the lookout for new people with the talents and skills we like to add to our teams before we are desperate for them. Investing in professional development and lifelong learning opportunities that allow current team members to stack their credentials in a meaningful and innovative way is also a form of cultivating assets with hope and faith in the idea that the best is yet to come.

2)    Give people room enough to spread their roots and grow.

Like the root ball of a sapling needs room to spread out its roots, so do people need time and space to get used to their new role and responsibilities. It is wise not to overwhelm new employees too many responsibilities within their first few days, yet it is good to give them access to the whole picture of their role, the organizations, and their specific job duties along with a timeline of expectations. That way they can get a sense of what they need to learn and how much time they have to get up to speed.

3)    Provide training, resources and feedback in a manner that motivates.

Everyone has a different personality and learning style. While not everything can be completely customized for each employee, covering the basics of offering information in writing, verbally and through example is recommended. That way at least one of the training methods should be absorbed and retained. Active listening and active problem-solving along with new employees can also be very motivating relationship-builders that can help retain great team members.

4)    Be reasonable about how much responsibility is asked of employees.

When employees are learning new roles or taking on new responsibilities, slow and steady will typically breed much better results and retention than fast and furious information consumption, sudden change, and too much responsibility all at once without a gradual approach. When a lot is dumped on someone – or they feel they’ve been taken advantage of and given more to do than they agreed to do for their compensation – without ensuring they have the foundational training, skills and/or willingness to support the load, they will often fold under the pressure sooner or later. Too much all at once can choke their growth.

5)    Allow everyone an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Find ways to celebrate the milestones and successes beyond annual reviews and at the holidays. Small celebrations that are personalized, made known to the people important to the person being celebrated, and done in a way that creates a positive memory can be extremely impactful ways to let your employees know you notice their great work and care about them beyond their performance.

6)    Prune where necessary to keep the team strong.

It can seem counterintuitive to cut back when we live in a culture of “more.” Do it anyway. Maybe it is as simple as helping everyone on your team, including yourself, ask what they can do less of and still produce the same or better outcomes for the organization’s bottom line. Or, maybe it is more difficult and means letting someone go to be more successful in another organization because you just can’t afford to keep giving them more chances to improve their performance in yours. When we fail to clear these roadblocks, we end us creating workarounds that cause even more weaknesses and expense. Stay distraction-free and healthy for the best results. (That’s what Balance Concierge is all about as well: helping remove day-to-day to-do list distractions from the workplace.)

7)    Fertilize with all the key ingredients needed for growth, plus a little extra positivity.

Positive and constructive feedback is always more effective than negativity and blame-producing shame and fear. Providing people with the information and tools they need to do their jobs for fair compensation and an opportunity to make a difference is ultimately the difference between having a workforce and not having one. In, the midst of stressful cultural times of transition and an age where employees have more options of where and how they would like to work, having these basics covered is essential.

Eventually, the evolving technology changes of today’s culture will become our normal and we’ll need the energy from established fruit trees – the literal ones for food and figurative ones for an innovative and prepared workforce – to carry us forward. By planting them early and consistently, we are not only hoping but are planning for a tomorrow that is better than today.

May the plans you make for 2019 bear much fruit!

Contact our team to learn more about how Balance Concierge can be a part of your making your human resource plans more engaging to retain your top talent.