5 Ways to Eat The “Elephants In The Room”

5 Ways to Eat The “Elephants In The Room”

Dealing with organizational conflict bites.


From time to time, every company faces big, lumbering “elephant in the room” type topics, and the best leaders know how to find and address them. Too often, we create business cultures that cause our colleagues to shrink back from politically sensitive issues. Stop it! Follow these 5 tips to munch your elephants, one bite at a time.


1. Embrace the Elephants


Don’t stick your head in the sand. Accept, with humility, the fact that there are issues you and your team are afraid to handle. Here, Meg Cabot would chime in to remind us, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Building a culture of transparency and candor must trump your fear of internal friction. Only then, can you inspire your followers to accelerate performance.


2. Ask Questions


Question don’t dictate. When Google set out to identify the top 3 traits of a successful manager, number 2 was helping their teammates puzzle through problems with questions rather than forcing top-down solutions. Begin with the assumption that your team has a different perspective on the elephants than you do. As the CEO of one of our global software clients likes to say, “perception is reality.” You’ve got to identify and compare your people’s perceptions before remediating.


3. Protect Anonymity


Anonymous feedback is honest feedback. At 9Lenses, we query thousands of knowledge workers each year and the responses to our People Lens “elephants in the room” question never cease to amaze. Anonymous respondents will point to the root cause of financial reporting issues, spot burgeoning law suits, pin down strategic blind spots, or identify the stairwell black sheep coworkers use to “get high.” Political realities often prevent employees from sharing candid insights with superiors, but those walls come down when you use technology to protect stakeholder identity.


4. Overcome Offsite


You must devote intentional time—like a strategic offsite—to dealing with your elephants. Often times, problems between business leaders are allowed to fester until employees become incapable of discussing the subject in the same room. At 9Lenses, we conquer thick-tusked trunks at 2-day offsites.


Here are some of the ground rules our CEO uses to break down barriers:

  • Divide everybody into open forum idea generation teams to tackle the top elephants raised in our anonymous Business 360.
  • Each team must be comprised of people that disagree about the top 3 elephants to encourage cross-functional solutions.
  • Use competitive incentives to drive collaboration. Every team votes to award points to the team with the most promising set of next action steps for each elephant. At the end of the offsite, a popularly elected MVP and the team with the most points win cash prizes.
  • Mix the personal and the professional. Throughout the offsite we play “getting to know you games.” By the end of our time together, we know one another’s families, nicknames, and those funny little idiosyncrasies that make us all so different, yet amusingly similar.


5. Lather, Rinse, Repeat


At the end of the offsite, we re-assess. Everyone enters final thoughts on overlooked elephants into a “one-question” interview app — that data serves as the starting point for our quarterly culture comprehension pulses. Change is our only constant. So, we continually capture real-time data to track front-line risks and emerging opportunities before they turn into Dumbo-sized squashers.


Now it’s your turn. Get after it.  Doesn’t matter if this is your 1st or 9,000th day on the job. The best time to start building a culture of transparent accountability is now. And once you get going, shoot us a tweet and let us know how your pachyderm tasted.

Zachary Enos


How Do You Find Your First Customers?

How Do You Find Your First Customers?

As any business owner will tell you, finding those first ten or twenty customers is always the hardest. For one, yo