Herding Cats the Hard Way

Feb 17, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Professional Development  //  3 Comments

CostofHerdingcats - photo hands with BandAids

About one hour before a webinar this week we had to get one of our cats to the vet.  This is a nervous cat but we generally can use food and kind words to lure him close enough to put him in a cat crate.

This time he was sick, so he wasn’t feeling well and he was afraid.  That made the whole process take much longer than it usually does, which led to the cat fighting back more than normal. Also adding to the stress was the fact that we had to get him crated and to the doctor at a specific time or lose our appointment. Having a webinar coming up within an hour or so made me more stressed, too.

First Rob tried to get him in the crate with smooth talking as a bit of distraction.  The cat was having none of that. So next he tried it wearing gauntlet-type leather work gloves.  The gloves didn’t even make a difference, Frankie’s claws went right through them.  Next Rob tried padded leather work gloves.  Same effect.  After several horrible attempts , Rob succeeded in getting Frank in the crate.  We had the cat locked in a bathroom with two people and all three of us were miserable.  Both Rob and Frank suffered injuries in the process.

I couldn’t help think of similar situations over my career of being locked in a conference room with project team members and business users with none of us wanting to be there.  We all suffered scratches, bites, and war wounds.

The worst part was not being able to explain to Frank why all this was going on.  He had to be treated so there was no question about having to put him through this process.  Unlike a business user, though, we don’t have the opportunity to prepare him for the event with good data, analysis of the cost, benefits, and risks of going to the veterinarian.  He was blindsided by all of this. 

Every time we have to get a cat to the doctor we have to tailor the process to the individual cat. For one, we could put the crate on the kitchen floor and he’d walk in because he loved being in the crate. For others it involves some kitty bribes and distractions. They don’t like being in the crate, but they aren’t hard to distract. For others, it takes two people, several strategies and a series of missed appointments until we are able to succeed. Those latter ones are the worst – we feel bad, the cat is unhappy and generally everyone gets hurt.

But there are benefits to going through this cat fight.  What Frank taught us about meetings with business users and project teams:

  1. Sometimes you have to go to meetings that no one wants to attend, but you do it because it must be done to keep the project from failing. 
  2. Springing bad news on a business user with no preparation and no supporting evidence is treating them like cats.  It puts them in a much more stressful position and makes them want to fight back.
  3. If all your encounters with others are like crating a sick cat, you aren’t doing it right.
  4. If team members are in a high stress situation, meetings are going to be much more painful than you expect.
  5. Sometimes you have to take the scratches in order to get the job done.
  6. If every encounter you have with business users results in going through a box of bandages, you aren’t caring for your business users enough outside of meetings to mitigate their fears and stresses.
  7. You need the right protective equipment for each meeting.  Sometimes that’s just kind words and some food.  Sometimes it’s a full blown Kevlar protection system.
  8. If you wear the Kevlar to every meeting, though, you are sending the message to the team that someone is going to be hurt.
  9. You need to tailor meeting locations, agenda items and communications styles to the individual business users. 
  10. Everyone in these meetings feels as if they are the cat. 


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