How to Make a Habit of Cultivating

People generally don’t like change. On the other hand, one of life’s intrinsic motivators is “Mastery” or the desire to get better at things. That’s why people will spend countless hours practicing and playing an instrument with no intent they will ever make a dime at it professionally. Or, how many people play video games professionally? or golf? You get the idea.

Think about that, though. If I improve at something, isn’t that growth? And, isn’t growth, by definition, equal to change? Well, if I find it motivating to get better at things (or grow = change), but I don’t like change, isn’t that a contradiction? It sure seems like it. Maybe the question is, “what does it mean when people say they don’t like change?”

Several years ago my wife and I were having lunch with another couple who were friends of ours. We were talking about personal growth and development. At one point in the conversation my friend’s wife made a telling comment. She said, “If growth means I have to experience any pain, then I’m fine just the way I am.” Bingo! It’s likely what people don’t like is not the change, but the anticipated “pain” we often associate with growth.

What Pain?

We love the flower or the food we get from plants, the result of the growth. So we cultivate. Cultivating means to prepare the soil for planting and to promote the growth of the plants. We prepare soil by breaking it up and introducing fertilizer. What’s the best fertilizer? To put it nicely, dung. To promote growth we make sure to plant the seed where it will be exposed to rain and sunlight. We also pull up any weeds that may start to grow in the vicinity and we often need to prune the plant as it grows. Pruning is cutting away growth that is not healthy for the plant. Wow! “Breaking up, dung, rain, pulling, cutting away,” Ouch! Growth can involve pain . . . “No pain, no gain” so the saying goes.

The pain for us may come in the form of feedback from co-workers that identifies an area where we need to grow. It may come from a boss in the form of an evaluation or discipline. It could come from a mistake we make that identifies a deficiency. It’s often said that failure is a great teacher. None of these is particularly pleasant. But, they are often the beginning of growth.

Putting it to Work

The Engager Dynamic called Cultivate is all about creating an environment at work that promotes growth. The first step is to make the pain bearable. Really, you’re just changing people’s perception of it. If you make continuous improvement part of your culture, if “we get better” is just “how we do things around here,” then feedback, evaluation, and even failure become normal. When they become normal, they seem less painful and can even become as welcome as eating healthily or a morning workout. To achieve this you must allow freedom for mistakes and failure without retribution as necessary steps of improvement. Failing forward is part of a continuous improvement culture.

Making it a Habit

Once you’ve removed the fear of punishment for mistakes, the environment will be much more conducive to growth. The following three elements will promote learning and development for your team.

  1. Exposure – give your people the opportunity to be exposed to new things. Take someone to a meeting they don’t usually attend. Give them a chance to spend time in another job or department for a day. Introduce them to someone who is an expert in an area of their interest. I put this element first because often this exposure excites a motivation for the next.
  2. Education – having been exposed to something of interest, people are often filled with questions to which they sincerely want answers. Now they’re ready to go to “class.” This may be in the form of online learning, or in-person classes your company offers. Don’t be afraid to spend a little money to send someone to a seminar or class or school if your company offers tuition reimbursement. On the other hand, it may be a simple as letting them spend time with a mentor. NOTE: too often, leaders make the mistake of thinking Education is the totality of Learning and Development. They believe if they send someone to a class and they get a certificate, then they should know everything they need to know. In fact, education is only about 20% of the learning package.
  3. Experiences – here is where you really get the benefit. Focus up to 70% of your development plan on providing opportunities for your people to put into practice what they’re learning. We retain only about 50% of what we see and hear. We retain over 80% of what we experience for ourselves. Give people guided experience at leading meetings. putting together presentations, whatever their learning path is about. As I suggested in my post on Training, if you really want them to know their stuff, let them teach you or someone else what they’re learning. We retain 95% of what we teach.

Weave these elements into the every day routine of your organization or team and you will have a thriving garden of engaged, productive people.

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