Growth is fundamental to life.

(Before reading any more, please review the meaning of analogy.  I’ll wait…)

Practitioners of Organization Development seek to cultivate growth, typically, the growth of individuals that ultimately enhances overall organizational performance according to selected measures.

As an avid gardener, I have studied, practiced, and observed some of the keys to successful plant growth.  And I know that what the gardener does–with knowledge, skill, and care–greatly impacts the life of a plant and the success of a crop.

A gardener is part of a system that includes the soil, the environment, and, of course, the plants, and a successful gardener knows how to enhance growing conditions to improve plant growth for various outcomes.

The risk of my analogy, of course, is that some will all too quickly complain against comparing plant growth with human development.  “We are not vegetables! And you can’t think of your colleagues as vegetables!  We are people!”

Of course we are people.  No need to shout.

But the potential lessons, insights, and applications are simply too compelling and too powerful to ignore.  Read on only if you are willing to be compared to a broccoli plant.  Well, not just any broccoli.

This one:

This is one of the happiest plants I have ever known personally.  I would want all members of a work group to be this happy, healthy, and productive.


The plant is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, and doing it abundantly and with little guidance at this point from the gardener (me).

Here are some of the things I did to help foster the strong growth and abundant production of this plant:

  • Plant selection.  I knew what I wanted and selected the seed for the job.  The seed catalog included a strong resume.  But I would look for more than just strong credentials.
  • Germination.  I started the seeds with ideal conditions and great care, planting them at the recommended depth in an ideal potting mix.  A gentle press ensured good seed/soil contact.  A heat mat underneath the potting tray provided extra soil warmth, and frequent misting ensured that the soil mix did not dry out.
  • Light.  As soon as the seedling emerged, I provided strong light for up to 18 hours a day.  (Seeds in the ground do not need light, just moisture and warmth.)  The early days are important.  The care devoted to creating the right environment produced strong seedlings.
  • Selection.  Even with ideal starting conditions, not all seedlings exhibited identical growth, and I thinned the emergent seedlings, selecting for vigor.
  • Hardening off.  When the seedling had four true leaves and the weather outside was suitable (broccoli is a cool-weather crop, but small plants are still susceptible to heavy frost or freeze), I moved the plant outside for short, and then increasingly longer, periods of time under careful observation and controlled conditions.  A protected area, cold frame, or hot cap helped with the transition and acclimatization.
  • Site location.  Long before the seed was started I had selected and prepared the garden bed.  This included many aspects of site selection including determining available hours of sunlight, grade, drainage, and proximity of a water source.
  • Soil.  The maturing plant would only thrive in a nutrient-rich environment.  I tested the soil for key nutrients and pH, and amended the soil based on test results.  I was able to ensure the necessary nutrients in proper balance.  Tilling in well-composted humus and other soil amendments added nutrients and improved the tilth to enhance water percolation, nutrient transport, and root growth.  After preparing the soil, I did not step on it again lest I damage the soil structure.
  • Transplanting. Now hardened off, the seedling was ready to take its place in the well-prepared garden bed.  Carefully placed, tamped down, and watered in to ensure good initial root/soil contact, the plant was positioned for initial success.
  • Periodic care.  My job now was to check in periodically, which was a joy.  I looked for healthy growth, monitored soil moisture, mulched to preserve water and reduce weeds, and provided a bit of fertilizer from time to time.  If something came up (evidence pests, insufficient water, or disease), I was quickly aware and intervened as necessary.  Because the plant lived in a healthy environment, problems were rare and easily addressed.
  • Maturation.  The plant, well established in a healthy environment and properly supplied with nutrients, water, light, and warmth–the ingredients necessary for it to do its job–took off, and I marveled.  How truly happy it appeared, providing not only what was required but also that something extra, that magical discretionary effort which, when freely provided, takes performance to a new, higher level.

Well, that’s it.  Good gardening can be hard.  It takes work and some time.  Smart gardening reduces the labor and increases the yield.  But smart gardening in not learned in school nor conferred by degree.  It is a hands-on, knowledge-based craft which, when practiced with care, moves from the head to the heart.

Much like good coaching.

Learn. Do. Teach. Lead.

–Erik and the broccoli

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