Earlier this month I attended the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business National Summit in Washington D.C. For those who have not heard about the GS 10KSB program, it was established to help small businesses grow since they employ more than 60% of the workforce in the country and create jobs. I am an honored alumni of this valuable program.
At this premier event, we were afforded the special opportunity to hear from prestigious speakers such as Sir Richard Branson, Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg, Susan Blakely, Lloyd Blankfein, Jo Malone, Lisa Price, Danny Meyer, and Tyler Perry. There were also an array of other noted CEO’s and congressman on stage sharing their wisdoms and methodologies in business. There was one glaring topic each speaker brought up: “The importance of their organization’s people and the challenges of hiring right”.
In particular, I was impressed with what Tyler Perry said when the topic of employees was raised as he described what he uses as his test/guide. It’s called his “tree analogy” and helps in his management style and when assessing staff. In my close to three decades worth of experience, I’ve never heard of a “tree analogy”. He said that he thinks of employees like parts of a tree. I was so impressed by that I’ve decided to share his thoughts.
Leaf People: These are the employees you’ll probably have the most of, just like leaves on a tree. Often, they are there for a season and when something shakes the tree or a strong wind blows, they’ll drop off. They tend to stay in order to get what they need and once they have it, they depart. They aren’t deeply connected to the tree.
I believe we can all understand this analogy. Having an HR mindset, I thought about this a bit further. The simple fact is, a tree has a purpose for its leaves. During the time that leaves are connected to the tree, they bring resources, convert resources into substance, and add color. It’s okay for some employees to last for a season as they too have their benefit. The power is in identifying that they are Leaf People.
Branch People: These are employees who are stronger than the leaves and are similar to branches on a tree. You’ll have fewer of them than the leaves, but they will be stronger. But, just as you venture out on a tree branch to determine its might, it’s the same with branch people. You have to test them for endurance and strength to see what they can hold up against. While they can bear some weight, they may not bear too much and after several storms, they may break and be gone.
Internalizing this, it’s not only important to determine the category of an employee, but to also understand their makeup. The emphasis is really on the leader to understand.
Root People: These are the employees who form the base of your tree. Root people are the fewest in number, but are the most valuable. They keep the tree planted in the ground and steady. They nourish it to keep it healthy and strong. They remain hidden and don’t need to be seen. Roots are there to help the tree continue to grow and hold them up despite powerful winds or storms.
This one was tricky. When speaking of Leaf People, there is a seasonality to them. Branch people, there is a litmus test. But when speaking of Root People he doesn’t elude to them being leaders, founders, the most talented, and the most accomplished, or even tenured employees. I could only assume this to mean that these are employees who have a shared vision with the company and its core values. These employees will personally identify with the company and do what is within their power to advance the organization.
Lastly Tyler said, you can’t get upset with the Leaf and Branch People, because it’s just who they are. When they depart, you just move on. Try the tree analogy next time you’re going through a hiring process. See if it doesn’t give you a new perspective in further identifying what type of employee this person might be or when assessing who’s who on your own company’s tree. Focus on hiring and nurturing the Roots!
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Cathy A. Reilly is the author of “The Temp Factor: The Complete Guide to Temporary Employment” and Founder/CEO of Onboardia, Inc., HR software.