The Elephant and The Six Men
Have you read the ancient Indian story about the elephant and the six men? The story holds an important lesson for organizations. In the story, six friends blindfold themselves and play a game where they try to identify objects they come across. As they venture out, they come across an elephant. As the story goes, none of them had seen an elephant before. Each one of them proceeds to feel different parts of the object. After careful analysis, the first man declares the object is a large drum. He was touching the elephant's stomach. The second man objects vociferously. It is a snake, he asserts. He was touching the tail. The others vigorously forward their assessments that it is the trunk of a tree, a fan, a thick rope, and a curved stick. Finally, when they cannot agree on their assessments, they take off their blindfolds to discover that the object they were envisioning and the real object are starkly different. While their individual assessments were based on valid information gathering and analysis, they realize they could not have been more wrong.
The different teams and departments in a company more often than not act like the six blindfolded men. They view the company and the issues it faces from their distinct perspectives which leads to different assessments of what is important, what is urgent, and unfortunately, sometimes, a lack of respect for the viewpoints and capabilities of the other teams.
For instance, in many companies sales and operations do not share a high opinion of each other. The operations team feels the sales team makes unrealistic promises to customers. The sales team, on the other hand, feels the operations team is unable to deliver the quality and timely performance necessary to thrive in the marketplace.
The issues exist at all touch points and involve all the teams. While teams have their heart in the right place and want to contribute, they are caught up in their way of thinking, and fail to see the big picture. Their hard-nosed assessment does more harm than good.
“Teams often act like the six blindfolded men.”
Reengineering and Realigning Perspectives
As a leader, you must recognize the severity of the problem and address the issue diligently. Ensuring your teams develop a broader perspective and solve problems from a company-perspective rather than a departmental-perspective is a crucial component of your job.
Changing the perspectives of successful departmental leaders who have a good measure of self-esteem (read it as ego) is an excruciating task. To encourage a company-perspective, invest heavily in cross-functional, company-wide initiatives. For instance, develop, crystallize and propagate a detailed and meaningful mission to unite the teams. A strong mission would serve as a higher purpose than individual departmental interests and concerns.
Emphasize improvement and performance themes that are cross-functional in nature and scope. Do not come up with company-wide goals and hope the teams will rally around them. Generate a vigorous discussion with all the teams present, so they can appreciate the goals and develop joint ways of achieving them. For example, achieving revenue numbers cannot be the sole responsibility of the sales department. If it is perceived that way, the probability of success is lower. Similarly, efficiency cannot be a goal of the operations team alone. All the other teams, from sales to customer service, HR, IT, and accounting have to understand and respect the value of operational efficiency and provide their full support, ideas and active cooperation and contribution.
Help the organization recognize and appreciate the elephant so they are not lost in their individual parts.
A recognized thought leader, Kathuria has been quoted in various publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, WorldNews, and featured on the BusinessMakers show, CBS Radio, Nightly Business Report, and is a monthly columnist for the SmartBusiness Magazine.
Kathuria is the author of the highly acclaimed book, How Cohesive is your company?: A leadership parable. It is a realistic and intense story of how a CEO struggles to transform the business and, in the process, struggles with his personal transformation.
Kathuria is the founder and president of Cohegic Corporation, a management consulting, executive coaching and sales coaching firm. Halliburton, Hewlett-Packard, St. Lukes Episcopal Health System, AT&T, and Imperial Sugar Company executives have co-published seminal business articles with Kathuria in the Houston Business Journal on sales effectiveness, performance, corporate culture, and change management.
Invited to speak at large conferences and corporate meetings, Kathuria is a thought provoking and vivacious speaker. He has spoken at the 5th Annual Veterans Entrepreneurship Conference, Rice University, Business Forum on Emerging Markets, University of Houston's Wolff Center For Entrepreneurship, University of Texas' Fleming Center for Healthcare Management, Institute of Internal Auditors, Dover Club, Galleria Chamber of Commerce, American Business Women's Association, French American Chamber of Commerce, Business Resources Group, Financial Executives Networking Group, Silver Fox Advisors, Houston Technology Center and the 2011 SPE Americas E&P Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference.