People are Like Plants: 4 Tips to Cultivate Your People into Hardy Crops

The Old Farmer’s Almanac recently released its long-awaited regional forecasts for 2019 with predictions on short versus long winters, dry versus wet winters and warm versus cold winters. Since the 18th century, the publication has also included planting advice which many farmers rely on to schedule their agricultural activities for the year. Coupled with the visual imagery of crops ready for harvest that I experience in the dog days of summer while commuting to work, the Almanac has me reflecting on the relationship between plants and people.

My husband grew up on his parents’ working farm in rural Virginia. Each year, land had to be prepared, seeds had to be sowed, plants had to be tended and fertilized, equipment had to be maintained, and crops had to be harvested. Though my husband’s father was ultimately responsible for cultivating the plants so that the crops could be harvested with maximum yield, it was not a one-person job. Additional people were needed on the farm to care for the land, equipment and crops from the beginning of the growing season to the end. Most people don’t grow up on farms nowadays. They’re often unfamiliar with the immense work required for people to nurture plants into hardy crops ripe for harvest.

People are like plants; they need someone to cultivate them so they can grow into hardy crops. Here are four tips for leaders to cultivate plants into hardy crops:

Start a Dialogue

Learn one personal tidbit a week about your employees by asking a question. Engage them in a brief personal discussion. What’s their passion? Are they interested in sports? Which team do they follow? While temporarily working in Alabama during football season, I would usually ask employees whether they were Alabama or Auburn fans. In my home region of Virginia, I may ask if they are Virginia Tech or Virginia fans. It doesn’t have to be about sports. Ask your employees what they are doing this weekend. Running a marathon? Hanging out with family and friends at the lake? Strike up a conversation. Make the connection with them.

Help Define the Destination

Ask your employees where they want to be in three to five years. Introducing the topic of their professional ambition provides you with a better understanding of who they are. Are they interested in moving up the career ladder? I worked at an agency for 10 years before a supervisor ever asked me this question. An employee recently told me it was 15 years before she heard this question. Why wait to ask? Ask the question now. Make an impact. Recognize that it’s possible no one has yet asked this question. Sometimes employees are ready for the next step but are just waiting for someone to show an interest in their professional development.

Seek a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Give your employees permission to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Everyone needs a good balance between work, personal responsibilities and family roles, particularly now that technology can keep people connected to work 24×7. Proper work-life balance increases creativity, productivity and personal satisfaction while simultaneously avoiding burnout. Let your employees know that you expect them to maintain a healthy work-life balance and that you will support them in this endeavor. Then model the behavior for them. Learn to say “no” instead of overcommitting yourself. Set work hours, and leave work on time. Allow for some flexibility. Take vacations to re-charge yourself.

Discuss Self-Assessments

Encourage your employees to complete self-assessments. I once provided a training session on the importance of self-assessments to a group of about 25 supervisors. One of them mentioned to me afterward how enlightening the information was and how excited she was to share it with her employees. Though she had been with the agency for 10 years, no one had ever discussed self-assessments with her. While self-assessments are often associated with the performance appraisal process, they can be adapted for broader purposes. Identifying one’s own strengths and weaknesses, or accomplishments and failures, is part of self-awareness. Self-awareness boosts emotional intelligence, and emotional intelligence enhances opportunities for both personal and professional success.

Final Thoughts

Each year, The Old Farmer’s Almanac contains valuable predictions for farmers on the most favorable days of the year to perform various tasks such as tilling land and planting seeds based on the phase and position of the moon. The best days of the year for leaders to sow seeds, tend and fertilize plants, maintain equipment and harvest crops are already here! In the words of Masanobu Fukuoka, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” Learning one personal tidbit a week about your employees, asking them where they want to be in three to five years, giving them permission to maintain a healthy work-life balance, and encouraging them to complete self-assessments will cultivate your plants into hardy crops and add value to them. Commit yourself to implementing these four tips so your harvest has maximum yield.


Sherrie P. Mitchell is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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John Burton

Love this article. It brought back memories of my childhood since I grew up near a rural area. Most of my friends were from farms. Having a high-performing workplace with happy employees is all about the building and cultivating relationships in the ways described.