The Gardening Metaphor for your Corporate Culture

Explaining why a certain corporate environment is better than others can be tricky. A good metaphor can help with that. The Gardening Metaphor fits perfect.

Despite all the tools, processes, good ideas and well intended initiatives, there is one thing humans need to flourish at work.., and that’s the right environment.

Next to the fact that many forget that it is humans who do the actual work and who are responsible for the actual change, many forget that creating the right environment is the one decisive element for any success.


The Gardening Metaphor

It’s easy to draw parallels between the office and a garden. Just like an office with a great variety of individual characters, a garden can (or should) be made up out of many different kinds of plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables. There is no way that you can grow all of them under exact the same conditions.

Some need a lot of care and attention, while others are more of the plant-and-forget variety. Some need to be in a green house, others thrive outside. Some need a lot of sunlight, others fair better in the shade. Some need sandy soil, others do well in clay. Some take a lot more time to bear fruit, others can be harvested throughout the season and grow back their leaves for more picking. Some survive the winter, others need to be brought inside.

One size most certainly does not fit all.

Biodiversity vs. Monoculture

The idea of a healthy grow-your-own garden is partially based in permaculture. A wide variety of species which complement each other. One plant is grown for food, another is grown to attract a specific insect to kill a specific pest.

The idea is to create a long lasting, multi disciplined and healthy environment where each species has the best possible circumstances to become as productive as it can be. Why else would you go through all the trouble if not for the best yield.

To have a culture which can sustain itself is beneficial on so many levels.

Many managers (and HR departments) would like a monoculture. Here employees dress the same, come from a similar background, react in a predictable fashion and adhere to the rules you set in the environment your create and control.

This is how we farm these days, and how we maintain our ridiculous suburban lawns (seriously people, grow some veggies there). Here the metaphor takes an ugly turn, but the opportunity to make an excellent point can not be ignored.

Monsanto (and others) is a monoculture specialist. This monstrosity of a company creates genetically modified organisms that are resistant to a very specific poison. Any other species of plant or animal will be killed by it.., leaving only the chosen plant to survive. This is uncontrollably dangerous, and is created for one purpose and one purpose only, control (in this case our food supplies, an unending source of revenue).

Once you go GMO, there’s no turning back (physically or legally).

Here, I’m sure, I do not have to explain how detrimental a monoculture is to a corporate culture.


Sowing is a process many underestimate. Just like any idea or transformation, it takes skill and knowledge to give a seed(ling) the best start in life as possible.

Sure, you can buy a plant, or a small (fruit)tree, it saves a lot of time, and in some cases it’s even better. But most things you grow, you grow from seed. And you do this every year (preferably with seeds you harvested yourself).
This way you know what you get, know what you plant.., and know what you eventually eat.

For each species there is a best time to sow, some you grow rapidly and can be sown throughout the year. Others, like chillies have a very long growing season and require a really early start (and a nourisching environment).

Taking care of your employees the minute they walk through your door is a precious first step. Like bringing a puppy into your house, or, indeed, sowing your own produce.
It’s important new members are made to feel welcome, that they can find their way within the company and that other employees are aware of their arrival. Don’t just drop them in the deep end and expect them to grow to what you want.

It doesn’t matter how professional they are and how high your expectations are, a little bit of support and guidance goes a long way.

Success Not Guaranteed

And no.., not all seeds germinate. Nor do all seedlings survive. And along the way some plants will die, get infested or get eaten. Up front there is no telling what might happen, there are no guarantees in gardening, nor in business.., nor in life.

If you want guarantees, buy a Nissan, you get 5 years worth of them.

However, as mentioned above (and probably below too), creating the best possible environment gives you a much, much better chance of actually achieving what you want.

Employees need to be able to grow, to breath, to think.., to spread their wings and soar (I know, it sounds a bit corny, but it holds true). If you stifen an employee too much, too many rules and regulations, put them in a cubacle and tell them to sit down, shut up, and do their work. All sorts of maladies can turn up, boredom, stress, irritation.., leading to sickness, errors, or unproductivity.

I goes to the point that many initiatives and ideas drop dead, simply because of the wrong environment.

When a person has an idea, a brilliant spark of genius, this thought needs to be able to be heard, to be discussed. It needs to be nurtured and be allowed to grow.

The person having, and sharing, the idea needs to trust it’s received with understanding and handled with care.

Harvesting and Conserving

15144336088_a1628dc4e5_oSure, there are additional benefits to a garden, it’s pretty, it smells nice, it attracts many insects and other wildlife, it is a win/win kind of thing.

But, the main point of a garden (or vegetable plot) is to end up with food. Preferably such a continuous amount that it can sustain you throughout winter (and the hunger gap) until the next season starts the cycle anew.

In order to gain the best yield, the right environment for the plants needs to be monitored all the time. This means you have to take care of the garden throughout the seasons. You have to clear weeds, fight pests (organically of course), water everything when needed, any many other small recurring chores to make sure all is well. If the weather turns ugly, you might want/need to add some extra protection for the more vulnerable plants.

You Reap what you Sow

When harvesting time comes, you’ll know if your efforts have been successful. Some plants might give an abundance of fruit, so much that you might not be able to eat it all, and need to be preserved. Others might be disappointing, or not productive at all. For these you need to figure out what the cause of this is, rectify it next season and hope for better results.

You cannot determine at the beginning of the season if all seedlings are producing what you hope. All you can do is create the best possible conditions, and then let nature do the rest.

You can be 100% in control, but that requires a 100% controlled environment, leaving nothing to chance.

Let it Grow

You can’t pull on the plants and expect them to grow faster.  – John Wenger

Most current corporate cultures do not sustain any individuality, serendipity or even productivity. Management is so disconnected from the workforce that they have no clue what ideas might be sprouting. The control (power) they desire so much kills all ideas and initiatives. Only those introduced by themselves are allowed to stay on.

This brings us back to the monoculture, and why it is such a bad concept.

The holistic approach of permaculture farmers have an average yield 3 times more per square meter than highly industrialised farmers.

In the beginning it takes a bit of extra work to set things up, to make sure all elements are in place. But, once things are running, a lot of it will take care of itself. Plants know very well for themsleves how to grow, when to grow a flower and when to turn that into a fruit.., you don’t have to tell it to do it.

All you need to do is make sure the conditions are just right.., that the enviroment is just right. Then, be it a plant or a human, they will find there way.

And trust me, the results can be phenominal.


Author: Rogier Noort

Digital Transformer | Thinker | Listener | Speaker | Podcaster | Writer | Blogger Twitter or LinkedIn.

2 thoughts on “The Gardening Metaphor for your Corporate Culture”

  1. This is bang on, Rogier, and thank you for writing a post so eloquently and environmentally sound. I own my own sole proprietorship home based medical transcription company, and try to treat my clients, friends and family as I would nurture a garden. You’re so right, it is an issue of control at the top or else allowing our clients and friends to grow and flourish in the way they will, and providing the right kind of environment so they feel encouraged to do so. Many people don’t even allow themselves to flourish and grow, either. Organically, I would say., the process is different for everyone, as you pointed out so well.

    1. Thanks Kenna.., much appreciated.

      We’re taught not to stand out, to act “normal” and to not exceed our bounderies, whether they’re set by others, society or ourselves.
      To know, and understand that there is another option is a good step. Teaching (encouraging) others is a good things to do. Cheers to you for that.


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