Trampled By Elephants

There are elephants hiding in most companies. Actually, since elephants are quite large, they can’t really hide. Everyone knows where the elephants are, they just  pretend they don’t see them. When someone spots an elephant and asks a question about it, they’re met with deafening silence or a clever response along the lines of “we don’t talk about that.”

I’m sure as you read this, you’re picturing some of your organization’s elephants standing in front of you blocking your way to greater success. Hopefully you don’t t see yourself surrounded by a whole herd leaving you no way to escape.

I don’t think I ever worked with a new client that didn’t have a few elephants wandering around making things difficult for everyone. Sometimes the elephants are so big and rowdy that they sit on members of the leadership team and suffocate the best ideas and decisions. I particularly notice this in family businesses where  incompetent and disruptive family members are wandering around in senior positions.

James Baldwin once wrote “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

While he was writing about social issues, his statement applies equally well to business operations. When things are getting in the way of superior performance you need to face them fully, figure out the solution, and implement it well. Letting the issues fester only leads to bigger piles of dung on the floor.  And your best people fleeing to companies where open and honest discussion chases the elephants away as soon as they appear.

Acting as though the issues don’t exist does not make them go away. Everyone knows about them. And everyone wonders why they’re allowed to continue. As people sometimes put it to me “the elephant must have pictures.”

By not facing and resolving  the big issues, your culture is infected, morale drops, performance falls, and you won’t be winning any best place to work awards. And then there’s the Internet. What’s the impact on your company when employees are trashing you in reviews on Glassdoor?

Be brave. Become open and honest about the elephants plaguing you. Encourage everyone to face issues directly and get them resolved rather than let them fester and grow. It’s liberating once you start to face these issues and realize that they’re just issues. And issues can be addressed and made to disappear.

Everyone will be better off when the elephants are gone, including that wayward son who’s finally told to move on and find something to do that he’s good at. Now he can pursue that music career he’s always wanted instead of doing a poor job as the VP of Operations.

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