You’re probably familiar with the phrase “elephant in the room.” In the unlikely event you’re not, it refers to a difficult topic about which everyone is painfully aware, but that is so uncomfortable that nobody is willing to mention it publicly. It’s like the flask Aunt Sadie carries in her purse — everyone has seen it, but nobody will ever admit to that.
Companies and organizations are often vexed by their own elephants. Maybe it’s a deficiency in a product. Maybe it’s an advantage a competitor has. Maybe it’s a past mistake or a scandal that left a stain on the organization’s image.
As with Aunt Sadie’s flask full of “tea,” organizations like to pretend that nobody else can see the elephant. “If we pretend it isn’t there,” they reason, “the outside world won’t notice it, and we can ignore it.” Guess what? Everyone sees the elephant. How could they miss it?
If you keep pretending that the elephant is nowhere in sight, he’ll never go away. In many cases, he’ll feed on everyone’s avoidance and continue to grow. The more people pretend, the more obvious and embarrassing his presence will be.
How do you make elephants go away? The best way is to admit that you see them, tell what you’re doing to eliminate them, and then move on. Candor is the best elephant-killer around. If all of your customers know that Model XP1’s reliability has been less than stellar, admit it. “It’s no secret that model XP1 has fallen short of our standards. Our engineering team has listened carefully to our customers’ concerns and addressed them in Model XP2.”
Be bold and speak the plain truth. Because once you admit to the elephant’s presence, he’ll stop getting in your way.