"Give a hoot – don't pollute!" - Woodsey Owl

A couple of weekends ago, Cherry Creek hosted its (25th anniversary) arts festival over the Fourth of July weekend. If you haven’t attended before: this event features 260 +/- artists from around the world, lines the streets with food and beverage vendors, has a street dedicated to interactive activities, and offers a variety of music entertainment options. It’s a big street party! This year, over 2000 artists applied for a booth. Months of planning go into organizing this annual event, and I imagine the selection process to be laborious; so many details need to be considered to please the artisans, patrons, sponsors, and citizens of the surrounding community.

How challenging this work must be given that these groups don’t necessarily have congruent needs and desires!

Sounds similar to a large IT initiative involving various stakeholder groups with conflicting requirements, doesn’t it?

Because my family and I live only a few blocks from the Cherry Creek North shopping district – home base for the festival – we take advantage of the offerings every year. In addition to attending during hours of operation, we often walk our dog through the area in the morning before artisans open their tents to showcase their work. Despite the early hour, you’ll find outsourced security personnel on every block; they provide 24-hour watch over the art. One morning, as we walked up to the area of the event, we noticed the side lawn of a neighbor’s home was littered with trash. Being a child of the 70’s, I was shaped by the Woodsy Owl campaign. I believe that another man’s trash is everyone’s trash. Therefore, my reaction was automatic. I immediately started picking up litter. As we moved into the secured area where the tents stood, more trash littered the streets. “AHHHH!!!” My irritation level grew as I picked up an empty cigarette case, a water bottle, and piece of plastic. The security contractor assigned to that block was engaging in small talk with someone that appeared to be a non-working buddy when he noticed my actions. He quickly changed his demeanor and fell into admirable customer service mode, “Good morning ma’am. How are you this morning?” We exchanged pleasantries, and then he went back to visiting while I moved towards the trash can to properly discard my gatherings.

The security crew was just finishing up the night shift. This contractor was most likely tired and physically taxed due to the off hours, but probably had a somewhat quiet and boring night. I’m sure he had to be creative to keep his body alert and awake. Despite all of this, he didn’t bother to (move around and) clean up the litter within his line of sight during his post. To me, as a passerby, it didn’t appear that he was willing to give discretionary effort to the (assigned) job. This experience reminded me of so many moments in my career. I have been part of project teams where it’s obvious that some sort of environmental factor exists – one that could hurt the overall health of an initiative and success of the team. Yet, for some reason the involved individuals didn’t want to go above and beyond, outside their defined role to address the issue. Why is this? I personally don’t believe it is because they were lazy or didn’t care. Rather, I think the answer is multifaceted. Maybe they didn’t understand the long-term effect of inaction; maybe they had fear around “rocking the boat,” or maybe they didn’t feel they had time to do anything about “it.”

Data says that litter cleanup costs the U.S. almost $11.5 billion each year; it has also been noted that IT project failure costs the economy between $50-150 billion a year.

These stats are real and a bit overwhelming, and that is why my call to action is for leaders to give a hoot!

The Woodsey Owl campaign was launched in 1971 to share information and advice with kids - with the intention of building an appreciation for nature and driving a lasting behavior change. What if with every IT initiative, executive and project leaders ensured all impacted stakeholders were properly informed about key factors - like how to act when a potential threat or issue is identified and why it’s important to act? What if they created a feedback channel that team members liked to use, felt safe using, and had time to use? And, what if leaders provided thoughtful advice throughout the course of the project - not just scripted messages at kickoff meetings and in the form of memos? Who knows what type of waste would be eliminated. I mean, it’s 2015 and I’m still a HUGE Woodsey OWL fan in more ways than one!

Kristine Laping is the Co-Founder & Managing Director of People Before Things, LLC, a newly launched company that helps organizations create the conditions required to support large-scale, disruptive change. To join in the conversation, follow @pplb4things on Twitter.