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.

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.”