The CEO walked into the room and looked at his team, frustrated that the company had not hit its goals for the last two quarters. He led them through a lengthy discussion of the various problems they faced in operations, marketing, sales, and customer service. They agreed on what they would do to address the issues and adjourned the meeting. On the way out of the room, the marketing director whispered to the customer service leader: “Too bad we didn’t talk about the real problem.”
My friend, who works for the company, told me this story afterward with a huge amount of frustration in her voice. “We talked all around the real issue, and I don’t think anything we agreed to do will actually improve our performance. The real issue is that we don’t trust each other, and we haven’t got the guts to face that.”
That is a problem I call an “Elephant in the Room”. It is one of those truly tough management problems that leadership teams know exist and yet won’t acknowledge. We often ignore the problems that are “Elephants in the Room” because they scare us. It takes real courage to face them with honesty and hard work to fix them, so we ignore them and work on other things. Meanwhile, the elephant is wrecking our business.
Lack of trust among members of a leadership team is just one example of an “Elephant in the Room”. For some companies, the really tough problem may be a product quality issue they don’t know how to solve, or a glaring customer service weakness they just can’t get their arms around, or the unwillingness of a key member of the team to listen to others.
The first step in herding the elephants out of your business is to admit they exist. You have to face them honestly by talking about them openly with the members of your leadership team. Once you can do that—scary as it might be—you can take full advantage of the creative power your team has to solve the problem and make the elephant go away.
My colleagues and I at Makarios will be writing more about “Elephants in the Room” in our blog as we go forward. We are convinced that dealing with your business’s toughest problems head on – and herding them out of your business—can transform your performance, make the business much more effective and, ultimately, a lot more fun. We have years of experience in helping our clients face the “Elephants in the Room” and we bring a disciplined process and a great set of tools to leadership teams who are ready to herd them out of their business.