In the North East US, we are approaching the fall season – a time also known as “harvest time”. During this time, growers undertake the process of gathering mature crops from the fields, assessing their productivity yields & developing plans for the next growing season.
As business leaders in the 3rd and 4th quarters, we find ourselves in similar activities – gathering data, assessing our results & developing plans for growth in the coming year. Surprisingly, the similarities don’t stop there. In fact, I believe the basic principles for growth & productivity in horticulture can be key for driving business growth as well.
Here are 5 Key Lessons We Can Learn About Growth from Nature:
1. The Environment Matters
Planting a banana tree in the arctic would be foolish. The requirements for growth (soil, climate, etc.) simply don’t match the environment. Likewise, business growth requires a deep understanding of the market & a clear matching of the opportunity to it.
Living on mere assumptions of customer needs, competitive threats & other market factors is foolish as well. Only a deep knowledge our markets and regular “soil sampling” to monitor change will enable us to adapt as necessary.
2. The Wrong Landscape Hinders Growth
Different crops grow best in different landscapes: pumpkins spread on the ground, beans climb poles, corn stands in rows and grapes climb in vineyards. In the same way, organizational landscapes must be tailored to best achieve business goals. One size DOES NOT fit all.
Equally important is placing the right plants in the right landscape. A grape vine on the ground yields bruised grapes. Likewise, force-fitting employees in roles & structures not suited to them yields similar outcomes.
3. There’s No Harvest If You Don’t Plant Something
A growing season starts at the last frost of spring & continues to the first hard frost of fall.
To a grower, that translates to 2 realities:
- Knowing when to plant is important to growth
- Planning when to harvest is important to productivity
In business, the life-cycle of our business & products is our growing season. Like crops, business growth doesn’t last forever & we must constantly assess the right timing for planting and harvesting.
The truth is, there is no growth unless you plant something NEW along the way. Sadly, many businesses get too focused on wringing productivity out of past harvests when they should be planting for the future.
4. Sometimes Pruning is Necessary
In horticulture, “pruning” is done to “cut away dead or overgrown branches or stems, especially to increase fruitfulness and growth”. Effective pruning requires a close monitoring of plant growth, wise identification of deadwood & willingness to cut when necessary.
In the same way, there are times when the best plan for the health & productivity of the business is to “cut” something away. Sometimes it’s the pet project that hasn’t delivered. Other times it’s a signature brand in decline. As leaders with shears in hand, we must be able to make the right cuts when needed to eliminate waste and redirect growth.
5. You reap what you sow
No one ever planted tomato seeds to grow a watermelon. And no one who plants strawberries uses a hay-baler to harvest them. No, to yield the best harvest, growers sow seeds for exactly what they desire to harvest later.
This is also true in business and in life overall. You reap what you sow. Yet, many business leaders today seem surprised with their outcomes because they simply don’t understand this truth. Instead of planting success they are mistakenly planting failure.
- They desire growth, but they don’t invest in it
- They desire productivity, but they stifle it
- They desire innovation, but they starve it
- They desire loyalty, but they break it
In nature as in business, the only sure way to get the result you want is to deliberately plant the seeds of it up front.
As business leaders, we have much we can learn from nature. During this time of harvest & planning, stop to ask yourself these questions:
- Do we truly know and understand the environment of our business?
- Is my organizational landscape designed to best enable success?
- Are we investing to plant something new or simply living off old-harvests?
- What must we prune to improve the health of our business overall?
- What is the fruit of my leadership and how is what I’m planting contributing to that?