Is Your Business an Elephant Graveyard? 1

If you ever watched Animal Kingdom on Sunday nights, you know all about elephants. The show opens with our host standing in the grasslands of Africa, wearing a Pith Helmet and carrying binoculars. As we peer through the bush we spot a huge male pachyderm. He’s 12 tons and has tusks the size of a play yard jungle gym. Our announcer says “Here we see an aging male elephant, once the dominant male, now heading slowing towards the elephant graveyard” And off he’d go, never to be seen again by the herd.

According to legend elephants seem to know when their time is up. They leave their group and head to the elephant graveyard. Human organizations exhibit the same traits.

All businesses have those employees that aren’t going to be promoted. They are in the last position they will have with the company and they know it. Yet, most still do a good job, are excited about coming to work and they add value. Then there are the elephants.

They will migrate to a certain position and settle in. They are there to live out their remaining days. Yet unlike the elephants in the wild, these have chosen your business as their final resting place. They are not giving 100%, they are not adding value, and they are not moving the organization forward.    

Now think about what you expect from your employees? Are your expectations different for elephants? “Oh, that’s just the way Roger is”. Or “I can’t believe Christine said that to the client, but then she’s always like that”.

As managers, we must recognize the elephants in our midst. We must steer them clear of the elephant graveyard and get them back to being a contributing member of the group. Not doing so creates a serious drag on moral, productivity and distracts those who do care. Real elephants know their time is up and leave the community. Your elephant wants more time without the responsibility that goes with it.

Take a look around. You may be surprised how many elephants you have. If you find yourself saying “That’s just the way Roger is”, then you might be allowing an elephant to turn your business into a graveyard.