Almost five years ago my husband Lorne and I bought a home with a beautiful garden.

I loved looking at the garden, but wondered, “Whose going to take care of it?”

“That’ll be your job,” Lorne and I each thought of the other.

With no one taking ownership, the weeds began to grow and the plants began to sag. So one day, I stepped into the shed, took out our rusting shovel, and started to dig. Pretty soon the day had gone by, and I found myself still pulling and digging. By the end of the day, I’d discovered something about myself. I actually like to garden.

I’ve never thought of myself as having a green thumb. In our previous house, I’d planted herbs that mostly withered, and Lorne spent what seemed like hundreds of dollars watering tomato vines that yielded three tomatoes (all of which were enjoyed by a friendly squirrel).

So it came as a great surprise to me this year, when I realized a dozen plants I’d planted two years ago were thriving. The irises, prim roses, rose campions and ground cover that had been donated from generous neighbors and relatives yards had all spawned offspring and were forming thriving clumps.

I’ve been so proud of these little fellows that I pull aside anyone willing to talk to me about my garden to show them my treasures.

This is a garden filled with dozens of varieties of plants–roses, hardy begonias, tulips and spirea to name a few. But nothing gives me pride like those spindly transplants that I’d planted in the ground myself.

I’ve found that same sense of ownership to be what works in developing organizational culture. Nothing gives employees pride like the thing that they have created themselves.

With my client Longfellow Clubs, I facilitated a retreat, together with owner Laury Hammel, that included a retrospective and celebration of the year. I’d worked with the owners to help the staff define their core values the year before, and they had been bringing those values to life.

With plastic champagne glasses in hand, each person toasted the values and shared what they had meant for their lives. “When I look at those values, I see a piece of myself in them,” said one person with emotion cracking his voice.

“The way we talk about values here has changed my life. I relate differently to my husband and my children. The work inspired our family to create our own values too and use them in our lives,” one staff member shared.

“Definitely the high point of Myke’s and my 32 years of ownership of Longfellow,” owner Laury Hammel said. The process “unleashed a wonderful supernova of energy.”

Once we’d completed the values, departments began to take initiatives of their own. My favorite was what happened at the children’s center–they created a children’s curriculum to teach the kids the clubs’ values–values like community, sustainability and service.

The heart of my work transforming organizational culture is co-creation. I help people to find and harness their own abilities and wisdom so that they can be their greatest selves, as individuals and as an organization.

When people have the opportunity to take a blank canvass and paint together, the process creates magic. People take pride and initiative. They act more like owners and less like employees.

Are you creating opportunities for your staff to co-create a future together? Are you engaging their wisdom, talent and full potential to propel your organization forward?
 What can you do to help your employees act more like owners?

Originally published at on August 13, 2016.

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