I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and like any good kid, I had chores. One of them, which I actually enjoyed, was mowing the lawn. In the Chicago area the grass is soft and the enemy of that soft grass is a weed we called crabgrass. I pulled it whenever I saw it and tossed it where it belonged, the trash! Thirty years later I find myself living in Northeast Florida and I still love to mow the yard. When I first moved here I couldn’t believe that they grew crabgrass for lawns. They call it St. Augustine grass here but in the midwest, it’s crabgrass. It is actually good grass for the area because it grows well in high heat where it rains a lot. I have come to love it, but only when it’s cut as it looks terrible when it’s long. The other day a member of my leadership team was having a rough morning and for whatever reason, I don’t know where it came from, I told him not to give up, his lawn was just getting mowed. Quizzically he looked at me seeking explanation. We talked about St. Augustine grass and how terrible it is when it gets long and how much better it is when it cut. Does the grass quit growing when it gets cut? Nope, as a matter of fact, grass grows best right after it has been through that traumatic experience.

Cutting grass is similar in concept to pruning. When you prune, or cut something away, you are making room for growth. Relationships need to be pruned, which is what was happening that morning at work, behaviors need to be pruned, and of course, cultures need to be pruned. How exactly do you prune a culture? If pruning implies cutting does that mean that people have to be cut in order to prune a culture? If people were the only thing that made up a culture then yes, that would be true, but there are so many intangible, invisible characteristics in a culture, cutting people should be the last thing that is needed to be done. Discovering what exactly needs to be cut or trimmed is a leadership team event in and of itself. What I would like to offer it some guidelines or principles to help guide that discussion.

  • Are we accomplishing the mission

Please start with this question. A culture should be pruned so it can grow and accomplish greater things. Those things need to be defined in the mission or vision. We have all heard it a million times, an arrow can not hit a target it cannot see. Ensure the mission is clear!

  • How are we recognizing and rewarding effort

There is a lot of meat here and what most of the discussion should revolve around. People want to participate and bring value. One of the ways they know they are providing value is how they are recognized by leadership in front of their peers. If you are doing something formally here, it is good to review it and try to determine if it is still effective.

  • Relationship Review

Relationships make up a big part of the culture. The number 1 reason people leave is because of relationships. Peers or supervisors, if there are issues that go unaddressed, people will leave. Take time to review relationships at every level and do not fear the difficult discussions. Its called pruning, it might hurt, but it makes room for growth.

  • Seats on the bus

This should be ongoing leadership discussion. Do we have the right people and are they in the right seat? If someone is not pulling their weight, or their performance is sub par, it doesn’t necessarily mean they get cut. It might mean training, or moving them to a different area. If someone is not in the right seat and nothing is done about it, leadership loses credibility, it does not go unnoticed by team members.

There are many other parts of your culture to consider. The point is periodically taking time to do the considering. Cutting away can be viewed as an opportunity and not a traumatic event. I would not recommend pruning without a plan for growth. As you prune certain parts of your culture, plan what you will grow in place of what you trimmed away. I think I might take a section of St. Augustine grass from my yard and pot it and bring it to my office and just let it grow in the window. This will be a good reminder for me and the leadership team that while it is seemingly easy to plant something, it is difficult to keep it nice looking and functional.

@pvbrieger

3 Comments

  1. Jim Wilder | Reply

    Great piece, Bill. I was feeling pretty good about my new lawn until you told me its all weeds.

    At DaVita, we have a bridge at each facility that symbolizes every teammate’s decision to join our community, to embrace our mission and core values. The process of pruning is often done in that context. I have been especially impressed with their approach to ensure each person is in the right seat on the bus. With the growth of the company, what looked like just the right seat two years ago starts to look like the wrong seat for tomorrow. But with so many divisions both in the US and Internationally, there always seems to be another seat on the bus. Unfortunately, I have noticed folks at the higher levels struggle with changing seats, even when the culture is supportive. I wonder if there are things we can do to lovingly support our peers who find they are sitting in the wrong seat.

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