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Deep Roots: What Businesses Can Learn From A Native Prairie

Minnesota Native Landscapes core purpose is simple: To Heal the Earth.

That purpose inspired me to join their mission of positively impacting 10 million acres of land by 2030. This spring, with MNL’s help, my wife and I replaced a large portion of our backyard with native prairie plant seedlings.

For months, we tended what looked like a few small tendrils poking out of dirt. I built a small fence to keep the rabbits and squirrels away from the tiny shoots. Our socially-distanced dinner guests looked at the plot of soil and asked what it was for – it wasn’t very impressive.

But just recently, we saw the first Brown-Eyed Susan blooming in our nascent backyard prairie. I took a picture and sent it to Jake Janski, head Ecologist at MNL and member of the Senior Leadership Team taking on the Scaling Up growth process. His advice to me? “Be patient.” It will be years before we can enjoy mature blooms.

Minnesota Native Landscapes understands the patience, diligence, and sacrifice it takes to grow a healthy prairie. In their first year of Scaling Up with Apex North, they are beginning to understand that it takes the same things to grow a strong company.

“The Scaling Up process is a difficult one,” Janski told us recently, “it takes a lot of time to grow those deep roots.”

A native prairie plant needs to grow deep roots to be successful. “As a prairie grows, the majority of its strength is below ground in the roots,” says Janski, “and that to me is the perfect metaphor: no matter what you see on top of a company, if the structure isn’t sound, it’ll blow right over.”

Many of my clients know this from experience. In fact, the majority of our first year together is spent building a strong foundation of Core Fundamentals: the company’s purpose, values, and vision. These are not advertising slogans or taglines, even though they will ultimately provide a filter for those. The Core Fundamentals are the deep roots that allow the company to thrive the way a native prairie does – resilient, beautiful, and attracting an ecosystem of butterflies and bees (or customers and employees) that keep it humming.

Keeping that end picture in mind is crucial. I call it the North Star. I continually remind the CEOs and Leadership Teams I work with to envision their North Star, to talk about it with their teams, to give it all the love, passion, and emotion it deserves. It’s what will keep you going through all “slow, methodical, continual effort it takes to actually make real changes,” as Jake puts it.

“Having that context is helpful,” he says, “to step back and say, ‘okay, we’ve got a lot of big things to do, how can we pace ourselves, not to do too much at one time, how can we not pour too much fertilizer on the prairie?’”

“We’re trying to be deliberate, not fast. If we can stay the course – that’s the hardest part – just to keep on keeping on. It’s not flashy or fun, it’s hard, but that’s the important part, doing the hard work.”

I have seen MNL doing that hard work. And because of it, I’m genuinely optimistic about their future, and the future of our environment in Minnesota. I truly believe they will Heal The Earth. In conversation with Jake, he likened the deep growth and successes of his team this past year not to flowers, but to leaves. The first real leaves of a plant, he told me, are crucial to its growth, because they begin photosynthesis. That process is needed to develop a root structure.

“Leaves” may not make the prettiest bouquet – your leadership team may find it hard to communicate the growth in your first year to the rest of your stakeholders – but it is growth, it is something that wasn’t there before, and it portends a strong and amazing future

MNL’s advice to those starting Scaling Up is the same as their advice to me: be patient. Be thoughtful about what you want to do and the time it takes to get there.

And be sure your team is strong, honest, and able to watch out for each other. Janski remembers well the feelings of burn out or overwhelm at the beginning of the process, and credits his team for helping each other through those times. “I’m a bit overwhelmed recognizing how much work we have to do,” he says, “but the fact that we’re thinking like that makes me hopeful.”

I share his hopefulness wholeheartedly. Any growth takes time and diligence. Applying those to my backyard prairie, our perennial plants are growing roots deep into the earth – some as much as 15 feet deep – that conserve water, and enable the plants to withstand harsh winters, droughts and fires. In fact, they thrive after being burned!

A great company is the same. Take the time to grow deep roots, make the right investments, and in a few years, you will see the dividends in your growth, your team’s resiliency, and the reach of your vision to inspire and motivate those around you.

I’m looking forward to those blooms. Aren’t you?

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