You are no doubt familiar with the expression, “Don’t ignore the elephant in the room.” The saying refers to an issue that no one in the organization talks about, but everyone knows exists.
Some elephants are thrust upon an organization by external forces (e.g., economy, regulatory issues, etc.); however, many are the direct result of allowing baby elephants to mature in plain sight. Here are a few examples of the latter:
- A project that is doomed, but so much energy and political cache has been invested in the effort that no one is willing to scrap it – so, good money is thrown after bad.
- An unhealthy or unprofitable customer relationship that was so difficult to acquire in the first place that termination is unspeakable.
- A manager who treats everyone poorly, but delivers results – the manager needs to go before a lawsuit arrives; however, we choose to ignore the bad behavior in hopes that it will stop on its own.
Here are four things for you to consider about the baby elephants in your midst:
1. Little Things Become Big Things:
A few years ago New York City authorities put sizeable effort behind graffiti removal and stopping subway riders from jumping turnstiles. Many credit the decision to focus on small infractions as key to the precipitous decline citywide of more serious crimes. Small things matter – sweeping them under the rug typically leads to a bigger mess that will need to be cleaned up by someone.
2. You’re Not Too Busy, It’s Your Job.
Many leaders spend their days rushing from meeting to meeting or digging through a virtual email pile. These activities may be important, and certainly keep one busy, but they also cause distraction from more critical issues. Consider the restaurant manager who walks past trash on the floor because he has paperwork to attend to or the production supervisor who sees a minor safety issue but says nothing because she is racing to a meeting. They may rationalize their lack of action or be so preoccupied that they failed to notice the problems – either way, they are feeding baby elephants.
3. Know What Right Looks Like.
A leader can’t address a baby elephant if he or she doesn’t know what right looks like. Leaders must invest time in learning standard procedures. They need to understand how jobs should be done or how something works. Stepping out of the comfort zone might be required, but we learn nothing when we are comfortable.
4. Learn How to Give Feedback.
Another reason that people ignore baby elephants is because they aren’t comfortable giving feedback to employees much less peers or supervisors. An organization will spend significant money installing a performance management system yet fail to invest time teaching people how to give open, candid feedback. Sure, a talent management system s important, but it doesn’t outweigh the ability to directly address issues.
- Are you caring and feeding for a baby elephant?
- Have you even stopped to consider if any are wandering around the office?
Take time to address them now before one grows into a 13-foot tall, 15,000 pound pachyderm that no one can ignore.
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.