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Why is no one talking about the ‘pink elephant’ in the room? Or are they?

So your organization is going through some type of change. How can lack of communication during times of change affect your productivity and profitability? More than likely your employees know what’s going on earlier than you may think. Actually, if your organization is currently going through a change, employees and customers are probably talking about it as you read this. So it would best if you addressed that *‘pink elephant’ in the room and nip that ‘water cooler’ talk in the bud soon as possible!

Whether it is downsizing, merger or acquisition, implementation of new technology, or change in strategy, regardless of the situation, honest, transparent, and timely COMMUNICATION with employees and stakeholders is imperative to success. Without information, assumptions form. Assumptions lead to rumors. And rumors can impact performance and can sabotage positive change.

As your employees are spending time talking about whatever it is that is going on in your organization and worrying about how it impacts them and what it means to their jobs, they aren’t getting their jobs done – they aren’t fully engaged and high performing. They are likely unmotivated and less likely to bring forth new, innovative ideas – ideas that could be helpful on how to improve productivity, profitability, procedures, and processes and positively assist with the changes in your organization.

“In most organizational change efforts, it is much easier to draw on the strengths of the culture than to overcome the constraints by changing the culture.” – Edgar Schein

Your employees are one of your organizations greatest strengths – draw on them, respect them, communicate with them and keep them engaged!

So what should you do about this…

How do you halt the rumor mill and keep engagement stable during change?

  • The short answer (in case you didn’t notice my not so subtle attempt to call it out above) is to communicate, communicate, communicate. A detailed communications strategy developed specifically for the change effort is also helpful. A change management framework and plan of execution are also necessary for success. After all, you can’t just stay quiet, snap your fingers and expect everything to turn out as you want (if you master that, please let me know!).

What if you can’t divulge all the details? How do you address that with employees and stakeholders?

  • Let’s face it, you can always divulge something. No one enjoys lack of information; however, few enjoy information overload either. It’s about balance. Communicate in small bites. Start with communicating information that has been agreed to by leadership, is timely, and has a direct impact on employees and stakeholders. Be transparent that certain details are not yet worked out and some information may be at a very high level – however, what is ready to be shared is being shared with the appropriate audiences and more information will follow.

“Good communication does not mean that you have to speak in perfectly formed sentences and paragraphs. It isn’t about slickness. Simple and clear go a long way.” – John Kotter

What are some other actions you should take to address possible employee issues during times of change?

  • Aware leaders are quickly recognizing that having a strong and committed workforce is a key success factor for achieving desired goals and objectives during a time of organizational change – and for a high performing organization in general. Specific actions help to support and achieve positive outcomes. As mentioned, one easy way to maintain an engaged and committed workforce – and customer base – is with open, honest, and timely communication.

So a bit more about that process…

Once the changes are ready to be introduced to the masses, the process must include corresponding communications and change management efforts. These efforts should include specific and detailed plans and actions that run in parallel, not independently. Without a strategic communications plan, it is extremely difficult to determine the who, what, when, where, and how the information should be introduced. A detailed communications plan should outline the content, vehicles, and frequency of communications with the various audiences and include methods to receive feedback. This can help minimize certain employee concerns associated with organizational changes – concerns that if go unaddressed can have a negative impact. Careful communications and change planning and execution are imperatives to minimizing resistance, increasing understanding, obtaining and maintaining engagement and performance, and supporting achieving successful outcomes.

So the moral of the story – let me put it in the words of a manager I worked with on a recent change effort…

“…I’m not a child, don’t treat me like one. Communicate with your employees; don’t treat them like they’re your children who don’t know what is really going on. They are more perceptive than you think, and can sense that change is imminent. We all know something is going on, we know changes are happening. Tell me the truth. The sooner I know the truth the sooner I can determine how I can help – or get out of the way.”

So – have you ever been an employee in a situation like this? If so, how did you react? What was the environment like at work? How do you think things could have been handled better? What was the outcome of the change? We’d love to hear your story.

Oh – and leaders of organizations who had successful change efforts – we’d love to hear your stories as well!

Keep an eye out for another article we’ll post shortly which will discuss more about change management – what is it and why is it important.

* The phrase ‘white elephant’ in the room can also mean the same as ‘pink elephant’ in the room, and ‘pink elephant’ can also be referenced regarding alcohol and hallucinations…so the color of the elephant in the room doesn’t make much difference and isn’t really the point. The color is simply a unique qualifier to further bring the point to the forefront – the point being a huge elephant exists and no one is talking about it!

About Scott Span, MSOD: is President of Tolero Solutions Organizational Development & Change Management firm. He helps clients be responsive, focused and effective to facilitate sustainable growth.

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Emily Landsman

I used to run the elections for the membership association I used to work for. We had to significantly change some of the procedures that had been in place for nearly 35 years. People huffed and puffed and it was really stressing me out. One of my committee members said something that I thought was pretty good and made me realize there are no changes that will please everyone. “The only one who likes change is a baby with a dirty diaper.”

Also, I’ve totally visited the elephant at that gas station in Wisconsin. http://www.flickr.com/photos/elandsman/6324032937/in/photostream

Carol Davison

I led the beta group to adopt my Departments new performance management system. We developed it using a design group. The group kept me from developing the best PMS that I could (which would have included individual development plans (IDPS) but boy was I glad that I submitted to group wisdom. As it turned out people were so afraid of their supervisors that they didn’t want to complete IDPs even when their executive offered them $1,000 each for training. If I had insisted that IDPs be a part of the pms it would have been even harder to get it accepted by the employees.

Scott Span


Thanks for sharing. Sounds to me like trust issues also played a huge role in the example you mention. If trust doesn’t exist, it doesn’t matter how much money an employee is offered by leadership, they will still most likely not share honest feedback for fear of negative consequences.


I like that quote, thanks for sharing! And had no idea that was in WI – I just liked the graphic. If I’m ever in that neck of the woods I’ll be sure to stop by and get a pic and post as an update to this blog.

Henry Brown

One has to be careful in communicating to ALL; One flavor does not please all!…

Once I assumed that more details were better and I spent several hours briefing my staff on the major technological changes “coming down the pike” After the briefing was over 2 of the staff of 15 took me aside and said “why did you waste our time going over details that probably won’t affect me for 2 years if ever?

At that time I realized the “error of my ways” and when I needed to communicate changes coming about, would carefully balance the audience and the amount of information needed/wanted, even if it meant giving 3 presentations.

Scott Span


I agree, thus as I mentioned, you can always divulge something. No one enjoys lack of information; however, few enjoy information overload either. It’s about balance. Communicate in small bites to audiences as appropriate.

Dannielle Blumenthal

OD specialists are critical to organizational success. This may sound trivial but accordingly, Organizational Development should be a label on GovLoop in addition to project management, leadership, and communications.

Patricia G Alexander

Great read. Communication is key. In my opinion, once the “change” has been communicated all the “mystery” surrounding the change is removed.

EH Rice

I had worked for an Organization that thrived on not telling anyone anything about what was going on till it was just before implementation. Further exacerbating this information black out was 95% of the time the implementation plan was flawed, made unilaterally, and more akin to a knee jerk reaction than a real plan. The Region I was with was way over strength (the Organization was 25% over strength, with most of it in my Region). They had offered buy outs and early retirements. And, they stated they had reduced to the needed end strength goals. But, when you added up the gains and the losses, they had missed the reduction goal miserably (I am talking in the hundreds). Once again into the total information black out. The next thing we were told they were verifying everyone’s Veterans preference. Well, we all knew what that meant. My boss and I, being a couple of the very few 30% disabled Veteran’s knew we would be safe. But, who wanted to work for an Organization that acted that way?

So let’s get to the 25 ton elephant on the couch called sequestration. How well has this been handled? First there was total denial it was even going to happen. There were no plans. Then when the plans were drawn up, there was just enough leaked to the press to make it appear that it was going to be real bad. The press was getting the news before the employees were informed. That is not the way to find out about how many days you will be furloughed, to read it in the news.

Luckily, I had left the Organization after the previous incident.