Sunday, 5 June 2011

How often does your company plant get repotted?

[Image courtesy of Akira Kouchiyama]

Yesterday, I was watching my wife repot a few plants. Actually, quite a few of them.
What did she do? She took the plants out of their pots, and put them into bigger pots, adding fresh compost

I watched that for a while, busy with with other things, and the thought came to mind:

Wife has been repotting plants today, giving new roots room to freely extend. How many companies do this?

A few conversations followed: Sandy Maxey, A Jangbrand, Alan Berkson and Jaguar Paw contributed. A Jangbrand even had a post for that.
The results:
"Provide dirt, water, sunlight and maybe some support - growth will happen in best direction..."
"When you keep hitting the side of the pot, in every direction you're trying to grow, you might just need a bigger pot?"
"Corporate bonsai?"
"Hahahahah ... it's thick deep old roots that stifle the new roots."
Marvelous comments. Am I such an open book that I get fed what I eat? In this case, very much so I guess.
The picture shows what this is all about: roots that want to grow and grow and grow wherever they want, but keep hitting walls, barriers and limits, and consequentially are forced to grow wherever there is space

Because roots can't deny their growth - roots have to grow. That's their task, their duty, their life goal. They can change the direction of where they grow, but not their aim: they need to grow

Companies hire new people. Young people, old people, anywhere in between: not only to replace stems that withered or are about to, but also because the company wants to grow.
Grow where? In which direction? The usual CxO's answer is: bigger and better, and that's about as much detail as they can give - because they don't know what the future will look like

So the fresh people get in, and shoot root. However, they're hired for a purpose: administrative tasks, pre-sales tasks, aftersales, PR, HR, Lawd knows: they're given a purpose before being allowed to "shoot root".
Fair enough, plants do the same. Can't have weeds in your pot that just do what they want and have contrasting goals to begin with

However, what do fresh roots get told when they join the company? They get a version of the curriculum, the roles and functions available, and the places they can pick - usually they're promised a lot but most, if not all, of that appears to be blissfully Korsakoffed moments later when their trial period is over. At that time, the company pot is fixed and they're allowed to grow within the confines of the company pot

What happens next? The picture above is what happens next, and "corporate bonsai" on the root level. In stead of freely extending your roots, you'll find you have to battle over existing space with existing roots. Most of them are older, bigger, thicker, vastly wider networked than you are.
Growth? Hell no. Change. That is what you are expected to do

If you're eager and ambitious, you'll hit the sides of the company pot within months, if not weeks. You'll learn that you can only grow down or up, not outside - there are no holes in the company pot.
You'll either take that new situation for granted, or leave - that's why 25% of newly hired people leave a company within the first year. Basically, they were promised a lie, and refused to live with it

What should really be done? The answer is easy: either you repot the company plant, or remove some of the existing roots so the new ones get room to grow. The former hardly happens, let alone the latter. Yes people get laid off, but those usually are the thin roots that shoot up from the bottom. The thick roots that extend and shoot down from the top, are usually too expensive to lay off - maintaining the situation that real growth starts at the bottom and painfully slowly has to make its way up to the top

Do you get the metaphor? Have you ever checked what happens underneath your company soil? Have you ever experienced what it's like to be a fresh root? Have you ever measured how much nourishment some of the roots claim, and what their flowers produce? Do they even still blossom, or bare fruit?

If you don't get your hands dirty and dig, you'll stay ignorant of what really grows your company

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