When we have a new team member start at Footers Catering, we ask them to look out for “alligators.” Maybe for those of you in Florida, this may be a real concern, however the only actual alligators I know of in Colorado are at the Denver Zoo. So why ask them to look for alligators?
The story we tell is that often a new employee starts and immediately wants to fit in—so much so that they may see an alligator walking down the hall and not say anything about it. Instead of asking, “what is an alligator doing in the office?”; they just assume it’s normal because the employees that have been with the company for years don’t even mention or acknowledge it.
We are always striving to make our company better, and when someone comes into our organization with a fresh perspective, we don’t want to miss that opportunity to improve our company by bringing to the forefront the things that we have become numb or oblivious to over the years. The questions we get from new team members force us to take a closer look at the way we do things. When we do get the question, “what is an alligator doing in the office?” one of two things happen: either we say; “The alligators help keep the raccoons away” (an actual purpose for the alligators) or we respond with “well it was here when I got here” (we know we probably need to find the reason or get rid of the alligators because they don’t actually serve a purpose).
Obviously the “alligator" is a metaphor for inefficiencies, issues, or unusual practices within an organization, but it has created a fun rallying point at Footers as we ask everyone to join in the hunt for alligators.
This exercise can continue beyond new hires, by encouraging your team to engage in cross training. By spending a day working in another department, employees have the opportunity to learn from each other and also give an outside perspective on possible improvements. When one of our servers spent a day in the warehouse loading and unloading trucks, he made the suggestion to change how we pack/store salt and pepper shakers. Instead of wrapping pairs in plastic wrap, he used box dividers and a plastic tote, which cut down on the time to pack them and unpack them at an event and also reduced the use of plastic wrap.
Of course the ultimate key to this being successful is a willingness to grow and admit that there may be a better way to do things. Change is difficult, but there are alligators and opportunities hiding within all of our organizations. It’s up to us whether or not we decide to go on the hunt!