How to grow great gardeners
The title of my review refers to what I believe is Jennifer Prosek’s key point in this book: To paraphrase, Think like a gardener and decide what you want to grow, when and where to plant it, prepare the soil, plant, and then nourish the soil and protect the garden. In the business world, the gardeners are supervisors and what they must grow is what Prosek describes as an Army of Entrepreneurs (AOE), high-potential leaders with an entrepreneurial temperament and worldview. Prosek offers what many of these supervisors need to develop that potential: “An easy-to-follow, replicable [key word] plan of action that can be instituted [two more key words] quickly and inexpensively.”
Organizations reflect those who lead them and that is especially true of the largest organizations, such as General Electric. Consider what Jack Welch said years ago at one of the company’s annual meetings. He responded to a question: Why do you admire entrepreneurial companies so much that you want GE to become more like one?
“For one, they communicate better. Without the din and prattle of bureaucracy, people listen as well as talk; and since there are fewer of them they generally know and understand each other. Second, small companies move faster. They know the penalties for hesitation in the marketplace. Third, in small companies, with fewer layers and less camouflage, the leaders show up very clearly on the screen. Their performance and its impact are clear to everyone. And, finally, smaller companies waste less. They spend less time in endless reviews and approvals and politics and paper drills. They have fewer people; therefore they can only do the important things. Their people are free to direct their energy and attention toward the marketplace rather than fighting bureaucracy.”
In addition to the aforementioned “game plan,” Prosek also offers anecdotes and case studies that illustrate the AOE model in real-world circumstances as well as statistics, research, and commentary from various experts in the business community. Years ago, Thomas Edison observed, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” That is why Prosek places such great emphasis on explaining or at least suggesting how to create, lead, deploy, and support an AOE. At the conclusion of each of 12 chapters, she inserts a “Six Steps Forward” section that lists what to do right after reading the material in the given chapter.
In Chapter 3, she shares her own thoughts about why big companies need entrepreneurs (i.e. to support innovation, keep in touch with customers, retain the most valued workers, move faster, and expand globally) and then recommends seven specific strategies for larger organizations (Pages 35-42). The case studies include those of Edward Jones, Emerson Electric, Ernst & Young, IBM, and Intuit. Again, the focus is on what works, what doesn’t, and why. Other material within her narrative that caught my eye include “boot camp” (Pages 59-60), conducting training “workshops” (Hunting for Business, Advanced Hunting, Intrapreneurship, Planning and Organizing, and Teaching the Business), creating a talent pipeline (six steps, Pages 83-85), measuring success (formal and informal, Pages 113-129), managing disaster (Pages 172 and 189-190), and “Ten Questions to Ponder” in Appendix A (Pages 191-192).
Throughout her lively and eloquent narrative, Jennifer Prosek skillfully invokes a variety of military metaphors as she explains how to create “an engaged and empowered workforce for exceptional business growth.” She rigorously covers each step of the process: recruiting, hiring, orientation, training, deployment, and performance measurement. There is no shortage of metaphors to call upon when describing this difficult but nonetheless essential process. I congratulate her on this brilliant achievement.
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Brian Carney and Isaac Getz’s Freedom, Inc.: Free Your Employees and Let Them Lead Your Business to Higher Productivity, Profits and Growth, Erika Andersen’s Growing Great Employees, Dean Spitzer’s Transforming Performance Measurement, and Enterprise Architecture as Strategy co-authored by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson.