…because some thoughts are worth remembering
We know from scientific studies that self-reporting is one of the worst ways to gather data, because we tend to lie or withhold information. It may also be that we aren’t aware of the situation enough that we haven’t quite thought things through and only report the first things that come to mind (availability heuristic), or articulate the thoughts poorly.
One giant hurdle when conducting strategic vision sessions is obtaining a frank self-assessment from staff and board members. In this case, there are no “right” answers because their impression of what they think is going well for them or for the company matters, whether the item is significant or not. There are many reasons why people don’t share as openly and think as frankly as they can when it comes to doing a SWOT analysis (strength, weakness, opportunities, threats). I haven’t conducted any scientific studies, but soliciting similar information with a different framework made the session much more productive. it has been tested several times at different levels (individual employees, all-hands staff meeting, executive board meetings).
Instead of strength and weaknesses, the participants brainstorm on their own with sticky notes for 5 minutes or so on different characteristics of either themselves, their department, or the company (depending on your goal) as represented by 4 animals. I call this exercise Animal Kingdom Analysis. It feels more like an entry from Gamestorming when done right. The writeup below assumes you are doing the exercise to analyze the organization, though you can easily modify it to assess an individual, a program, a branch, etc.
Animal Kingdom Analysis
Time: 20 minutes total (5 min. initial individual brainstorm, 5 min. review of all entries, 10 min. discussion) (Followup: 60 min. of exploring and articulating time to come up with a one pager to be shared by the group, suggested for the facilitator and key members so they can further analyze the posts, develop themes, opportunities, and threats)
Participants: any level (encourage mixing the levels and types of staff), from 10 to 20
Supplies: pads of sticky notes, pens, wall space to stick sticky notes
There are 4 “animals” for your consideration. Each animal represents an aspect of the organization. I need your help to identify the factors they represent in our organization, our program, and in ourselves.
Lions are obviously strong: we feel proud, looked upon as the leader in the animal kingdom.
What are the OBVIOUS STRENGTHS?
(By obvious strengths, it should be obvious enough for someone else)
Like in the tale of the lion and the mouse (where the lion and the mouse are trapped, and it is the mouse that leads them to their escape because the mouse was able to get out from a crack and free them both), the mouse can be strong, though not obvious. What is our UNTAPPED or not so obvious strengths?
Albatross is a bird with such heavy weight, they can only fly by walking off a tall cliff to get enough time to lift their weight. For an organization, the albatross can represent its burden. What are the elements/attitudes that hold us back (so, not just a weakness), that prevents us or makes it harder for us to achieve our goals? What things DRAG/BOG/WEIGH us down?
IV. (SACRED) COW
In several religions and cultures, cattle are considered sacred. Today, few people actually know why they were considered sacred (but still continue to not eat beef as part of the tradition). In this exercise, this animal represents something that has historically happened and continues to happen to the point that very few people (if any) know about WHY it was important or necessary in the first place. What are some of those practices that we should RE-EXAMINE? (Is it still appropriate? If so, why aren’t we honoring it as we should? If not, why are we still practicing it? Should we butcher the cow to make burgers?)
After the given time limit, have everyone post their responses on the sticky notes onto the wall, sorted by the animal. Take another 5 minutes to read through all the postings on the wall.
It’s best to have a trained facilitator run this exercise because the discussions that follow should result in the traditional “opportunities” and “threats” categories. At the last exercise I was facilitating, the same item appeared under Lion, Mouse, Albatross and the Sacred Cow: engaging discussions ensued to dig deeper than any other meeting.
There are other animals you can introduce into the mix, but these four should get to the bottom of your organization’s current ethos.
Photo: Cat my mother adopted after I left home for school, who sat in my chair at the dinner table, obviously assuming that she wasn’t really a cat but a superior version of a human being.