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Spring Awakening

Issue 110, May 25, 2023

It’s Spring and we are coming up on a major holiday weekend where we hope for good weather and time outdoors with family and friends.  At 2040 we’re feeling optimistic and seeking opportunities for renewal (even escape) as we see the landscape around us come to life once again. In fact, we recently came to the realization that organizations seeking to change, and transform could easily be compared to a natural landscape and garden. In this regard, organizational leaders can become master gardeners. Sound like a stretch? Think about it. Gardens represent a belief there is a future filled with promise. That there is regeneration and rejuvenation as well as fresh opportunities. In a garden, change and ongoing transformation occur as the months pass.

Like most things in life, honing a skill is an iterative learning experience just like a gardener who experiments and refines. And a skilled master gardener can step back and envision how to fill that canvas with a range of colors to create order out of chaos, identify natural resources, nurture a diverse group of plants and flowers, and help orchestrate all the parts of the garden to create an inter-dependent whole.

In Paul Schrader’s new film Master Gardener, actor Joel Edgerton as the master gardener speaks poetically of gardening and its philosophy of rebirth and nourishment as he views Grace Gardens as a fragile refuge that he must sustain and maintain. And to do this, he is mentor, manager, collaborator, teacher, and inspiration to a team of gardeners.

Gardening as a metaphor for organizational culture isn’t anything new. The 18th century landscape architect William Kent said, “Garden as though you will live forever.” Contemporary gardener Janet Kilburn Phillips states “There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.” And further back, a Greek proverb says “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” That last one could be an organization’s mantra for longevity and relevance.

If we haven’t lost you yet, a master gardener isn’t simply a designation for someone who is good at gardening, but rather a specific title achieved through skill, hard work, and a passion for people (Gardening).

Are you seeing the parallels between a master gardener and leadership, and the garden as the organization? To take it a step further, gardens are co-dependent on the gardener. A successful garden is the result of cooperation among people, plants, bacteria, wildlife and more. Like an organization, it is a living and breathing ecosystem reliant and inter-dependent upon its parts and relationships. And a thriving garden is cared for and tended as an organization should be, nurturing individuals and teams and creating its culture of shared purpose and yes, its future.

As we consider the metaphor, let’s turn our attention to the individuals and teams a leader must tend to and learn what opportunities for success are trending.

Job Satisfaction

As Quartz recently reported, new data from the Conference Board shows that job satisfaction among US workers is at a three-decade high. As we come out of the pandemic, the era of silent quitting, struggles with work/life balance and anxiety resulting from the unfamiliar, this year’s survey of 1,680 respondents found that 62.3% of US workers are satisfied with their jobs, marking an uptick from 60.2% last year and 56.8% in 2020—and a 36-year high. That said there is a satisfaction gap with women less content than men (60.1% to 64% for men). Even with flex time, women still bear the brunt of responsibilities at home, from childcare and housework to managing domestic life. The demand for work-life balance rests deeply in the female workforce as does pay parity. These continue to be major issues that society must address as we continue to evolve, change, and become more aware.

What do the most successful organizations bring to the table to ensure individuals are satisfied with their jobs? They offer adequate sick days, family leave and vacation policies that align with raising a family. These are the tangible signs of a great organization that achieves excellence in three areas: people, product, and purpose. As we have written, transformation, pivots and outright change are foundationally dependent on the human factor aligned to a shared purpose. If you get this wrong, all else will surely fail.

So, a great organization also gives the workforce the opportunity to grow and learn.  It engenders respect and is built on a culture of trust, awareness, and fairness. And these mandates are wrapped in shared purpose with a clear understanding of how each person plays a role in that purpose, contributes…and is appreciated.

This is possible when the organization rewards honesty, excellence, and mutual respect while mitigating individual ambitions that attempt to overtake the success of the whole (think: persistent, choking weeds).  So, take a pause and consider how your own organizational culture operates.  What are your standards? Do you stand by your ethics? Do you have a shared purpose? Does leadership inspire? Does leadership communicate and ensure those comprising the workforce are part of the system and its goals? Do you have a thriving garden with empathetic master gardeners?

The Best Places to Work

You can create any list based on the criteria and data you input.  We thought it interesting to see how the top 10 best places to work differ on three lists based on their origins. For organizational leaders, using critical thinking and conducting research as to why any of these organizations are on a list may offer some insight for improvements that can be made to their own organizations . Across the three, we suggest Glassdoor may be most indicative of those to review as current and former employees’ ratings comprise the list. You of course can draw your own conclusions!

Fortune 100 Best Companies for 2023


Glassdoor Best Places to Work 2023 Axios/Harris Poll – Top Reputations


Cisco Gainsight Patagonia
Hilton Box Costco
American Express Bain & Company John Deere
Wegman’s Food Markets McKinsey & Company Trader Joe’s
Accenture NVIDIA Chick-A-Fil
NVIDIA Mathworks Toyota
Atlassian Boston Consulting Company Samsung
Salesforce Google Amazon
Comcast NBC Universal Service Now USAA
Marriott International In-N-Out Burger Apple

How Great Organizations Think Differently

Traditionally, organizational greatness was measured by profitability (and in the eyes of the stock market, profitability still reigns supreme). Profitability is a measure from the outside looking in, which is important, but it may overlook the internal challenges that exist which hinder productive change and true transformation (and satisfaction across the workforce). Today, with so many organizations run by investors, there is a focus on short-term profits versus a long-term plan for a viable, sustainable business. Like a garden, great organizations think about building enduring institutions. They invest in the future while being aware of the need to build people and society (Harvard Business Review).

And a key to unlocking that future is operating with a social/institutional logic. HBR author Rosabeth Moss Kanter writes “what lies behind the practices of many widely admired, high-performing, and enduring organizations is that society and people are not afterthoughts or inputs to be used and discarded but are core to their purpose.” Institutional logic is described by Kanter: “Organizations are more than instruments for generating money; they are also vehicles for accomplishing societal purposes and for providing meaningful livelihoods for those who work in them. According to this school of thought, the value that an organization creates should be measured not just in terms of short-term profits or paychecks but also in terms of how it sustains the conditions that allow it to flourish over time. These leaders deliver more than just financial returns; they also build enduring institutions.”

Social logic uses a defined construct: societal value and human values are decision-making criteria. Kanter adds that success comes “by providing jobs and enhancing workers’ quality of life; by developing a strong network of suppliers and business partners; and by ensuring financial viability, which provides resources for improvements, innovations, and returns to investors.” Each represents the interdependent parts of the holistic system and culture of an organization. Overlooking only one part is like having a car with three tires, it will always be off balance.

In our dynamically changing, AI-infused digital marketplace, a premium is paid on innovation, which requires human imagination, creativity, and collaboration. Leadership can nurture and cultivate these qualities within a workforce to achieve success.  As Kanter writes, “meaning making is a central function of leaders, and purpose gives coherence to the organization. Institutional grounding involves efforts to build and reinforce organizational culture, but it is more than that. Culture is often a by-product of past actions, a passively generated outgrowth of history. Institutional grounding is an investment in activities and relationships that may not immediately create a direct road to business results but that reflect the values the institution stands for and how it will endure.”

Grow to Last

Let’s return to the garden theme. Healthy organizations require leadership with a high emotional quotient. Empathy remains paramount. At 2040 our intention is to embrace the concept of master gardening and its potential to assist clients build great organizations by revealing how to systematically learn from experience and experiment with shaping a sustainable future. The satisfaction of a workforce is tantamount to working together with shared purpose to achieve both the small and stretch goals.

We support institutional logic with leading a workforce that is trusted with the future of the organization and is appreciated for its efforts. There are so many ways an enlightened organization can develop a culture of shared purpose.  A key practice is self-organization that demonstrates how inter-personal networks can ratchet up shared information, best practices, innovation, and new initiatives. In essence, an organization that thrives is a garden that is inclusive, diverse, and built on cooperation and collaboration. And ultimately, everyone can be a master gardener for their teams, large or small. Rejuvenation is an age-old parallel to tech-term iteration. We’re fans of keeping it simple and on point. Gardens evolve, and the most enduring are reflections of cooperation and care.

If you don’t already have your copy of our book; The Truth About Transformation, you should consider adding it to your summer reading list aligning to the season of renewal and rebirth. It is a playbook to guide you in your path to change and transformation and most importantly for understanding the criticality of the human factor. Better yet, get it and read it in a garden!

Get “The Truth about Transformation”

The Truth about Transformation Book Cover ImageThe 2040 construct to change and transformation. What’s the biggest reason organizations fail?  They don’t honor, respect, and acknowledge the human factor.  We have compiled a playbook for organizations of all sizes to consider all the elements that comprise change and we have included some provocative case studies that illustrate how transformation can quickly derail.

Order your copy today and let us know what you think!

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