As we say goodbye to Winter and begin to embrace the warmer days of Spring, my thoughts turn to all those activities we enjoy so much and look forward to every year: what kind of garden will we have? This year, however, instead of planning out our rows of tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and many other vegetables that make up our backyard garden (along with the various flowers), I find myself reminiscing about a different type of garden that is always on my mind: the Employees I helped grow.
Early in my career I went to see a colleague who had just been told that the project she had been working on for two years had been cancelled. I felt bad about what happened and went to offer my professional condolences. As much as I felt bad for her, she was completely nonplussed and shrugged it off. I couldn’t imagine putting in two years of effort on something to have it be cancelled. It felt like those two years would be completely wasted time.
Of course, since then, I’ve had my own share of long-term projects that were prematurely “retired” and know better that although the project ended, the work and knowledge were still professionally valuable to all involved. Working in Technology, and especially in the development of Systems and Products, it’s a reality that everyone eventually faces.
I’ve touched upon this before in a previous article Work’s a Journey, Not a Destination where I spoke about how those of us in IT are effectively building “VaporWare” and not anything that will truly last. It was a combination of of that thought and my current cancelled project that reminded me that there is indeed something that will outlast me: my Employee “Garden”
Anyone who knows me (or has read any of my articles) knows how much I enjoy working with others and collaborating on building great products. A very positive upside of this is that I become vested in my team’s individual professional growth and help guide them on their respective journeys. When I look back on my 20+ years (so far) career I may remember bits and pieces of the tools, products, and systems I worked on, but I will always remember the employees who reported to me as well as those who didn’t but who still chose me as a Mentor.
Talent Management and Development has always been an extremely important part of my work life and I pride myself on the fact that over the years many of my employees have grown in their careers in part because I was cheering them on while also working with providing them opportunities for growth. The first time I was able to advocate for the advancement of two of my employees, it was with the full understanding that they would move “up” and out of my team. As sad as I was to lose them, I was also proud of the fact that they had accomplished enough tasks of value that I was able to win my case. Also, in the realm of the “greater good”, since they were moving up in the organization, the company would still be able to benefit from their skills and knowledge as opposed to having lost them to another company.
As with any garden, the seedlings you tend all grow at different rates. The same can be said for employees. Whether it was guiding a Technologist to become a Network Support Manager, or a Software Developer to grow into a Software Architect, or even a Business Analyst/ ETL expert into a Product Owner – to name just a few – each individual journey had its own timeline, risks, and bumps in the road that required patience, perseverance, and passion. Luckily, in most cases, the growth happened within the same company. But, with all the upheavals of the last year, it’s also important to note that some of those growths were able to be translated to positions in other organizations.
Being in the business of building “VaporWare” with a short lifespan, I’m most proud of the fact that the attention I paid to the People part of the equation is what I can look back on and continue to smile as I watch them grow from role to role. To paraphrase a familiar quote from Kathy Davis, “In a hundred years from now, it won’t matter what kind of systems I built or deployed, but the world may be better because I was important in the life of my employees.”
(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona has been a Natural Gardener since he first was lucky enough to hire employees. He is very happy that so many of them turned into friends once his gardens were harvested. His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead.)