Have You Overlooked the Ripe Plums in Your Employee Base?

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I have lived in my home for 8 years now.

As embarassing as this may sound, I discovered just one year ago that I have a plum tree right in my front yard. One of my next door neighbors who was about to move out of his home confessed that he picked up plums that would fall in his yard and mine for the couple of years he lived there.

I sat baffled as he told me the stories of all of the delicious jams and breads he made from the juicy plums that fell from my tree. I questioned whether he was joking or not and how I never saw one plum in my yard.

I recalled this story to my kids and husband. They could not believe it.

I even confirmed what a plum tree looks like by looking on Google.

It was, in fact, a plum tree!

I live in Colorado where the weather is hit or miss with hail and snow and heat and bugs that eat at the leaves of trees. Regretfully, since finding out that I do have a large plum tree in my front yard, we have not seen one plum grow on our tree.

Some may ask how the heck we didn’t know or how we missed that plums were growing on our tree.  Here is my answer: I am not a green thumb. I have a busy life with children and career. Many days, I came in my garage and closed it only to wake up to do the same thing the next day.

I was not very good at smelling the roses, or in this case, outside long enough to notice the juicy plums in our tree.

After that conversation with that long-gone neighbor, that has changed.

Now, I keep looking at the tree weekly hoping that a plum will show up. I am going to commit to pruning the tree on a schedule and feeding it with great nutrients. Despite my new focus on the health of this tree, I fear that we have missed our opportunity to see any plums this year due to a late snow.

This life lesson parallels what happens with organizations who fail to take a good look at the potential future leaders in their organizations. Those high potential employees fail to thrive, because they were never nourished, or never chosen to display how ripe they were for growth.

When was the last time your organization conducted a firm review of the “plums” that are sitting in your offices, or out in the field?

Here are a few ways to ensure that your organization doesn’t make the mistake I made by failing to leverage the strengths and potential of current employees:

1. Succession Planning is key.

Growing other leaders from the ranks isn’t just the duty of the leader, it’s an obligation. Warren Bennis

Much has been written on succession planning. It is an important point. Many organizations think that they have done all they can to protect against key employee losses, but have they really nourished the fruit inside their own organizations?

Planning for future losses has to be more than a conversation. A detailed plan with tactical steps really should be put in place before leaders should rest on their laurels.

It has been my experience that there are plenty of gifted and passionate people inside of many organizations, but, for a variety of reasons, they are passed over for promotion or for development opportunities.

The key here is to consider the whole person when deciding who to develop and train to higher levels of the organization.

Just as Warren Bennis said in my opening quote, it is the obligation of any organization to develop its people. Any worthwhile succession plan must bear fruit for internal employees who are prepared to go the distance.

2. Leverage All Voices

I have a novel thought: What if organizations actually included frontline employees in the succession planning discussions?

They are the one’s whose leaders will eventually leave the organization. Those same employees know what a good leader is made of just as they are painfully aware of what highly under-developed leaders act like.

Why won’t senior teams consider expanding the groups or individuals who have a say in the process. Think about it: line staff often help “prune” the leaders rough edges by teaching them what it means to lead.

Wouldn’t it make sense to formally include their voices? Giving the frontline a little more credit for what they know about the great leaders who may exist in the current line up will go along way to empowering them.

3. Train Up


Survival of the fittest is not the same as survival of the best. Leaving leadership development up to chance is foolish”.  –Morgan McCall


I love this quote by Morgan McCall! It makes me think of how making uniformed assumptions about people and circumstances is always a bad idea.

What I love most about developing and training high potential employees is that it works to retain them longer while also building a stronger bench for the organization.

Many leaders look at developing their people the wrong way. Some are afraid that they may look bad when others are growing and developing. I think most would agree that this type of leader is not a leader after all.

Anyone who seeks to appear more important by diminishing the potential in others can never be a leader.

Organizations that create leadership development opportunities for high potential employees and also create access to projects or roles that stretch these same people are the ones that will be more successful in succession planning efforts.


Don’t just sit by and let perfectly talented employees walk out your door, because you failed to harvest the potential within them. Instead, keep an eye out often for the greatness around you. It may not be really obvious up front, but once you begin to pay attention, the “plums” in your organization will be abundant.


Thank you for reading this article. I enjoy writing on topics regarding leadership and how it might impact an organization’s culture. This was not meant to be an exhaustive list of succession planning tips. I would love to hear from you. Please do share with whomever you feel might benefit.

Have you ever regretted not finding the “ripe fruit” within your organization or team?

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