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How fertile is the soil in your organization? By that I mean how effectively do the culture and attitude of the people on your team nurture and develop (and thereby maximize) the contributions of individual team members? How does your prevailing inter-personal communication environment support or undermine developmental conditions?

Borrowing from Chauncey Gardner (Chance the Gardener in the 1979 film Being There, played brilliantly by Peter Sellers): “Your business is like a garden.” His comments were comically misinterpreted by powerful men as a profound metaphor for inevitable seasons of change. I compare business to a garden in the following way: without careful tending, weeds crowd out the more desirable plants. Without systematic attention, weeds of miscommunication, siloing, personal bias, cultural myopia and provincialism spoil the environment and choke out shared vision, camaraderie, and high performers.

Here’s an example of what happens far too often. Bob has a role on a team. Bob gravitates towards the tasks that gratify him most. He puts less energy in tasks (and relationships) that frustrate him. Other team members who interact with Bob see things differently, either slightly or significantly. So, fellow team member Phyllis believes that Bob should spend more of his time and effort on the tasks that she believes most important. Jim, who supervises the team has a different priority hierarchy in mind, but doesn’t effectively communicate this to the others. Susan, the executive to whom Jim reports, has eyes only for three specific departmental metrics, but Bob, Phyllis, and sometimes even Jim lack clear ideas of how their activities impact those metrics.

The result is that Bob feels pulled in multiple directions, some of which he may agree with, some not so much. In the extreme, he may lose sight of what is expected of him and how he may best serve organizational needs. People in Bob’s position may grow apathetic and detached, working for the weekend, or they may become cynical and entrenched in his or her ways. They become difficult to influence and the team suffers. The others in the example develop judgments about one another, each believing the others “just don’t get it.” This is not a recipe for a rewarding and productive work environment.

What can be done to fertilize this soil and grow a more beautiful business “garden?” This question is central to my consulting practice. One powerful recommendation is to institute systemic benchmarks, developed as a team, the output of which identifies the key accountabilities, their measurements, and a time-allocation template for each position on the team.

In my experience, the discussion among the stakeholders – those who interact with a particular position – is extremely valuable as it aligns expectation and creates a shared metric to clarify how the person filling that position best contributes to the health of the organization. Paradigms and attitudes often shift for the better. Once developed, the resulting Job Benchmark is a crucial tool to attract, select, develop and retain the right talent for that particular role.

Of course this isn’t the complete explanation of the benchmark process, nor is it the only way to “fertilize” the organizational soil. It does represent an incredibly powerful first step, however. Please ask questions or post your comments if any of this resonates with you!

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