Learning from nature — you must water and prune a plant for it to grow

Patti Mancini
April 9, 2024

Spring rolls around, and new life pours back into the world around us. It's a wonderful thing to witness every year as it brings joy, color, and beauty to our daily lives.

On a similar timeline at Zest AI is our performance review cycle, when individuals take the time to assess their triumphs and challenges over the last year and construct a plan for new professional growth. As much as we would each like to say that we had a perfect year — it's rarely the case, and that's okay!   Much like the new life around us in springtime, we have to push past the hardened dirt of winter to sprout. Like new plants, our careers must be assessed, weeded, and fertilized to grow. There are times when we roll up our sleeves and use tools to prune back a plant or nourish the soil to keep it healthy and promote growth -  and in our work, sometimes different things have to be deprioritized to keep on track. 

These activities are healthy and part of the natural cycle in the world of plants. While we can apply these same concepts to our work, it's easy to see how the weeding and pruning of our careers can be difficult, feel at times frustrating, and sometimes even seem impossible; however, there is no growth without the growing pains.

The natural cycle of growth

Plants' growth is natural if they're planted in the right spot, with enough room, the right amount of water and sunlight, and access to enough nutrients. This is just like people in their work environment, who need the right work, tools, and resources to flourish. When people have these things, they can begin to grow.

Basic resources aren't all it takes to grow a career, though. Just like soil, water, sun, and nutrients aren't always what goes into a plant's growth, we sometimes don't know what a plant — or human — needs until it starts to bloom. Most of the time, extra steps are required even after the bloom so that the plant, or human, can continue to thrive. This is where development and feedback come into play in the workplace.

Everyone wants success — as an individual, as a team, and as a company. By providing specific, contextual, and continuous feedback to employees, employers can nourish their employees' careers and seed further success for the company. In receiving this kind of feedback, employees can quickly respond, grow in new ways, and learn easily from mistakes. It's a simple back-and-forth. But what happens when the feedback is more substantial?

The wisdom comes in the doing

Just like a plant needs to be fertilized and watered, it also needs occasional weeding and pruning. As an employee's career advances, they face new challenges and growth opportunities that sometimes need fine-tuning. While pruning and weeding don't seem to bother most plants, feedback and growth of this kind can be hard for a person.

As employers, we want our employees to be successful, which makes teams and companies successful. In development conversations, feedback should be thoughtful, respectful, and direct, and the employee should leave that conversation with a clear expectation laid out in front of them.

For employees, this process can be a balance of ownership and trust in our peers and leaders, who care for us and help our career gardens grow. If we own our responsibilities with a sense of humility and desire to grow, we are naturally advocating for ourselves through reflective listening and commitment to being our best.  

Reflective listening allows us to hear and understand a manager's feedback, honor the feelings that accompany it, and share our own impressions of the situation. This can often be an employee's opportunity to inspire growth within themselves. Reflective listening takes the feedback received and allows the employee to process it and translate that into actionable improvement to move forward with.  

Growth is not simple, but with the right mix of watering, weeding, pruning, and fertilizing, a plant can continue to grow — and so can you in your professional garden!

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