Elephant Stampede in the room!

Working in a large Corporate is a great experience.  You have security, you can test a few more things that you wouldn’t be able to in a small company but you also have…voluntary blindness.  Well, if I started with Elephants, I guess that allows me to use my endless vocabulary of analogies.  So what am I talking about?

Hierarchies and Organisational design breeds loyalty to a topic, loyalty to a person, loyalty to a concept.  Meeting after meeting, audio after audio, you listen, you agree or disagree, but the tendency for the Middle Manager is to not stray away from the base agenda and to nod when you are expected to nod.  You know that there is something fundamentally wrong with a plan; timing, expectation, mis-aligned metrics, outcome scepticism or just that you know that when you leave the room a sub-optimal solution will be found.  These are the Elephants in the room.  The motivation and good intent of a programme team wasted on not paying due regard to the things that matter to tackle the issues.  This is a Strategy, Planning and Change execution problem.  The Sponsor gets their update and the Stakeholders see the design metrics, so everyone’s happy…if for a while.  Management teams change frequently, programme teams reconvene and they avoid the big things that will stop results happening.

So why is this?  It can be as simple as you are unable to specify the detail of the ‘Elephant’ or are too shy to speak across the Chair to say that there really is a Stampede of Elephants in the room that everyone is missing, especially when it’s not your subject area.  It is behavioural and it’s cultural.  Top Down trumps Bottom Up, fact.  A junior manager doesn’t have the right to question a middle manager’s subject.  A programme leader doesn’t want to call ‘time-out’ to re-think the solution as it is seen as a delay to the sponsor.

Now with the problems there has to be a solution and there is, but you need to change the motivation of the individual players and create a team environment.  I am not suggesting you hand over the keys to the company strategy box to the new Graduate, but to create a sandbox in which employees know what is expected of them and that they have a right to speak up and propose solutions that might work.  Most great market inventions come from someone thinking of using the object differently to the inventor.  You also need to have discussions in meetings that take an end-to-end approach and have material sign offs to support and deliver aspects of projects that get taken for granted.  And also be careful with selecting programme metrics.  And if someone shouts out that a crack is appearing, hear the case early on, qualify it and then determine if you can continue with the plan in that shape.  Thank the contributor whatever the outcome and let it be a learning experience for all employees. And, And And…

Programme Audits are a good place to start.

I’ll leave it there for this post.  If you see an Elephant, call it out early, even if you end up being the 50th person to make the claim.  If you are the 50th person, follow up your observation with a question…”Are we doing anything to remove it?”

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