Makarios Consulting Blog

Stare Down the Elephants

As a business leader, you likely make complex decisions on a daily basis about your company’s bottom line, where your next piece of business is coming from, and how you stack up against the competition. Often, as leaders, we have no problem tackling difficult issues, with one exception: people. Tough people issues can become “Elephants in the Room” — major problems you and your colleagues know exist but are reluctant to address.

In our experience, the leaders who consistently see tangible growth and meet their company’s growth goals have one thing in common: they have learned how to navigate the tough conversations with their employees and colleagues about workplace performance, expectations, and behavior.

Here are two examples of personnel issues that leaders tend to avoid:

  1. Bad performance. In some cases, an employee has been with the company for many years and possesses institutional knowledge. Leaders are often fearful that making a change is more risky than not.
  2. Bad behavior. If an employee is chronically unhappy and complains to colleagues, it’s often contagious. His or her attitude can negatively affect staff morale and productivity.

Whether in the workplace or outside of work, many people – including those in leadership positions – shy away from the tough conversations about people issues. Often, they don’t want to rock the boat or cause hurt feelings. This is especially true about people with whom they work every day.

Over the years, we’ve found that when people face the tough people issues they fear, they ultimately make tremendous progress in building team health and improving the performance of their business. To face the people-related “Elephants in the Room” that are vexing you, take these steps:

  • Define exactly what the issue is – be precise about your concerns and be sure those concerns are based on facts – observable behaviors you have witnessed.
  • Identify the impact the poor behavior has on the business – doing so will force you to focus your discussion on business issues, rather than personal attacks.
  • Challenge the person whose actions are not acceptable to propose a solution that will lead to a change in his or her behavior – your objective is to get that person to take ownership of the changes that must take place.
  • Follow up with the person to assess whether the changes you have agreed on are taking hold. If they are, offer your congratulations and future support. If they are not, address the additional work your team member must do to succeed in changing behavior, and agree on when you will follow up again.