Some British scientists recently released a study showing how sheepdogs successfully herd sheep.
It’s simple: apparently sheepdogs dart around from behind, notice if there’s any strays from the clump, chase them into a cohesive whole and then drive the flock towards the preferred destination. The study actually forms the basis for an algorithm to be designed along sheepdog lines, so that in future robots using a programming GPS can handle panicking crowds in emergency situations.
Sounds like a pretty straightforward recipe for successful management. But with more and more employees encouraged to behave like creative, self-directed cats (difficult if not impossible to herd), what to do then? What if you have a full menagerie in your office?
Sheep – “The producers”
Unless it’s rams in mating mode and aside from moments of panic, sheep tend to be biddable. A frisky dog with a keen eye will easily chase them towards a given target; the downside is that sheep are not noted for “personality”. They do produce wool and meat, both exceedingly valuable for consumers. In other words, the “sheep” in your office need proper grazing conditions, shelter and a certain amount of order/predictability, and they will “yield” very nicely for all concerned.
Cats – Independent, but canny
Observe the cat as distinct from the sheep. The cat doesn’t “produce” in the same way, but is a canny beast, fond of comfort, swift to pounce and when its needs are fully met, affectionate. Translated, such employees need minimal guidance. A certain amount of praise, regular “meals” and they can range far and wide in search of their “prey”, usually very successfully. (A dog of any description will send them shooting for the nearest tree, though occasionally they will scratch the canine – and hard.)
Dogs – The chasers (and keepers)
I think of dogs as the process-drivers – nipping at heels, digging holes, jumping when they’ve spotted something, barking at anything that moves. A neglected dog will bite or at the very least howl until matters are remedied; a happy, valued dog looks out for you and the company, and their senses are acute.
Meerkats – Attention-seekers who may merit the limelight
We’ve all heard about the meerkats – those anxious-to-be-noticed critters that pop up on their hind-legs to see who’s paying attention (to them). They are annoyingly needy on occasion (they cannot bear to be ignored), but they sure as hell command the spotlight, and very ably, when they’ve had the correct training. Most companies need at least two or three meerkats, depending of course on the service or product you’re selling. Don’t let them dominate meetings – but allow them full sway at presentations and be constructive in your feedback.
Wombats – Solitary but reliable
Then there are the wombats – grunty, solitary creatures that really don’t want any attention at all – they simply like to get on with what they’re doing, without all that enforced socialising and prancing about. Give them office and mental space, and they can surprise you with their vigilance, their stewardship of important (if unsexy) responsibilities and their consistency of approach.
Elephants – Managers for the millennium
Then there are the elephants. These imposing gentle beasts intelligently herd themselves, and best of all, they take care of all the animals. The bull elephant may be a bit “lord of the savannah” on occasion, but really keeps the office infrastructure well in hand, and will trample nosy intruders while playing host to smaller creatures and protecting the “babies”. Don’t force them to do what nature never intended, and they reward you with strength and loyalty.
Irrespective of whatever “animals” live in your office “zoo”, study your menagerie, their habits and preferences, and differentiate accordingly. There is no need to expect uniform behaviours (what zoo expects this?) And zoos, above all, are about conservation.
When you think about it, choosing good employees is definitely a conservation exercise, and that of course definitely reaps benefits.
I couldn’t bring myself to write about snakes. They shouldn’t be there anyway! But I welcome suggestions of other species in your workplaces!
Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.