A Comparison of Two Jobs

I’ve had this post cued up for over a year. It’s about the realization that my last two positions, for other businesses, helped me understand that I am not cut out to work for non-profits or small entrepreneurial businesses. I don’t mean ‘Oh, woe is me’ (tho there was a bit of that here and there), but how I was left with an overwhelming sense of futility by the time I left both position. I’m simply not cut out to, interestingly enough, chase down the poor marketing ideas of boards of directors or sales teams. While I chose to bail on situations that ultimately didn’t fit, I am still proud to have made a difference at each organization, and the organizations themselves. It wasn’t their missions that caused me to leave, but the execution of those missions.

In 2015 I worked as the general manager for a non-profit whose mission it was to change a (national) city’s position on tree conservatorship, and to discourage people from mutilating trees and shrubs by way of shitty pruning. They won! To this day the city not only has serious tree ‘legislation’ in place, but they designate ‘heritage’ trees in the community. This organization also teaches classes, awards certificates for mastering pruning, and hosts local horticultural celebs (yup, a thing!) at monthly gatherings (pre-pandemic). They also host regional symposiums on multiple topics, and raise money via community events. This is a happening, horticultural supporting non-profit.

The employer I left fall of 2020 brings therapeutic horticultural into assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing communities, nation wide. I’ve witnessed the efficacy of this program for two family members in two different communities. Many of those in care today came from an agrarian lifestyle. This program helps them reminisce and get their hands back in the soil. Residents of these communities get to care for indoor gardens with non-toxic plants that include houseplants, seasonal plantings, perennial, veggies and herbs. Educators come twice a month with engaging hands-on curriculum. I started as an educator, and then ran a grant program in our state for just over a year.

Similarities… Helping others and horticulture were huge draws to both of these companies. Particularly because the later was the first activity my mom and I attended together at her community. And mom Loved it! With this company I got to buy plants for all of my grant communities. It was a dream! I am a skilled plant shopper and was always able to stay under budget while bringing each community a lush garden. The connections I made with each community were a delight, I loved the travel, and nailing the grant milestones was very rewarding for all of us.

Both organizations were teaming with kind and well meaning people who were driven by the work. It was inspiring.

There were similarities in both organizations that didn’t work:

  • Communication. Correspondence was dysfunctional, or leadership did not respond in a timely manner. Young entrepreneurial organizations are prone to this because they are running on lean funds, and their leaders are stretched too thin. If you want me to run your organization or grant, pause and pay attention. Don’t read half of what I have to say, jump to an assumption at sentence 5, and then annoy me because you didn’t attend to the carefully thought out queries I sent you, whose answers would have helped me curate and support your business.
  • Marketing Rabbit Holes are a ginormous time waster. Both companies, for very different reasons, were very enthusiastic about ideas and programs, developed in-house, that were not well thought out for their target audiences. These campaigns cost money/time and left those in charge confused as to why success wasn’t immediate, and staff were not on-board.
  • Employees/Contractors: There’s a reason for employee/contractor turnover. Since leaving the tree non-profit, they’ve have five more GMs, that I’m aware of. The one who came after me (with no cross training between us despite my giving TWO months notice) contacted me less than a year after my exit, in great distress, to make sure she wasn’t off base in her observations. I listened, and without offered too many of my own stories, assured her that her vision was 20-20. The (late) founder was kind of savant in that she was really good at a few things, and not really good at the rest of the things… She was too ADHD for any professional manager to tolerate for long. The horticultural educational contractors were very hard to find in certain markets, and so were hired much too quickly when a candidate applied. Further, some contractors were kept on who should have been let go. I have a solid HR background, and being encouraged to hire marginal candidates in remote areas in order to have live bodies on the ground made it seem like it was more important to check the required boxes on the grant, rather than to wait and thoughtfully match qualified educators to skilled nursing communities.
  • Finding the right tools is not obvious for small niche organizations. The tree folks used Very expensive website software, which was also, even for its day, archaic. The garden folks switched from spreadsheets, to one database system, and then to another, all within 14-months. Then, the rules changed 2-3 times weekly on how to use the database. This was the straw that broke my proverbial back. Bottom line is stick to what you know, hire out or consult for the rest so you get it right the first time.

Interestingly, neither business did an exit interview. I’ve heard from others, who have since left both companies, and things haven’t changed too much for the employee. My hat goes off to both of these businesses, their missions, and those who strive to fulfill those missions. In this public/private space I can express these words without hurting anyone’s feelings.

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