7 reasons Gardening is like Managing

Managing a team and gardening share many similarities. Recently while planting seeds in rich soil full of compost and manure I thought about just how similar managing and gardening really are. So here are the 7 ways Gardening and Managing are similar. There are more, of course, but I thought 7 was a good start.

1. If you only have shade to garden in don’t plant sun loving plants. The same is true for your team. If you have a team that is great technically but shouldn’t be put in front of clients – having them join the sales force is a recipe for failure. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t develop, persuade, and change the team but it probably won’t change overnight. The same is true for your garden – you can either adapt your plantings to the conditions at hand or you can change the conditions by eliminating shade.

Chives like full sun but can tolerate some shade. Plus they are a reliable perennial herb.

Chives like full sun but can tolerate some shade and they are a reliable perennial herb.


2. If your soil is hardpan clay – you probably shouldn’t try to grow carrots because they will come out looking gnarled, pitted and be prone to diseases. But once you’ve enriched the soil with compost and rich humus those carrots will look (and taste) great and be much healthier. The same is true for your team. If your team is great with clients but not very technical or design challenged asking them to develop UIs for the client is a recipe for failure unless you want to train and nurture their UI development skills. And even then, time and resources might better be utilized differently. Ulitmately both disciplines require you to know what your soil and your team can do in order to be successful.

3. If you try to grow something without properly  preparing the soil your chances of success are small. The most common mistake new garders make is plopping a few plants into the ground with little thought or foresight. While the initial energy and initiative are laudable,  they didn’t think about the needs of their garden and so come harvest time their results won’t be very good. The same is true for managers with new ideas and projects. If you don’t prep your management and the  boardroom proactively marshalling the resources necessary, your ideas will struggle for resources and support over the long run. In both cases the plants and ideas/projects might survive but only rarely will they thrive .

4. It requires a commitment – you can’t plant a seed or start a new initiative and expects results tomorrow. Jack and his Magic Beans really were a fairy tale – they don’t exist in real life. Properly setting expectations for the work involved and measuring against the proper time horizons  are what will make a project and a garden succesful. Sometimes the commitments are lengthy requiring  time each week and sometimes the commitments are daily requiring attention morning and afternoon. Some plants go from seed to harvest in 28 days – radishes and lettuces but even though the time is short they require careful watering, thinning and weeding in order to get the best results. But some plants – garlic and leeks – require months and years – in order to be ready to harvest. That lengthy wait is balanced by the fact that they are fairly resilient and don’t require a lot of attention or watering as they grow. Projects, initiatives and teams fit into both categories – some require constant attention and some can be left to slowly chug along with only occasional visits. Either way it’s a commitment to ensure success.

5. There is a point of diminishing returns. One of the strengths of a good gardener is knowing what to plant, when to plant, where to plant and finally how much to plant. Planting five raised beds of mesclun when you only eat one salad a day isn’t very smart. And just about everyone has planted too much zucchini only to be eating zucchini bread for breakfast, and zucchini pasta for lunch and dinner. Knowing how to staff your team or business is just as critical. Hiring a large team of project managers with just a few sales people to close the deals creating those projects isn’t wise  – neither is the opposite situation of too many sales people and not enough project managers to fulfill those sales orders. Balancing your organizations needs is important and requires a constant awareness of what’s happening now, what’s the next project, what’s going on next quarter, and even next year. Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should. It’s still true in the garden and it’s truer than ever in the corner office.

Waiting for your tomatoes to ripen can try anyone's patience.

Waiting for your tomatoes to ripen can try anyone's patience.


6. Patience and planning are required. A good gardener will plan the garden for the year starting seeds weeks and months before they’ll go into the ground. A good manager does the same thing  by planning in advance what will needed in the coming year, determining what skills will be needed on the team, who will need training, when to have new hires on board and fully trained. Patience is just as important. You can’t start a sales team and a sales pipeline from scratch and expects results by the end of the week. You need to be realistic about what’s feasible without taking your eyes off the long-term goals.

7. And finally both gardening and managing make frequent use of manure. Gardening uses manure to help plants grow, while many businesses and managers use manure to help careers grow. Although they usually refer to it as marketing or developing sales collateral. I’m only partially kidding. How many powerpoint presentations have you seen that could have used a little less “manure” and a little more information? The same is true in the garden too much manure can actually hurt plants while the right amount makes them strong and healthy.

Remember just like a gardener thinking about the garden, you have to think about the needs of the business, not just for today but also for tomorrow and what you’ll need to keep harvesting long-term. -t

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