Innovative Companies Don’t Have Employee “Sediment”

I got a chuckle from Sandy Kemsley’s tweet that noting someone’s Yogi Berra-style gaffe clearly intended to comment on employee sentiment analysis. It’s an important type of text analytics to analyze and discover “business signals” buried within online reviews, surveys, social media, email and other written expressions of opinion.

But, just as ‘many a truth is said in jest,’ many a truth can also be said by mistake as well: companies should monitor – and avoid – employee “sediment.” Doing so will help ensure an environment of innovation and free-flow of new ideas.

Somehow that ‘sediment’ gaffe triggered a memory (from ‘sediment’ to ‘dirt’ … ‘soil’ … ‘plants’) of an article I read about “potted plant syndrome” in the workplace:

There was a boss who complained that everyone around him was a “potted plant.” He couldn’t understand why his managers wouldn’t take charge of an idea or come up with solutions. In his management meetings, if a manager suggested how to handle a problem or come up with solution, he would tell them how they could do it better or differently. Or, he would argue that they were wrong.

He didn’t realize he was killing commitment and innovation.

The boss was a one-person idea prevention department. His staff was tired of standing out with an idea only to get it shot down, so they stopped offering them. The oblivious boss had sown a staff of “potted plants.”


And now a quick true story of employee ‘sediment’…

A business professional (we’ll call him “Rick”) met with a company leader to understand how he wanted a certain technology solution to work. Rick listened and asked questions, teasing out from the leader the specific desired outcomes and results he was looking for. In the course of the conversation, the leader drew his thoughts and answers to the questions on a whiteboard.

The next day, Rick presented a plan describing how the ‘actual’ solution would work, delivering the end results the leader had articulated. The plan included a time-saving idea involving a simple update to certain existing data that would provide most of the desired end results even more quickly and efficiently. Rick also noted a flaw in one of the leader’s primary assumptions as to how the solution should work, but added that his proposed data update would also resolve that issue.

Far from being pleased, the “leader” was incredulous.  “I told you exactly what I wanted!” he sputtered. “What is this?!”

And only then did Rick realize the unfortunate reality that the “leader” never wanted Rick to propose an innovative solution; no, the “leader” wanted Rick to merely replicate his desires, wishes and assumptions, exactly as described (instructed) on his whiteboard. Rick’s job was to merely be a gofer; an order taker. Did the “leader” want fries with that?

Withholding his own incredulity (and the snarky fries remark), Rick obliged and completed the project to the “leader’s” exact specifications, flawed assumptions and all. Sure enough, the system processes the “leader” had mandated proved to be so needlessly complicated, the system’s end users rarely followed them.

Not long after this exchange, Rick, not terribly interested in becoming a “potted plant,” chose to move on… to much greener pastures.

If a company doesn’t want “potted plants” for employees, they shouldn’t grow them by burying their ideas.

Monitor employee sediment, indeed.

If you liked this article, you may also like:

The “Door of Success” Opens Both Outward and Inward

“I’d Like to Have an Argument, Please” – An Innovation Message from Monty Python

The Impact of Imagination Level on Product Marketers and Managers


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