AKF Partners

Abbott, Keeven & Fisher PartnersPartners In Hyper Growth

Seed, Feed and Weed to Succeed

In my earlier article I used the sports management analogy to make the case for actively managing the skills, skill levels and composition of your team. In this note I’ll discuss the topic of how to manage those activities. For this, we’ll leave sports and use a gardening analogy.

Even a novice gardener would not expect to rake some soil, throw some seeds, pray for rain and wait for a beautiful garden. Your team is no different; you must undertake the same activities in managing your team as you would in creating a successful garden.


Selecting the right flowers for our garden means paying attention not only to how they look, but how they will interact with the other flowers in our garden; will they steal too many nutrients or will the soil properly support their needs?

Managers in hyper-growth companies spend a lot of time interviewing and selecting candidates but usually not very much time on a per candidate basis and even less time pondering where they’ve gone wrong in hiring in the past. Finding the right individual for your job means paying attention to your past failures in hiring and correcting them. We might interview for skills, but overlook critical items like cultural or team fit. Why have you had to remove people? Why have people decided to leave?

Candidate selection also means paying attention to the needs of the organization from a productivity and quality perspective. Do you really need another engineer or product manager, or do your pipeline inefficiencies indicate additional process definition needs, tools engineers or quality assurance personnel?

One final point here is that far too often we try to make hiring decisions after we’ve spent 30 minutes to an hour with a candidate. We encourage you to spend as much time as possible with the candidate and try to make a good hire the first time. Seek help in interviewing or add people whom you trust and whom have great interviewing skills to your interview team to increase your chances of a good hire the first time. Call previous managers and peers and be mindful to ask and prod for weaknesses of individuals in your background checks.


Feeding your garden means spending time growing your team. Of all the practices in tending to your team, this is the one that is most often overlooked for lack of time.

The intent of feeding is to help grow the members of your team who are producing to the expectations of your shareholders. Feeding consists of coaching, praising, correcting technique or approach, adjusting compensation and equity and anything else that creates a stronger and more productive employee.

Feeding your garden also means taking individuals who might not be performing well in one position and putting them into positions where they can perform well. However, if you find yourself moving an employee more than once it is likely that you are avoiding the appropriate action of weeding.

Also, feeding your garden means raising the bar on the team overall and helping them achieve greater levels of success. Great teams enjoy great but achievable challenges and it’s your job as a manager and executive to challenge them to be the best they can be.


While you should invest as much as possible in seeding and feeding, we all know that underperforming and nonperforming individuals choke team productivity just as surely as weeds steal vital nutrients from the producers within your garden. The nutrients that are being stolen in this case are the time that you spend attempting to coach underperforming individuals to an acceptable performance level and the time your team spends compensating for an underperforming individual’s poor results.

Weeding our gardens is often the most painful activity for most managers and executives and as a result it is often the one to which we tend last.

While you must abide by your company’s practices regarding the removal of people who are not performing (these practices vary not only by country but very often by state), it is vital that you find ways to quickly remove personnel who are keeping you and the rest of your team from achieving your objectives. The sooner you remove them, the sooner you can find an appropriate replacement and get your team where it needs to be.

Comments RSS TrackBack 10 comments

  • Abbott, Keeven &#038 Fisher Consulting

    in March 25th, 2008 @ 02:38

    […] Caring about people does NOT mean creating a sense of entitlement or lifetime employment within your organization. We argue just the opposite within our article entitled “Seed, Feed and Weed to Succeed”. Caring also does NOT mean setting easy goals – once again per our previous articles the effective leader sets aggressive but realistic goals for an organization – see our article entitled “Be A Leader!” […]

  • F|R: The Top 5 Reasons Tech Execs Fail - GigaOM

    in August 2nd, 2008 @ 16:26

    […] 5. Failure to Build World Class Team As important as any other aspect of your job is the need to cultivate the best team possible given the limitations of your budget, mission and headcount. Rather than spending time on improving the capabilities of their teams, we find that many chief tech execs spend a great deal of time attempting to compensate for deficiencies within their teams. A very typical example of this is a CTO personally taking responsibility for every technology decision within a company. While this is a necessary practice when the team is very small, it does not scale into organizations of hundreds or thousands of engineers. All managers must be able to delegate to succeed. […]

  • Survival is Competitive Differentiation - GigaOM

    in December 6th, 2008 @ 11:00

    […] are cash flow positive, you should be looking during these times to make sure that you are cutting every piece of non-performing fat from your organization. Keep the folks you need to do the work that is contributing to profitability and remove your […]

  • Abbott, Keeven, Fisher &#038 Fortuna Partners

    in March 18th, 2009 @ 14:05

    […] The important point to remember here is that recruiting is an activity you should ALWAYS be performing.  Don’t wait for an employee requisition to source qualified candidates.  You might not have a job to offer today, but if you are always looking to upgrade your team you may find an individual that is twice as good as the worst performer on your team. […]

  • Resonant or Competent? | AKF Partners Blog

    in September 16th, 2009 @ 07:46

    […] to compare these theories is using our 2×2 matrix that we usually use to explain our “Seed, Feed, and Weed” approach to leadership. In case you haven’t gotten a chance to checkout the rough cuts […]

  • Top 10 Internet Startup Scalability Killers – GigaOM

    in December 20th, 2009 @ 20:20

    […] written about how to hire, fire and mentor and why to remove underperformers quickly for superior teams. Our message is simply that you can […]

  • Top 10 Internet Startup Scalability Killers – GigaOM « Real Life Hitch

    in December 21st, 2009 @ 09:10

    […] written about how to hire, fire and mentor and why to remove underperformers quickly for superior teams. Our message is simply that you can […]

  • Demeter Design

    in March 22nd, 2010 @ 11:56

    Excellent article. I would add that in a garden you are limited by space in which case you might need to prune (not weed or eliminate entirely) over-reaching prize plants. Some people might not fit in your space. The more you tend to your oak tree the healthier it will be, but it won’t share an 8X6′ plot well. The garden analogy is most appropriate for a small business with limited resources. Bonzai!

  • Wabb

    in March 22nd, 2010 @ 18:16

    Wow Demeter Design – what a great addition. We do discuss this notion a bit in our book. Look in the management and leadership chapters and look how we analyze people along both the “contributions/performance” axis as well as the “culture/behavior” axis. Thanks for the comment.

  • 4 Things I Wish I’d Learned as an Undergraduate | AKF Partners Blog

    in March 22nd, 2010 @ 22:31

    […] Independent variables are intelligence, drive, commitment, behaviors, etc.  Look to build the right teams with the right behavior at the right time.  Don’t get tied up in how much “experience” […]