A Great Company, Like a Great Garden, Doesn’t Just Happen

“When a flower doesn’t bloom, we fix the environment where it grows, not the flower.“

Powerful quote.

I have always looked at organizations as a greenhouse: We bring seeds in, we plant, we fertilize, we weed, we add sunlight and the growth continues. However, some of the seeds will never germinate regardless of what we do. In cases like that we make “adjustments.” But the key directive it that we create an environment for growth.

The organization as a greenhouse

When I lived in the NY area, gardening was my hobby. I so looked forward to springtime. Thinking of arrangements, redesign, color mix, types of plants, etc. I was obsessed. As I worked for Martha Stewart at that time, you could always find me in the gardening section browsing through the vast array of magazine and reference material.

My Saturday morning would start around 6 a.m. and I was outside till mid-afternoon, digging in soil. Over time, I came to realize that organizations are the same. We look for that special talent that is going to transform our team or even our whole organization. We bring them in to our greenhouse; we plant them in our soil. We should fertilize (develop), weed (remove obstacles), add sunlight (team effectiveness) and viola, we have created the most beautiful plant to add to our garden.

My neighbors were always envious of my work. They would stop by as I worked always asking, “How do you do it?” And my response was always the same: I spend time, lots of time getting this right. They would mostly just cut their lawn. Sure, they would plant in the spring, but with no care, the plants would die.

In our organizations we wait for the annual engagement survey to tell us how we are doing. Once a year! Such an outdated model. Should we not monitor daily, monthly, checking in to see how things are going? We have to check the pulse consistently, monitoring the state of our greenhouse.

WOW the employee, WOW the customer!

According to Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, “…in addition to trying to WOW our customers, we also try to WOW our employees, and the vendors and business partners…”

This starts from the very beginning, from the first touch point. At one time we were focused on the employee experience as beginning at onboarding. Not anymore. Are we wowing our future employees?

My good friend Kevin Grossman, president of Talent Board, speaks about the candidate experience research, which really shows why a positive candidate experience is so important. One of the major findings was that 64% of candidates who gave their experience a great 5-star rating say they will increase their relationship with the company. In other words, they’re more likely to be a customer, apply again, and recommend the company to their peers. Meanwhile, 41% of candidates who rated their candidate experience as 1-star are more than likely to sever the relationship altogether.

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The benefits of providing a 5-star candidate experience are clear. If even a fraction of those satisfied candidates put their money where their mouth is, the payoff can be huge.

Evaluate every touchpoint

Yes, it is that important. If we want our greenhouse to bloom and blossom, it takes work; every facet must be analyzed.  It does not come easy, as I told my neighbors. Are you willing to get up at dawn and work though the day to get it right each weekend? Are you willing to examine every part of the employee journey to ensure that you give them every opportunity to blossom?

So many organizations today go through the motions. The have the words on the website, they say all the meaningless phrases — “employees are our greatest asset” — on cue. CEOs know how to queue up the asset statement.

However, my question to them always is: are you living it each and every day inside the house? Are you spending as much time on the people that get the business done as you do on the business? Are your meetings with senior team focusing on the employee value or connecting to the organization?

If not, you are like my neighbors who wanted a great and beautiful yard, but did not want to put in the work to get the results.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.