Last month’s column began with me pointing out that one of the things which I have learned over my years as an organizational consultant attempting to equip individuals and organizations to accomplish their visions, missions, and goals, is that every organization has what is commonly referred to as “an elephant in the room.”

For the purpose of our discussion we adopted the definition provided by which said “the term refers to a question, problem, solution, or controversial issue that is obvious, but which is ignored by a group of people, generally because it causes embarrassment or is taboo. The idiom can imply a value judgment that the issue ought to be discussed openly, or it can simply be an acknowledgment that the issue is there and not going to go away by itself.”

In discussing how to deal with the elephant in the room we pointed out that there are times when the elephant is present in a group situation and, at other times, it might be with an individual person and that each of these requires a different approach.
elephant-in-the-roomIf you are a manager wanting more information about how to deal with the elephant in the room, continue reading below. If you are not a manager and want to know what you can do about the elephant in the room in your organization, go to the column labeled “elephant” on page 7.

In last month’s column we discussed what to do when the elephant is present in a group situation. Now it’s it time to discuss what to do when the elephant is (or with) an individual. In this case it is usually better to deal with it personally in a one-to-one meeting behind closed doors and away from inquisitive ears! Quite frankly, it is much like dealing with any other performance problem. The steps are:

Identify the elephant – While it is seldom the case, the employee may be oblivious to the fact that there is a problem. The best approach is to begin the session with precisely pinpointing the problem.

The focus of the conversation should be on specific tasks, outcomes, or behaviors that need to be addressed. It is wise in addressing the issues to use examples so that the employee gets a clear picture of what the problem is. If you have discussed the issue with the employee previously, reference those conversations.
Secure agreement that a problem exists, then discuss the consequences if the problem continues.

Describe the Impact – After defining the problem for the employee, describe the negative impact it is having on quality, productivity, services, other people, goals of the organization, or whatever other areas may be impacted.
Develop a solution. – Once the employee agrees that a problem exists and understands the consequences if the problem continues, then it is time to generate solutions to correct the problem.
A useful tactic in generating potential solutions is to brainstorm with the employee. Actively listen, reinforce the employee’s workable ideas, and add your own ideas. If the employee comes up with a workable solution, you are more likely to get buy-in from him/her than if you impose your own solution.
This is also a good time to emphasize to the employee that you want him/her to be successful and that you want to support him/her in any way you can.
Once you have discussed the potential solutions, decide on the best course of action and get a commitment from the employee on his/her role in solving the problem.

Monitor the results – Once the employee has committed to his/her role in solving the problem, a follow-up strategy needs to be established. How and when the manager and the employee will review progress needs to be clearly determined. Specific dates for check-in meetings should be established.
The manager should recognize any improvements as they happen regardless of how small those improvements are.
If no progress is being made to resolve the issue, the consequence discussed in step 2 must be applied.
Remember the truths discussed in last month’s column:

  • Ignoring the elephants does not make them go away. In fact, once they have found a home they tend to stay for a long, long time.
  • Baby elephants tend to get bigger over time.
  • Having elephants in the room is demotivating to the organization’s personnel which results in reduced productivity and meaningful contributions, and
  • If the elephant is not dealt with, the executive is perceived as weak, ineffective and lacking in leadership skills.

The only question left to answer has to be answered by you and not me: “What are you going to do about the elephants in your organization?”

Equip Individuals and Organizations to Accomplish Their Visions