Cultivating Potential

While picking up some hotcakes at McDonald’s, I noticed a little promotional graphic on the side of the large plastic bag.  It said, “Grow Your Own, We Did.” The graphic had a bowl of something that looked hot and good, a plant and it’s roots, and a stat about the success of their restaurant managers and how 67,000 of them worldwide started as crew members.  You know what, I can show you better than I can tell you…here it is (below).

PotentialThe post could really stop there, but I have to expound.

I hate the word “Potential”. Every time I hear it I want to throw something. Mainly because it’s being used by someone who has “made it” and they are speaking to someone they probably aren’t willing to mentor.  When I hear the bad word “Potential”, I hear, “Everything you thought you’ve accomplished so far really ain’t squat.”

But like most “bad words” it’s all about the context in which they’re used, who’s saying them and who the audience is.  Understanding the true meaning of “Potential”, I’ve realized it’s less about what we’ve done, but more about where the seeds will be planted, choosing the right seeds for your particular garden and how they are cared for once in and out of the ground.

Preparing the Soil

We all want our organizations to be successful. In our perfect worlds, employees are happy, money is coming in, our reputations in the community are in tact and we are leaving legacies.  But in the real word, we make inconsistent decisions on the fly. We play favorites depending on who’s involved and what can be gained. We turn over employees like the hot dogs in a gas station cooker. We work daily in messes, some of our own creation. It’s like compost if you will. While a little is needed for successful seed growth, too much just makes everything stink and we’ll get nothing but smelly weeds.

Bringing new employees and future leaders into a mess will make them, well…messy, and the cycle of organizational barrenness will continue.  Our workplaces must be prepared and tilled by:

  • Ensuring processes and systems are in place and that they align with what we’re trying to accomplish
  • Implementing clear training programs so our new employees are not falling into the rough
  • Defining what great performance looks like so we can evaluate as we go, making decisions whether to uproot, replant, graft or replace
  • Equipping managers to recognize those key milestones or growth issues so they can adjust their care quickly


Choosing the Proper Seed

Seeds don’t ask to be planted.  They are chosen or they are by nature plucked from their habitat and driven to a place where they can grow. We can’t assume that great talent is going to approach us or that it will just fall in our laps. We have to stop being lazy and seek out talent, not just settle for what we already have or wait for someone to ask to be developed. It’s easier to grow up a plant the way we want it to be than to try and change a mature one I always say.

The key is then deciding which seeds are right for your flowerbed.  Don’t get purple buds if the design calls for yellow. Recruiters must know the makeup of the soil that the seeds are to be planted in, what resources are available for their care and success (and if the organization can accommodate , how these plants will react to the existing ones, vice versa and ultimately what the desired appearance is once everything has bloomed.

All potential isn’t necessarily right for your organization though. A candidate can be the most driven and impressive, but do they fit with the vision, structure and culture?  Will what they have to offer help the whole or will they suck all of the nutrients out of the soil and kill the other plants. Will they grow too tall and block the sun, causing others to wither from the lack.  Or hopefully, will planting this particular seed help the other plants, offering needed balance or the motivation to perform better than they have in the past.

Minding the Garden

For employee growth to occur, they cannot just be thrown into a hole and expected to thrive. Constant watering, daily attention (but not micro-managing), the removal of surrounding weeds and ongoing maintenance are required for growth and sustained success.

We have to seek out those employees or candidates with potential and put in the pre-work for them to grow into what we believe they can. You may ask, “What’s their role while we’re doing all of this work?” Well, if you remember, it’s not easy cracking out of that shell and maneuvering your way through layers and layers of dirt. They will be busy. Don’t you worry. Just do your part; get your hands a little dirty for their development and they and they’re potential will handle the rest.  All will not make it, but the ones that do will surely contribute to the overall success, performance and beauty of your organizational garden.


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