Are You a Manager or a Gardener?

We could use this same analogy with most of the people we manage or lead. In my garden I spend time pulling weeds and watching for insect damage. I even protect my plants from deer and rabbits with special fences. In the workplace this could be daily or weekly communication, coaching and feedback. The key is to provide an environment where people want to work, understand how what they do contributes to the whole, and can work without fear.


We do not work independently, rather as part of a system – either organization or garden. According to quality expert Dr. Edwards W. Deming, people should have joy in their work.  Deming believed “that the system within which they work should be designed to make this possible and to enable workers to reach their full potential to contribute to the enterprise, that the system is management’s responsibility, that 85 percent of all quality problems are management problems (that is, symptoms of a malfunctioning system), and that organizations and their suppliers need to work together to optimize results for both.” (From July 16, 1995 Siam News, “The Three Careers of W. Edwards Deming,” By Michael J. Tortorella.)

How can we be better gardeners for our people in organizational systems?

  • Implement job training for employees on an ongoing basis to enhance skills—not just for new employees or as proposed solutions to problems.
  • Check your job descriptions to see if they are up to date, and if they aren’t (which is often the case), involve employees in helping to update them.
  • When problems occur, avoid blame-fixing, which only discourages people from bringing future problems to the surface. Instead work with team members to fix the problems and minimize the chance for the same things to happen again.
  • Review your policies and procedures for any that encourage internal competition and discourage teamwork, demotivate employees by singling out individual persons for awards or rewards, or threaten punishment for failures or problems. These policies or procedures are like the banned insecticide DDT in a garden. It might have killed the insects, but was found to be destructive to the ecosystem as well. Watch out for ways that your system threatens the people needed to make it thrive.
  • Don’t forget time for fun. Joy in work can mean the employee birthday party, a great-looking PowerPoint presentation, or success with a client. As a gardener and a manager, always make sure you have joy in your work. If I didn’t enjoy eating the vegetables, I wouldn’t spend my time pulling the weeds!

In my leisure time I enjoy gardening and reading science fiction.  So much of science fiction is just such a tiny bit into the future that if we wait a few years, we might see it come true.  Although there are many negative science fiction books that portend the end of the world or universe, it is the positive stories that I enjoy the most, the ones where we use our brains and our hearts to make the world, and other worlds, better places for the future, the ones with an author like James P. Hogan, who offers us a more enlightened view into our own world and organization.

Adriana Bass
Adrian Bass is a quality consultant and lifelong learner, who believes that learning is a prerequisite for quality improvement.








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