The office zookeeper

Imagine if every day you looked after a zoo. You have a variety of animals in different cages and one day you decide it’s time to rearrange the layout. Would you turn up on Monday morning and start uprooting the animals, hoping that when the new structure is up and running everyone would be happy?

Let me tell you a secret…
People are the same.
We need time to process information.
We need detail.
We need to feel in control.
We hate change.
And so the list goes on…
So if you lead a team, or if you are a parent, what can you do today to make sure you can communicate in a manner that will give you win-win results? You can become an effective zookeeper.

How to communicate effectively with your team

If you imagine your office is a zoo and that every morning you have to feed the animals so that not only are they easier to handle but are receptive to the fee-paying public, you wouldn’t feed them all the same food, would you? Your creative sales and marketing team are your monkeys, so they need “bananas”. They need lively interaction and colourful animation – just like a packet of Starburst – and they need it in short bursts, just as they do with praise. The strong, determined, persevering types are your lions, so they need “fresh meat”. They want the best quality, they want it on time and you definitely don’t turn your back on them while you are feeding them – just as you don’t when giving them praise. The analytical, detailed, questioning group are your elephants, and they need “fresh vegetables and loads of grass”. They need it on their own terms, in their cage rather than in public, and you will be amazed at how they perform, for a quiet word in their ear is all the praise they need. The caring, sharing and nurturing team are your dolphins, and they need to be fed “fresh fish throughout the day”. They need to know that they are making a difference to the community, the environment and their families. If you can share what a difference they’ve made to the organisation then that’s all the praise they need.

When we wrote our book It’s a Zoo Around Here we wrote from the point of view of an effective zookeeper. Many thousands of people have read it and are now influencing their companies, inspiring their staff in the right way rather than their way. Consider whether your company operates like a zoo, or are you operating in the old-fashioned way (it’s my way or the highway!)? The individual traits of each animal (department) can be broken down into a simple matrix. We can categorise 98% of people into one of the four cages, although this doesn’t mean you can’t have some of the other characteristics too. The writer of this article, for example, is a typical monkey. I was given quite a large lead time to write this piece and, in my normal manner, I said, “no problem.” Then I went on holiday and in the meantime the deadline was getting closer and closer. Now, my PA is a massive elephant, and she asked me many times: “What is the schedule? What is the plan? What information do I need to make sure the article will be ready?” The person who asked me to write this is a typical lion, and the conversation went something like this: “I need an article by 15 January and it needs to be 1,500 words. Will you deliver it by then?” It was more of a statement than a question. My wife (dolphin) asked if I needed any help with the article and what could she do to help. Also, would it interfere with our family time and perhaps we should ask for an extension as the children would be home for Christmas?

“Consider whether your company operates like a zoo, or are you operating in the old-fashioned way (it’s my way or the highway!)?”

All of the above were deciding factors in putting this article together. Think about your teams. In everyday situations we need to consider them more than ourselves. So what could you do to become an effective zookeeper? Effective 21st-century leaders know the secrets of how to release potential in their people! Successful 21st-century sales professionals know how to build a lasting rapport with their customers! Engaged 21st-century workers know how to build positive relationships with their peers and managers! At the speed of change, the rules of success are a moving target. Intelligent leaders integrally understand that companies do not do business with other companies, but rather with the people they trust in those companies. They understand that a company’s people is its currency, and that if that currency should be devalued, their company will become one of the successful companies of yesterday.

Communicate, Team, Skills

The Monkey (Sales and Marketing)
The monkey has high levels of both directness and openness. Monkeys are animated, intuitive and lively. They are ideas people and can get very enthusiastic about their plans. However, others may see them as manipulative. Monkeys are fast-paced people who act and make decisions spontaneously. They are not concerned about facts and details, and try to avoid them as much as possible. This disregard for details may prompt them, at times, to exaggerate and generalise facts and figures. Monkeys are more comfortable with “best guesstimates” than with carefully researched facts. They thrive on involvement with people and usually work quickly and enthusiastically with others. Monkeys always seem to be chasing dreams. They are so persuasive that others can easily get caught up in their dreams. Monkeys are always seeking approval and pats on the back for their accomplishments and achievements. They are socialisers; dynamic and able to think on their

communicate, team, skills

The Lion (Directors and CEO’s)
Lions are very direct and, at the same time, guarded. They exhibit firmness in their relationships with others, are oriented towards productivity and goals, and are concerned with bottom-line results. Closely allied to these positive traits, however, are some negative ones: lions can be stubborn, impatient, tough and even domineering. Lions tend to take control of other people and situations and can be decisive in both their actions and decisions. They like to move at an extremely fast pace and are very impatient with delays. When other people can’t keep up with their speed, they view them as incompetent. The lion’s motto could be “I want it done right and I want it done now”. Lions are typically high achievers who exhibit very good administrative skills; they certainly get things done and make things happen. They may start by juggling three things at the same time, and as soon as they feel comfortable with those they pick up a fourth. They keep adding on until the pressure builds to such a point that they turn their backs and let everything drop. Then they turn around and start the whole process all over again.

communicate, team, skills

The Elephant (Accountants and Lawyers)
People who have elephant characteristics are both indirect and guarded. They seem to be very concerned with the process of thinking and are persistent, systematic problem-solvers. However, they can also be seen as aloof, picky and critical. Elephants are very security-conscious and have a strong need to be right. This leads to an over-reliance on data collection. In their quest for data they tend to ask lots of questions about specific details. This can be infuriating to monkeys and lions. Elephants’ actions and decisions tend to be extremely cautious. They tend to work slowly and precisely, by themselves, and prefer an intellectual work environment that is organised and structured. They tend to be sceptical and like to see things in writing. Although they are great problem-solvers, elephants are poor decision-makers. They may keep collecting data even beyond the time when a decision is due, justifying their caution by saying, “when you are making vast decisions, you
cannot do it on half-vast data.”

communicate, team, skills

The Dolphin (HR and COOs)
The fourth and final style, the dolphin, is open and unassertive, warm, supportive and reliable. However, the dolphin is sometimes seen by others as compliant, soft-hearted and acquiescent. Dolphins seek security and like to feel that they belong. Like the elephant, the dolphin is slow at taking action and making decisions. This procrastination stems from a desire to avoid risky and unknown situations. Before dolphins take action or make decisions, they have to know how other people feel. The dolphin is the most people-oriented of all four styles. Having close, friendly, personal and first-name relationships with others is one of the most important objectives of the dolphin’s style. Dolphins dislike interpersonal conflicts so much that they sometimes say what they think other people want to hear rather than what they really think. Dolphins have tremendous counselling skills and are extremely supportive of other people. They are also incredibly active listeners. You usually feel good just being with a dolphin. Because dolphins listen so well to other people, when it is their turn to talk, people usually listen. This gives them an excellent ability to gain support from others.

Have fun identifying the different animals, then feed them the right food and watch the results.

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