Orchids are remarkable. In their bright colors, complex shapes and near-perfect symmetry, we can find several business lessons to be learned. There are parallels between growing orchids and my other passion: cultivating human potential.
I’ve submitted my best plants to be judged at various orchid shows, and I covet the Certificate of Cultural Excellence award. It's given to a well-flowered orchid that presents a specimen of robust health. This award means the gardener has provided the absolute best environment for the plant to grow and thrive.
Part of my job at Yahoo is to help develop our team. I look at my colleagues the way I look at my plants. Orchids with healthy root systems almost can be guaranteed to produce healthy, vibrant blooms. It’s the same with people. It takes culture, care and authenticity to support the growth of a strong team.
This word is used as much in orchid-growing as it is in the corporate world. To promote healthy orchids, you must understand their natural habitat and growing requirements. Similarly, to build a strong team, you have to take the time to get to know your team members. When you understand their priorities, motivations and strengths, you can plant each person in a role that fits his or her personal “culture” as much as possible.
Then, work to give your team members room to thrive. Clearly articulate a sense of purpose as you obsess about fairness and accountability. Create a safe environment in which people aren't afraid to bring up issues, voice opposing views or make mistakes.
Most orchids die due to the wrong kind of care -- too much or too little water, or a temperature that's too hot or too cold. Care enough about your team members to give them appropriate development opportunities without prescribing or micromanaging every step. Praise positive performance, but make sure to give honest and constructive feedback so they can improve. Then, step back and watch them blossom.
Despite my best efforts, my orchids sometimes die. I accept that I probably did something wrong and try to correct this shortcoming as I care for the next plant.
In business, priorities and goals sometimes shift. When this happens, communicate to the team and explain the reason. If your team experiences challenging global conditions, discuss these factors openly. Figure out what can you can do locally to keep the team engaged. When you make a mistake, admit it and share the learnings with your management. We’re all adults. No one expects perfection, but we do expect authentic transparency and integrity.
If you take the time to really get to know your employees and understand what drives them, you're more likely to tap into their sense of purpose. Give them the support they need to succeed in their roles, and empower them to make critical decisions. Your team members will thrive in this environment, surprising you by working together to create much more impact than you (or they) thought possible. Those results -- and your efforts -- will be worthy of a Certificate of Cultural Excellence!