CIO Development

Blog Motivate the Elephant

By James Caplin: Head Coach

I recently completed a coaching session with a senior IT executive that involved ‘Motivate the Elephant’ (as proposed in Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Switch). He was in a tricky dilemma: his company has been building a business critical IT system and the project has gone seriously off-track. He’d been parachuted in to sort it out. He quickly established that almost everyone – the business, Board members, external consultants – identified the project leader as the problem. Although the guy is technically skilled, he is stubborn and a poor communicator (especially with business colleagues). ‘Almost everyone’ except my client’s boss, a Regional CIO, who won’t hear anything against the project leader. My client had tried to help the project leader develop himself, but had got nowhere. He’s tried to get the Regional CIO to face facts, but to no avail. What to do?

In his coaching, my client was initially focussed on how to change the Regional CIO’s mind or develop the project leader. I felt that if this was going to work, my client would have succeeded already and what would help was looking at the situation using a different perspective. Time for Motivate the Elephant. Quick reminder: the model has three parts: Find the Feeling (and do something with it); Shrink the Change (and tackle that); and Grow Your People (i.e. make whatever you do part of others’ learning and development).

It really helped. My client realised that there is a consensus, all around the Regional CIO at his level, about the project leader. His action: let a couple of powerful people know they are in agreement about the project leader, and they’d ensure the Regional CIO sees sense. Shrink the Change: all my client had to do was find alternative work the project leader excels at – and there was plenty of that – and he’d probably happily step aside from leading the project. Finally, Grow Your People: my client suddenly realised that one of his own reports, another of the Regional CIO’s favourites, was ideally suited to leading the initiative. All he needed to do was wait until the pressure built on the Regional CIO, and then suggest this as a solution and the situation would be sorted.

Many of my coachees find this way of thinking useful. How might it be useful to you?