Zebras at work

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[Photo Credit en.wikipedia.org]

Saturday was a big day for us – we went to see The Lion King at the Lyceum in London!  This was a delayed Christmas present that various relatives had contributed to and we were all very excited – the kids’ first normal train ride (i.e. not a steam-train-on-holiday ride), a trip to the theatre, a night in a premier inn – that always makes their day!

And, of course, The Lion King was fantastic!  The costumes were just incredible!  The music, the singing, the dancing….I could go on.  While we were watching, it got me thinking about a lecture I saw by Kim Cassidy at Nottingham Trent Business School a few weeks back, on the effectiveness of customer engagement strategies of UK retailers.  Buzz words in retail just now are ‘theatre’ and ‘experience’ – two things that traditional retailers are experimenting with to entice customers back onto the high street, and to make those expensive property portfolios valuable in the face of online shopping.

Kim went on to talk about the actual theatre – a simple leap to make, but one which I’d never considered before.  She talked about four different ways to present a dramatic piece – theatrical realism, political realism, surrealism and absurd theatre – and that everything in a production needs to work towards the chosen approach.  In doing that, you achieve ‘gestalt’ (whereby the whole is greater than the sum of the parts) and, if achieved successfully, the audience will become lost in the production, completely absorbed in whichever approach has been taken.

And so at The Lion King, I found myself wondering which of the four approaches they were using….I couldn’t (and still can’t) decide which one it was….. and in fact it doesn’t matter because whichever it was, it was a good choice!  And they did an incredible job of achieving gestalt.  But not quite…..I noticed this zebra.  One of the zebras just wasn’t getting her zebra on!  Her colleague zebra was phenomenal.  He had the kicking legs, the flicking head, the trot – all perfect.  He WAS a zebra!  Give him some grass and he’d have eaten it – that’s just how much in the zebra zone he was!  But this lady just wasn’t quite there.  She did an OK job but when on a stage of phenomenal people who were in their animal-zones her semi-zebra-ness stuck out like a sore thumb.

It got me thinking about our cultures and strategies at work.  How often do we achieve gestalt?  How often do we consider the inter-play of all the parts which go to make up the whole we’re trying to create.  How attuned are all those parts to what’s being created overall?  Has anyone painted a picture of what the end result will look and feel like? Does everyone know which ‘theatrical movement’ the organisation has chosen, and what their role is in that?

I’m not daft, I know you could never achieve gestalt perfection all the time, and there are bound to be people who are never going to be great zebras.  But shouldn’t we try?  Shouldn’t we try and create that image in people’s minds of what, after all their hard work in rehearsals, the on-stage performance will be like.  What it will be like if all the parts come together with the same ambition and determination, working perfectly together to deliver the best performance for their audience (they’re your customers by the way).

I’ve been part of such gestalt moments at work before and they’re amazing!  (Akin to the Hot Spots Movement http://www.hotspotsmovement.com).  If we had more of these, more of the time, organisations would be phenomenal – both for their employees and their customers.

And, by the way, I’m not suggesting we need organisations full of carbon copy zebras (have you seen Madagascar with the herd of zebra all doing the water thing? – yeah, not that!).  Clearly organisational cloning is not the way to go!  We absolutely want the variety of zebras, elephants, giraffes, in fact, the whole animal kingdom, because each will bring their own strengths and attributes to enrich and create better results.

So why not go and get yourself a director’s chair and start creating!

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