Thursday, 3 December 2009

Elephant Spotting - How to know about the proverbial Elephants in your team

I stumbled across this idea by accident earlier this year. It was the eve of my inaugural presentation to the group that I had just commenced managing. I'd been observing/learning the lay of the land for approximately six weeks and now had to explain myself to 60+ people.

By explain, I basically had to let them know who I was, why I could lead them, what my lead team and I had decided to do and how we were going to do it. Really quite a bit of content to deliver. To add to the fun the I.T. group within the company I work for was also going through a major restructure announcement.

So here we were, myself and a communications consultant working through the CCD approach for the up coming presentation. When the consultant started discussing feedback channels. It is at this time that we came up with the idea of the 'Elephant'. How? Why? What? You may ask.

The inspiration was a draft presentation I was working on called 'Drawing the Elephant'. It was this pre-occupation with the proverb of the 'Elephant in the room' that caused me to suggest. "Why don't we simply tell the group that if they want to get in touch with me directly to send me an e-mail with 'Elephant' in the subject line."

On the day we did embellish this a little, firstly we added in a Service Level/Guarantee. I committed to the group that I would respond personally within 24 hours. We re-iterated this message a number of times throughout the presentation as well as ensured it was the full stop to all group meetings into the future.

Honestly this is one of the best ideas/initiatives we put in place over this last assignment. Risky as it may sound I have received numerous 'Elephants' all of them very valid concerns or comments from the team. Please note they have not been complaints, or condemnations. The majority have respected the idea by being both objective and constructive when articulating the elephant.

As recently as today I have received two 'Elephants' both of which are to be addressed tomorrow morning. Addressing the elephants is not simply a reply to an e-mail, although an e-mail acknowledgement is a must you should not restrict yourself to this when you actually address the elephant in question.

Methods of addressing the elephant include:
1. Escalation of issues to senior or peer managers
2. Engagement and delegation to direct reports and the individuals line manager
3. Meetings to further understand or address the issue
4. Public acknowledgement and discussion (Without disclosing the elephants instigator)

So if you want to go elephant spotting - why don't you simply follow these three simple steps:
1. Identify a term or saying your group can associate with (use 'Elephant' if you like)
2. Set a response time guarantee that you can achieve, and commit to it.
3. Get stuck in and make this part of your groups practices.

Note this is a bit of a derivative of an earlier post I wrote '5 Questions in 30 Minutes'. The challenge on this occasion though is that 5Q approach would not work on a team of this scale.

I'd love to hear what you think of this idea, especially if you implement it.



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