When a flower doesn’t bloom, fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.
A friend sent me this quote recently, and it made me think about the difference between how we usually deal with issues surrounding employee productivity and how nature would teach us to handle the problem. Unfortunately, our usual strategy is to “fix the person.” For example:
- We use tactics to get the employee to be more productive or competent.
- We structure their work to hold them more accountable.
- We initiate more control to get them to do what we want.
- We supervise them more closely through micro management.
And if none of these strategies work, we put them on a performance improvement plan that includes all of the above. And if THAT doesn’t work, we show them the door.
The danger of default thinking where the organization is an object
While these strategies are familiar, we may not recognize the background assumptions that are driving their use. When we see our organization as an object, we see the people in them as parts of the larger whole. In this “parts mentality” if there is a problem with an employee, we see the worker as the problem. Consequently our focus is on fixing the broken part by holding them more accountable or by increasing their skills or competence.
This default thinking measures the primary value of a staff member by their ability to function in their position. If the function is not meeting expectations, this person needs to be removed and replaced with another worker who can perform. That is how we respond to a broken part in a machine, and is not necessarily a good choice for motivating human beings and boosting employee productivity.
The danger in this default is that our organizations aren’t objects, they are living entities. The strategy for working with a person who isn’t performing must come from a living system framework.
Going back to our original quote, the flower that doesn’t bloom is embedded in a larger environment. The relationship between the flower and its environment is interdependent. Therefore, diagnosing the problem with the flower can not be understood from a parts mentality. Instead we need to see how the flower is interacting with its larger environment and what might be hindering its ability to thrive. We must learn to deal with employee productivity in the same way as the flower if the organization is to thrive.
Here are strategies that are effective is we see the problem employee within a living system.
- Identify the necessary nutrients. Flowers don’t bloom if they don’t receive the right nutrients. In an organization, nutrients for employees are knowledge, skills, and the right support to help them learn how to perform the job, and continue to help them learn and grow in the position.
- Ensure a fit with the environment. Flowers don’t thrive if the soil is not conducive to their particular needs. For example, if a plant likes sandy soil and we plant it in rich loam, the plant won’t thrive. …read more
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