Sometimes we have to prune the "good" in order to produce the "best."
If you have read my book, Necessary Endings, one of the paradigms I discussed there was “pruning.” The idea is that anything that is alive and growing needs pruning in order to thrive. That is true about our businesses and our lives. One example I referred to was a friend of mine who bought a business with about 25 million in revenues and grew it to 500 million in about 6 years, and I asked him one day “How did you do it?” His answer went something like this.
“When I bought the company, it became clear that the real life and future of the company was in about 20% of its activities. So, I called the management team together and told them by the beginning of the next year, I wanted them to get rid of the 80%, so we could focus all of our people and resources on the 20% where there was real life.”
“Oh, so was the rest of it losing money?” I asked.
His answer was very, very revealing: “No,” he said. “It was all profitable. But the life was in the 20%. So, I cut the rest.”
The result was incredible growth, after much resistance with his staff. But, he led them through those discussions and got to a good place.
This is pruning in action. Let’s take a look at how that works. When I was writing the book, I talked to gardeners who actually prune real plants, like roses. What they told me was that they prune in three instances:
1. More buds and branches than it can sustain: A rose bush produces many more buds than it can bring to full fruition, so the gardener picks the best ones, and cuts the rest. He chooses the ones that have the greatest ability to reach the vision of the perfect rose. The reason is that they need the resources of the vine that the others are taking up, so he has to cut the others away to free up those resources. Exactly what my friend did in his company.
2. Branches and buds that are sick and are not going to get well: A bush has some branches, that no matter what the gardener does, are just sick and are not going to get better. So, he cuts them. The bush needs those resources. And after having tried everything, like fertilizing, vitamins, medicine, more light, etc., it is just apparent that the branch is diseased or resisting help, so it is cut.
3. Branches that are long dead and just taking up space: They should be clipped to make room for the others to reach upward and spring forth to maturity.
Our lives and businesses are like these three instances. Over time, we produce more “buds,” meaning activities, products, meetings, strategies, relationships, organizations, customers, employees, departments, etc. than we can sustain with focus, energy, time and other resources. So, we have to choose which ones to invest in for the season of life or business that we are in.
Similarly, there are some activities and even relationships that are sick and are not going to get well. They are resistant to change and the best efforts are not helping. So, at some point, we have to realize that it is not working and pull the plug. Close down a product line or fire a person who is not performing and is not going to.
And, the “dead” stuff is the stuff that has not produced any fruit for a long time, but for some reason we have not cut it away. Time to do that.
Those are the three contexts of pruning that Necessary Endings discusses. Now, to the fun: pruning conversations are amazing. They will get you to the real issues. Here is how it works.
Get with your team, or your spouse, or whomever you have shared resources with, pick some categories, and work through a pruning discussion. If it is your management team, pick products, or employees, or initiatives, or strategies, and then ask:
What are we spending time and resources on that:
- Are good, but not best? What if we took these resources and spent them on the 20% that is best?
- Are sick and are not going to get well? We have tried everything…
- Are “dead” and have not given us any fruit in a long time?
So, how about we “prune” those things now and use our time, energy and resources on what truly has value and what we care about?
Then, the great conversations begin. People will get into their fears of letting go, hurting someone’s feelings, fears of the unknown, false hope, emotional attachments to things of the past, and on and on. You will get to the real issues and why things are stuck.
So, be prepared. This is not child’s play…it is the real stuff. But…isn’t that what leadership, or other adult relationships and investments should be about? I do believe that life and business need pruning in order to thrive, so it is worth it!