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Elephants and Cows

Every organisation has them. Call them what you want. Whether they are ‘Elephants in the room’ or “Sacred Cows’ they are the reasons you need to change but they are often missed in planning for change.

Sacred Cows are inbuilt ways of working, no go zones, ‘this is the way we’ve always done its’ and often people who cant be argued with that exist in any organisation. They are the regular stumbling blocks that prevent progress or slow things down when you are trying to move your organisation forward.

Sometimes a Sacred Cow becomes an Elephant because nobody want to talk about it. We talk in code, we talk around it, and everyone knows its a problem but nobody wants to face it or deal with it.

So why are they missed in change?

What often happens is that the change programme is built in the ‘hope’ that it will deal with the cow/elephant. The trouble with hope is that it has no drive behind it, no action, no certainty, no goal. Its just optimism and optimism may not hit the target.

Sometimes the change programme doesn’t actually talk about the issues and make it clear that this must change.

This happens a lot when the issue is a person. Someone who has been here forever, has had incredible success in the past, someone wise or venerated. But that someone is now the stumbling block because what made them successful in the past wont make you successful today. So the change programme ‘hopes’ that the person will ‘get the message’, ‘get on programme’ or chose to leave of their own accord. But its amazing how often that doesn’t happen.

If the issue isn’t a one-man Elephant then the change often targets it covertly by putting in place something that speaks the opposite such as new values. New company values are often a version of ‘hope’ (and check out the work of Pouzes & Kosner about the value of company values). They are put in place in the hope that it will change people and often its some very specific people that its hoped will change. Except they don’t, because they didn’t know its them you are talking about.

Thats the problem with Sacred Cows and Elephants in the room. Nobody talks about them, and nobody wants to be the first to target them. So we do it covertly or ‘hopefully or ‘optimistically’.

If you were firing an arrow whats the chance of hitting something you aim at in hope or optimism? Very little?

The only way to deal with anything in change is to be very open about it, make it clear that its the behaviour/issue/system/habit/practice etc that needs to change, why its a problem, what it needs to change to and then put overt action in place to make the change happen. If it happens to be a person then you need to do exactly the same but face to face with them, in private.

A Sacred Cow will remain Sacred until you make it otherwise. An Elephant will wander round untamed until it is outed, spoken about and it becomes acceptable to deal with it and then….Well ready, aim and pull!

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