Helping Your “Garden” to Thrive: Ideas to Help Your Business Grow
by Clay Dethloff

  • Helping Business Grow

    To begin, I want to talk a little about my gardening efforts over the years and my growth as a gardener.

    I’ve gardened for years, always planting some vegetable in the spring and in the fall, usually with mixed results. Over the last couple of years, I’ve really tried to become a better gardener, trying to plan better, looking at the beds I’m planting in, what I’m planting, taking better care of the garden, etc.

    The more I’ve tried to work on my gardening skills the more similarities I‘ve seen between gardening and the business environment that companies must operate in today. Business, like gardening, is not static; it’s a living and changing thing. With both, you have to expect the unexpected and be prepared for it. An early frost as well as various insects can derail or completely wipe out a garden. Similarly; recalls, poor product launches, new competitors, the threats of trade wars, etc., can cause businesses to perform below expectations. We do quite a bit of work helping our clients understand and wade through the changing environment they find themselves in, and I believe that several of the principles and rules of thumb used in gardening can apply in a corporate setting.  

To begin, “plan for the harvest.” One of the big changes I’ve made trying to become a better gardener is to plan for the harvest and not plan for the planting. By this I mean that you need to be thinking about the end goals and what you ultimately want. Prior to planning for the harvest, I would look at the recommended dates within which I was supposed to plant a particular vegetable (let’s say tomatoes), select a date in that time period, and then plant all of my tomatoes at one time. What happened? All of my tomatoes would ripen within a very short time frame. We’d have tomatoes either getting overly ripe on the counter or we would have to freeze or give away a lot of tomatoes so that they didn’t go bad.

By looking at my harvest goals instead (one of which was to have fresh tomatoes over a longer period of time), I changed up a couple of things.

The first thing I did was begin to stagger my planting dates by several weeks or more, planting a few plants one week and then a few more at a later time. Second, I started planting different varieties of tomatoes that had different fruiting times or different tolerances to weather, etc. The result? Just what I wanted: fresh tomatoes over many months. Too many times in business we are fighting fires or having to look at the shorter time frame. We find ourselves concentrating on the “planting” instead of on the “harvest.” That’s not to say that we ignore the short-term—we can’t do that. We don’t always have the luxury of looking too far down the road, and there are going to be times when a company finds itself with an “early frost”. However, if we are planning for the harvest, we’ll more than likely have a better plan in place for those kinds of eventualities.

Second, “know your soil.” It all starts with the soil, and every company has its own. I think of the soil of a business as the culture, the environment, the processes, etc., that exist in the organization. In gardening, the soil enables your plants to have the nutrients and water to grow and thrive, but not all soils are created equally. When talking about the different types of soil that are out there for a garden, you’ll typically hear soil described as clay, silty, sandy, loamy, etc. In addition, you’ll hear soil talked about in terms of ph or alkalinity; and it’s how these are combined together within your garden that makes your plot of land somewhat unique. If you want to know what soil type you’re working with, you really have to test it and see. Once you have that knowledge, then you can make adjustments to the soil in order to have a more bountiful harvest. You also need to make sure that you know the “soil” you have in an organization in order to make positive changes and to get the most out of it. In this time of mergers, acquisitions, and frequent changes in senior management, we often don’t spend enough time understanding the soil of a company.

Not too long ago, we were working with a company after an acquisition process. On paper the two companies involved had looked like the perfect match. They had roughly the same reporting and hierarchy structure, and even though they were competitors in the marketplace it turned out their client lists didn’t overlap very much. Again, all looked good from a paper-and-pencil standpoint.

Unfortunately, the “soil” wasn’t really the same, and after about a year they brought us in to “test” it. After testing, we found large differences in culture and process. One organization had an informal reporting structure that, in reality, ran the organization. These informal “gatekeepers” had a long history in the company and nothing really happened without their knowledge and/or consent. Thrown into the new environment, that role disappeared and no one knew what do to, resulting in high turnover and dissatisfaction. Eventually, they developed a new operations framework, but only after the loss of several key and top-performing staff members.

On the flip side, several years ago we were working with a new CEO who was brought into an organization to help turn it around. The individual had been a successful leader of another company in an entirely different category. He could have come into the new organization touting his proven method from the other company but instead asked us to interview multiple stakeholders: senior management, suppliers, members of their distribution channel, their advertising agency members, etc. Once he understood the “soil” he was working in, he was able to utilize the strengths of the existing culture to more quickly make the needed changes.

Finally, provide daily/consistent attention. One of the biggest mistakes I made in my earlier gardening efforts was not giving the garden the consistent attention it needed. If it was in great shape one day, it might be several days before I would get there again. However, I’ve learned that when gardening, by keeping on top of things you are able to spot small changes or issues before they escalate into larger ones. During the growing season, I’m always on the lookout for insects eating my plant leaves. At the first sign of holes in leaves I take action, helping to eliminate any pests before they can do too much damage. For another example, with daily or at least consistent weeding, I’m able to keep my garden from getting overgrown and choking out the plants I’m trying to nourish. In addition, when you let your garden get overgrown, the weeds take up more of your time and energy, leaving less time for you to help your plants thrive. Likewise, with consistent watering I’m encouraging a positive consequence. One of the worst things that can happen to a cucumber is inconsistent watering, which will often make it taste bitter. By watering evenly and consistently, I’m able to help ensure a better-tasting cucumber. For my gardens, I typically go out in the mornings before heading to work and concentrate on those three things: holes in the leaves, weeds in the beds, and how wet (or dry) the soil is. There will be other times to concentrate on other things, but I’ve found these typically will keep my garden moving forward.

We all have limited time and resources, so it is important to concentrate your consistent attention on those key metrics that are important to your business. From a business perspective, every morning one of the first things I do is look at where my group is in several key areas, including workload and pipeline of projects. It’s up to each organization, and person within an organization, to identify and monitor their key metrics to ensure growth.

In conclusion, To help grow your business, remember to plan for the harvest, know your organization’s soil, and pay consistent attention to day-to-day tasks. And keep your eyes and mind open for other things in the world around you that will help you better manage your business.

About the Author

Clay Dethloff ( is Senior Vice President, Director of Qualitative Research at Decision Analyst. He may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.


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