How to Cultivate Growth

We currently live in California where there are 16 separate climate zones. We learned that the hard way one summer day after we first moved here. It was over 100 degrees in the Central Valley where we live, so we decided to go to the ocean. We chose to drive into San Francisco to enjoy the Wharf. We loaded our family of 7 into the mini-van all dressed in T-shirts and shorts and headed to the city. It was when we got out of the van at the Wharf that we discovered the short drive (less than an hour) had take us way out of our climate zone. It was in the lower 60’s in the city and we were too cold to enjoy the day.

Gardening and landscaping is interesting in California for the same reason. Nurseries and Garden Centers have to stock according to the climate zone(s) represented by their customer base. “Will the plants I want grow well in my climate zone?” The answer to that question can be different only a few miles down the road.

What Growth Climate Are You Creating?

People are like plants. We thrive and grow in certain climates better than other climates. One of the first components of a growth climate is the basic beliefs or assumptions you have about people. What you believe about them will determine how you behave toward them.

Some people have the following or similar basic assumptions about people:

  1. They are uncommitted.
  2. They are basically lazy.
  3. They are irresponsible.
  4. They are merely resources you use to accomplish my goals.

What kind of climate do you think comes from those basic beliefs? I believe it would be a cold, dark climate filled with fear of failure and a punishment-based motivational model. Have you ever experienced a climate like that?

The Golem effect is in full force here. The Golem effect says that negative expectations by supervisors produce poorer performance from employees that tend to reinforce the negative beliefs of the supervisors which, in turn, generates more negative expectations. It’s a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Opposite of the Golem effect is the Pygmalian effect. It says that our beliefs about others influence our actions toward them, which impact their beliefs about themselves, which cause their actions toward others, which reinforce our beliefs about them. It is a positive cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.

We are more apt to create a climate for growth when we believe:

  1. People will do what makes sense to them.
  2. People want to make a difference.
  3. People don’t want to fail.
  4. People want to grow personally.
  5. People need and respond to encouragement and appreciation.

What a different climate those beliefs would create. But, how do you change your beliefs? Are they permanently ingrained or can they change? I believe they can change. Often the only thing required to change them is to spend a little time getting to know your people. When you listen to them, 9 times out of 10 you will be amazed especially if you’re open to being amazed.

Sunshine and Rain

Once we have the foundational beliefs right, what can we add to the environment to promote personal growth for ourselves and our people?

Exposure – give yourself and your people opportunities to try new things. Let them attend meetings they normally don’t have access to. I’ve had people apply for promotions they didn’t expect to get just for the exposure to the process. One value of exposure is that it often generates questions which will lead to the next step.

Education – encourage yourself and your people to take classes. They could be toward certifications or just to answer those questions that came from Exposure. But, have a purpose for classes and don’t assume taking a class is the sum total of development. It’s always only a step.

Experience – the difference between Exposure and Experience is that instead of attending the meeting, you have the person lead the meeting. You let the person be lead for a day. You walk, or let your people walk in someone else’s shoes. These are amazing growth opportunities.

You have to be willing to let people fail safely for any of this to work. Failure is part of growth. In fact, we often learn more from our failures than from our successes. Failure may feel like “dung” but dung makes a great fertilizer.

A Word About Weeds and Suckers

Part of cultivation for plant growth is pulling weeds and cutting away unhealthy growth. That’s also necessary in personal growth. Correcting bad habits and redirecting people are part of the growth process. Sometimes you may even have to remove a toxic person from the team in order to promote a growth climate. That’s extreme and a last resort, but is sometimes necessary.

Just like California with it’s 16 climate zones, your climate doesn’t have to be the same as the one down the road to grow beautiful plants. But it has to be conducive to growing the plants you want.

How to Make a Habit of Training

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Aristotle

In my post on the Engager Dynamic – Train, I said that one of the mistakes leaders often make, when it comes to training, is to delegate it entirely to someone else. I believe it’s a mistake because there is no better time to make a strong connection with someone than when they’re learning something they care about from you. Employees care about learning what they need to be successful in their new job.

You don’t have to be the one who teaches them everything they need to know to be successful. Pick one thing you’re an expert at and spend some time with employees training them on that.

I know of one company, the largest of its kind in the country, where the CEO takes over an hour to engage with every New Employee Orientation class. His purpose is to share the history of the company which is over 50 years old and to connect with the group on what the company’s mission means to him. It’s genius! It doesn’t hurt that he’s a charismatic salesman, but the head of the company making himself available to it’s newest employees is training of the highest order. This is a leader who is an engager. He makes a connection with every new employee by inspiring them with the company mission.

Make it a Habit

What are the skills that got you to your current role? What are you best at? Chances are they’re things you care about so this should be fun. Pick one of those skills. Now ask yourself these questions:

  1. Why is this skill important?
  2. How did I learn this skill? (Not just who taught you but what steps did    you go through in the learning process?)
  3. What does excellent look like for this skill?

Now you have an outline to a training. Take some notes. Write down why the skill is important, how it connects to the mission/vision of the organization and what it does personally for the people who develop it.

Question number 3 above gives you what educators call a learning objective. Write this down next. When you’re training someone it’s good to let them know ahead of time what they’ll be able to do once they’ve completed the training.

Now, break down the skill into steps. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Have you ever been in a meeting where they did an icebreaker about giving or following directions? I’ve seen ones where you had to guide a blindfolded person through a maze with only verbal directions, or where you’ve had to write directions to building a Lego toy, or describe to someone how to draw a picture you’re looking at. It can be pretty funny because of how difficult it is to give clear directions.

You might want to try a “wax-on-wax-off” drill to improve this step. Write down the steps involved in brushing your teeth or getting dressed. Try it with several everyday things you do. Now, ask someone else to follow your written directions. Have some fun with it until you’re pretty good at writing clear, step-by-step instructions. Now, go back and re-write the steps to the skill you’re training on.

Put it to Work

You now have the most of a training prepared. You can put it into a Power Point presentation or simply organize your notes. Decide how long it will take to go through what you’ve put together. Figure out what hands-on practice you should provide as part of the training. Is this skill best learned one-on-one or can you train a group?

Now you need (a) trainee(s). Which of the people on your team could use the opportunity to develop this skill? Schedule time with them and go through your training. Receive their feedback and observe them using the skill later. What might you do to improve the training?

Finally, like the leader at the company I mentioned above, you may want to get yourself scheduled into New Employee Orientation as a regular presentation. To build on what Aristotle said, becoming excellent and helping people become excellent will make you a powerful engager.

Cultivate – Engager Dynamic #4

Death Valley, CA is normally the hottest, driest, lowest point in North America where steady drought and record summer heat make it a land of extremes. The ground usually looks like the surface of the moon. It’s called “Death Valley” but it isn’t really dead. It’s dormant. Below the hard, cracked surface lies potential. The seeds of beauty wait patiently for conditions to be right. During those rare years when the right amount of rain falls with the right frequency in the right seasons, when the warmth of the sun allows for root systems to sprout and when harsh drying winds do not blow through to kill off the sprouts, vast fields of wildflowers bloom in breathtaking display. The life is there. The Beauty is there, waiting.

People Are The Same

No matter how hard or soft the surface may appear, there is untold potential beneath that surface in any person. Like the Death Valley wildflowers, that potential usually sits dormant, waiting for conditions to be just right for it to blossom. Unfortunately, in many organizations, the right conditions for that growth are more rare than they are in Death Valley. The leaders we call Engagers know how to create those conditions through the Dynamic we call “Cultivate.”

To “Cultivate” is to prepare land for crops and to foster the growth of plants, ideas, character, reputation, etc. With this dynamic, the engager stimulates growth in the people for whom they are responsible.

It’s About More Than The Work

We’re not just talking about career or work growth; people want to grow in their personal lives. I remember a manager who worked for the same company as me several years ago. He managed a contracted service where the employees worked for our company and the client paid a monthly fee for the services. He had hundreds of employees. They all made minimum wage with no prospect of increases due to the nature of the customer’s business. Most of those employees would have walked through walls for that manager. They came to work, they did a great job and they were loyal. Why? Because when they came to work for him they became better people. They grew personally. He brought in experts to teach classes on personal finances, he provided classes to improve the employee’s English or to gain computer skills. Things like that showed how much he valued the employees as people and they truly appreciated what they gained personally from that work environment.

More Than A Paycheck

We all want to contribute to our work’s Mission and Vision, but we also want our work to contribute to our personal growth and learning. How does my work make me a better, more rounded, more prepared person? One example is Safety. Often things we learn about safety at work transfer to our personal lives and help keep us safe at home. One of my clients was very concerned about cyber security and required an annual “Anti-Phishing” training of all their employees. Employees always commented afterward that what they had learned would help them protect themselves against fraud in their personal lives.

What Does Growth Mean?

Growth may need to be defined. For some it may mean taking classes (English as a second language, finance, computer skills, etc). For others, it may mean the chance to work on special projects whether work related or helping the organization be a good corporate citizen.

Cultivate is a connector dynamic because it says, “You are not just a number or a pair of hands to us. You are a valuable person.” The return is often increased loyalty to the leader and organization and an increased desire to help them grow in return.”