Sunday, February 1, 2015

Elephants and Toasters

I volunteer for an organization that delivers meals (not meals on wheels).  I’ve been delivering for them on weekends for many years. I like delivering for this organization because I can see the impact, interact with the clients and it’s well run.  As a volunteer they’ve made it very easy for me to volunteer.  I show up, collect my route, someone loads the cooler into my car and I go.  Easy peasy. 

I know when a new person is in charge of the volunteers and that they are responsible for those of us that deliver meals. There is always a new change that is intended to make things better.  Some times it takes a step back and some times it’s a leap forward.  One of my favorite changes was the color-coding of the meals with the meal routes.  The route sheet not only indicated what meal the client was getting (i.e. Sunday dinner only) but highlighted it in a florescent color.  The bag that contained the meal had a sticker. It included the name of the meal and highlighted the words in the same color as the route sheet– reducing my room for error.

They made two changes recently that made things more difficult for me as a volunteer.  They eliminated the florescent colors and switched them to black and white cutsie looking animals. 

Eye roll – it felt like someone made a change to make a change and not actually improving anything – but it did make for some fun water cooler talk with other volunteers. 

The second change made is they started using brand new cooler bags.  They look so much better than the old ones and I have no doubt they keep the food cooler longer.  The problem is that they’re significantly bigger. 

It makes it hard for those loading the bags into the car – they can no longer sling it over their shoulders.  It also makes it more difficult to put into the volunteer’s car.  I’m lucky my car is a hatch and that my route only has 1 cooler.  If my route had more than one cooler – I would no longer be able to volunteer or I would have to switch from the route that I’ve had for 10 years.  I’m not sure what others are doing to get around the new space issue with the coolers. 

These changes got me thinking to my former role as a product manager and my current role as a people leader.  Before making changes to a product or a process understand how it impacts your stakeholders.  Watch them perform the function in the as-is world, talk with them, understand their challenges and make sure when you roll things out communicate the why of the change.  This will allow you to minimize the water cooler talk and get more buy-in.  It will also ensure that not only are you fixing the problem but you are not introducing yet a new one. 


  1. (Trying again)
    I didn't got the Elephants and Toasters title (found a FB page on the topic though)
    But I did get the point about changes and understanding other viewpoints. Great to see you've been volunteering for that long. Hats off to you.

    Are you coming to PCamp South Florida in March?

    Cheers, Roberto

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I didn't tie the title as neatly to the post as I should have. Two of the cutsy pics that the non-profit uses are of an elephant and a toaster (its in the pic). 90% sure I'm coming down. My work travel schedule currently allows for it - keeping fingers crossed. Hope to see you there!