What Orange Trees Teach Us About Organizational Success

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Some of my most interesting insights are gleaned from real-life. Like orange trees (see The Tale of the Orange and the Lemon Tree)! This week an orange tree taught me another valuable lesson about how we can maintain ongoing organizational success.

We live in an area of the California desert which has an abundance of citrus trees. In February and March these trees blossom. For several weeks our desert air is filled with the cloyingly sweet smell of citrus blossoms. It is one of my favorite times of year.

However, this year I noticed something in addition to the aroma. Amidst the spring blooms, most of the orange, lemon, grapefruit and lime trees are still filled with ripe fruit. While these trees are still bearing the literal fruits of their labor, their work for next year is already underway.

This is a rich lesson about how we can foster ongoing organizational success! It is not uncommon for our organizations to experience a fruitful season. However, only focused organizations experience success on an ongoing basis. If you don’t believe me, perhaps these statistics will convince you.

In 1920, the average company on the Standard & Poor’s stock exchange (S&P) lasted 67 years. By 2o15, this has been reduced to 15 years. This means that an S&P company is now being replaced every two weeks. Analysts estimate that 75 percent of today’s S&P 500 firms will be replaced by new firms by 2027 (The Atlantic).

These sobering statistics remind us that over time, success over time is earned and should not be assumed. So how do organizations facilitate blooms amidst their fruitfulness? Let me answer this question from my perspective as a consultant. Here are three types of organizations that I regularly encounter. Can you guess which one has the best chance to maintain success?

  1. Late Bloomers. When we don’t take time to plan amidst our fruitful season, we eventually realize that we need to catch up. These clients often come to me and ask how they can be successful ASAP. When we neglect doing our work in season, late bloomer must play catch-up. This can be a very vicious cycle. I believe many late bloomers are casualties on the S&P 500 list.
  2. Resistant Bloomers. It is not uncommon to speak with potential clients who are in the midst of a rich harvest. Some of them believe that their current bounty will last forever as long as they keep doing exactly what they have done. These clients usually tell me that they don’t need help as there are still oranges on the tree! However, the pace of change in the 21st century seldom affords us the opportunity to stay the same. There will not be low-hanging fruit forever. As a result, I believe that most resistant bloomers will someday discover that they have become late bloomers.
  3. Anticipatory Bloomers. These clients do their best to run their organizations like a fruitful orange tree. They do the work for the next harvest while there are still oranges on the tree. They work to assess their environment, plan ahead and sow at the right times. It is challenging to blossom and bear fruit at the same time but it can be done. These organizations thrive amidst changing environments.

Unhealthy organizations are those who have failed to prepare their blossoms at the right time. Even organizations that appear healthy will fail if they lack the foresight to look beyond their current harvest. However, healthy organizations will do the hard work required to blossom amidst fruitfulness!

Success does not always breed success in a changing global marketplace. The S&P data reminds us that the things that made you successful in the past may not work in 15 years! So is your organization doing the work required to blossom at the right time?


 

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman. Email: jeff@jeffsuderman.com

Reference:

Lam, Bourree (April 12, 2015). Where do firms go when they die? The Atlantic on-line.

1 comment

  1. Jeremy Carroll

    Awesome Jeff! I totally relate with the analogy. My lemon tree is doing this exact thing right now.
    Jeremy

    reply

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