Businesses get into business because they expect to be in it for the long haul. I have yet to meet a business owner or CEO who says, “We’re happy to go out of business in 10 years.” There is this sense of survival and ability to flourish that is an intrinsic part of what drives leadership. Of course nothing lasts forever, but there is genuine value in planning as if the organization will last forever…or at least outlast your leadership.

Strategy and planning are key to fostering a successful organization, however alone they don’t do much. What gives legs to strategy and planning are people. There is a Chinese proverb that gives us some amazing insight into how to do that well. If you are planning for a year, plant rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; but if you are planning for eternity, plant people.

If you’re a leader it can’t hurt to have an understanding of agriculture. There are so many parallels as to how you can develop your people and how you nurture and develop crops and other plants. Just as there are many different needs for many different crops and plants, your people will have varied requirements in order to grow and develop.

Here are 5 key things to keep in mind when planting and growing people:

  1. Prepare the soil – People need to be planted in a place that proves a fertile growing environment. That environment must not only provide protection for the seed of development, it must also provide that which nourishes it. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to make sure the soil is properly prepared.
  2. Plant intelligently – Give enough space to allow for maximum growth. Pay close attention to the type of person and their natural tendencies and potential. Pro-actively make room for them to expand and flourish in a way that is natural for them. If you put them in too small a space, they will only grow to that degree. Maximize the potential of your organization by planting people wisely.
  3. Irrigate well – Flood them with support. Don’t overdo it or you could drown out their initiative. Use your best judgement based on the type of person. Just as rice requires much more water than corn, different types of people need different levels and amount of support. Don’t assume it’s a one-size-fits all proposition. People development must remain unique and individualized.
  4. Manage exposure – Just like crops need sun to grow, too much of it will kill them. Conflict and challenges are no different in the development of your people. Let them experience the difficulties that go along with the growth, but make sure you’re not overwhelming them. You don’t want to kill any growth because you overexposed them to challenges. You HAVE to know your people.
  5. Clear away pests – Insects and foraging animals can devastate a crop. Under-performing people who aren’t aligned with company culture can wreak havoc on the development of people. Take good care to pay close attention to your people. See if they show any signs of pest damage. Not all of them will be vocal about the problem. They will just wither and seem anemic. Don’t assume they are a poor crop. Rather look for any external influences that could be causing the problem.
The overarching message here is to make sure you’re developing people, not perpetuating some system or program. Developing people means you treat them like people and people are diverse and unique in many ways.
What are your thoughts?