During National Gardening Week, Rachel Letby, Director at Crail Consulting looks at six characteristics that gardening and managing change have in common

I’m a keen gardener. Not necessarily a good one, but I enjoy the mixture of physical work and the ability to let my mind wander. In fact, some of my best ideas or ways to solve problems have come from when I’ve been gardening.

However, I get a mixed reaction when I tell others that I have an allotment:
– “I didn’t know you’d retired?” No, I certainly have not!
– “That’s a big time commitment.” Yes, but if you enjoy something then you make time for it!
– “How does that fit with what you do at work?”

That last comment is an interesting one. I think that gardening and helping clients to change has more in common than on first sight. Here are my thoughts; it’d be great to hear your views.

1. Planning
If you don’t plan your gardening, you’ll end up with a mixed outcome. A garden that may come together and be beautiful, if you’re lucky, or a mess of plants with tall plants hiding short ones, with odd empty patches at different times of the year. Essentially a wilderness rather than a garden. That’s ok if that’s what you wanted. But was it the outcome you were after?
A gardening plan helps you to grow plants that complement each other and bring beauty to your garden throughout the year. It means that you don’t waste effort nor time growing plants that will have a poor chance of surviving. It takes a longer term view and so allows you to rotate plantings so that you don’t impoverish the soil and can plan longer term growth.
For me, it’s all part of the enjoyment – seeing what I had planned come to fruition. Similarly with managing change, a plan clarifies your outcomes and determines the sequencing of change to the organisation’s best advantage.

2. Preparation
Gardening’s not just about planting. Preparation is key. Digging, weeding. All have to be done so that the ground is ready to accept the seeds and plants. It’s the same for managing change. Stakeholders need to be engaged; project team members brought on board; communications about the change undertaken. It’s pointless to charge into making changes without having done the groundwork first. It just encourages resistance and impacts sustainability.

3. Companion Plants
This is about team work. Plants that help others. Marigolds to attract ladybirds; nasturtiums that protect brassicas; mint to deter bugs; lavender to attract bees. It’s the same when managing change. Working together to minimise risk and to make the change happen.

4. Growing
This is the tending side of gardening, keeping those weeds at bay, deterring pests, staking lanky plants. Ensuring they’re receiving the right nutrients. In other words: addressing risks, providing support, ensuring the right environment. It’s the same for managing change!

5. Harvesting
There is something glorious about eating produce that you’ve grow yourself. Being able to share it with others. It will taste different and you’re proud of it.
This is something I think is often forgotten about when managing change in an organisation. There is such a rush to move on to the next change that the original change isn’t appreciated sufficiently nor allowed to embed properly. Those involved don’t have the time to pause, reflect on what has happened and think about what could be done differently next time and, just as importantly, what was successful and then to share this with others.

6. Storing Produce
It’s strange but so many gardeners, myself included, don’t think this through. Rather than thinking how we’re going to store our hard won produce over time, we tend to panic and give it away. We don’t allow ourselves to get the full benefit of our work.

You’ve probably already guessed what I’m going to say here. It’s the same with change. Often organisations don’t realise the full benefits of their hard won work.

So for an article that might have seemed strange at first – gardening and managing change – I hope it’s been thought provoking. I’ll leave you with a shot of my first ever sunflowers (I was so proud of them!).

I’d love to hear your views on any of the above. Please pop them in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

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