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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pulling Up Seedlings

Several years ago I heard a great analogy from someone in a leadership class. I've always taken it to heart, and wanted to share it here.

Tim (his real name) grew up in the southwestern US where the climate is a desert. He moved to Portland, Oregon, which is a temperate rainforest biome. He had never seen greenery like that and was fascinated by it. In a flowerbed at his home one spring he noticed some evergreen seedlings growing. Never having seen things growing like this, he saw it as something special. His wife told him that he needed to pull them up soon or it would be too late. He didn't really listen to her, and continued to watch as the seedlings sprouted and grew bigger and bigger. After several weeks of watching this, he finally realized that the seedlings had become saplings and were quickly taking over the garden. But as he worked on digging them up, he discovered that this wasn't an easy task. If he had pulled them up when they were small, it would have been quick and easy. Instead, by waiting too long and allowing them to grow, he suddenly had to deal with thick, long roots that required a lot of effort and sweat to dig out.

Problems in the workplace are like seedlings. They can seem small and innocent at first, and they don't really cause any serious issues. But if you allow them time to grow, they become big enough to take over the workplace. By the time this has happened, these problems are firmly entrenched and are difficult to remove. The key is to handle problems early and not wait until they are big. Too many managers and leaders avoid problems because they hate confrontation. Rather than solving the problem they wait until it grows big enough that they can't igore it. But by then it's too late for a simple fix.

And yes, this entry is inspired by some problems in my own work that I'm having to handle. Thankfully, I learned that lesson and am not waiting too long. Ahhh, the joys of managment.