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When Your Lemon Tree Won’t Give You Lemons 

I am a plant guy.  It’s a strange way to start a blog post, I know, but I promise it will all make sense in the end.  I have had and taken care of plants since I was a kid and I still do today.  It was like taking care of a pet without having to walk it or clean up after it.  A few years ago, my wife Laurie and our kids bought me a lemon tree plant for my birthday.  I keep it on the porch off our bedroom where it gets sun but is protected if I don’t remember to bring it in right away when it gets colder.  I have been nurturing it along – watering it, feeding it, turning it a quarter turn each week – but it has yet to produce lemons, and at times it looks like it’s ready to die.  Just when I am about to give up on it, it perks up a little and I decide to keep it a little longer.  I don’t give up on things easily.  

A few weeks ago, we came home from vacation and my lemon tree had a little lemon growing, but it also had spots on its leaves and some of the leaves were a sickly yellow.  I thought this was it, but I’ve invested so much time and energy, I was going to give it one last try to save this plant.  I decided to move it from the porch to the sidewalk right in front of our house – which Laurie loved.  It’s being hit with full sun all day, rain, and the wind is blowing it around -all of which makes it stronger.  It is thriving!  It has over 80 new shoots – Laurie also loves that I know that – the leaves are bright green and now two lemons are growing.  Changing its environment was all it needed to succeed. 

Now you might be asking yourself, why I am telling you this on our blog?  Here’s how my mind works: whether I am on a long bike ride, reading a book about AI, or tending my plants, I am constantly thinking about how everyday things tie into our business – or your business, for that matter.   

Last year we implemented EOS – the Entrepreneurial Operating System – at our office.  Like an operating system on your computer, this is the operating system that helps runs our business.  While we have learned a lot while implementing EOS, one of the concepts that really resonated with us was making sure you had the right people in the right seats on your “bus”.  Because our culture is so important to us, the right person for the job doesn’t just mean if we need a project manager, we hire someone who can manage projects.  To us, the right person means they fit our culture, and they share our core values and beliefs around how we do business and how we treat our clients. This is how we think about it – we consider each “job” in our business as a seat on the bus, and we must fill that seat with a person who can do that job.  Plus, we need everyone to believe in our culture or they most likely aren’t going to like the direction we are taking the bus.     

EOS helped us define our roles, values, and what people should be filling those roles.  To do this, you have to make sure each person truly “GWCs” their job:  

  • Do they GET the job?  Do they truly understand what the job entails?   
  • Do they WANT the job?  Are they passionate about what they are doing or are they always going to be looking for something else?   
  • Do they have the CAPACITY to do the job?  Can they mentally do the job, physically do the job, and do they have the time to do the job?   

While we go through this exercise with all new employees we hire, we applied the GWC concept to employees we’ve had throughout our 50+ year history to see what we could learn – because you know, hindsight…  We have had employees who were great cultural fits, who GOT the job, had the CAPACITY to do it, but just weren’t passionate enough about it to WANT it.  We have also had long-term employees who were the right people in the right seats until the entire health insurance marketplace changed.  And we had a short list of people who completely GWC’d their role, but they didn’t fit our culture.  None of those people are still on our bus. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t try to change the circumstances – job training, cultural coaching – but most times, the wrong person is the wrong person and you have to cut your losses which isn’t always easy. Did I mention I don’t give up easily on things (or people)?    

Here’s where the lemon tree comes in.  It’s the example of the employee who is the right person but is in the wrong seat.  We have one, who is the epitome of our culture, and was hired to do one job but due to a staffing change, completely switched seats and took on a role that they didn’t totally GWC. Because they are a team player, they threw themselves into the new role. Everything took them longer because they didn’t totally GET the job – there was a learning curve on everything.  It wasn’t what they were hired to do and maybe they truly didn’t WANT it, but they were willing to do it.   

This employee was like my lemon tree.  Working hard to grow every day, but not producing the way we knew they could and they knew they could.  And because we have an operating system (EOS) and we have a clear way to discuss our roles and responsibilities, they felt comfortable saying, “I don’t GWC this position”.  And we agreed.  So, we put them in the role we originally hired them to do; we changed their environment and the conditions in which they were working.  And now they are thriving in a way that we all knew they could.   

After this long holiday weekend, take a look at your team and ask yourself, Do I have the right people on my bus and are they all in the right seats? Or is there someone who, as a lastditch effort, needs to have their conditions changed – to be set out in the sun for a while to see if they will produce fruit?