Just because we have a moose on our money, doesn’t mean it should prevent us from making it

May 6, 2008

Although Michael J. Tatham, founder & CEO of The Tatham Group has been talking about Jim Clemmer’s book “Moose on the Table” for months, it wasn’t until I finally read it, cover-to-cover, that I could share his excitement about Clemmer’s approach.

Clemmer’s book provides an apt (and very Canadian) analogy for what we, at The Tatham Group, encounter everyday: companies that are unable to perform because of poor communication.

The story begins with a middle-aged VP of a company who is on the brink of suffering a major heart attack. Clemmer’s main character, Pete Leonard is overwhelmed by a company in distress: employee morale is low, he has a boss from hell, the company has poorly designed processes and the communication among senior leaders and various departments is terrible. On a personal level – Pete’s marriage is suffering the consequences of this daily barrage at work, whose sorrows he drowns with a bottle.

Although Pete doesn’t know it yet, his strength, courage and leadership are put to the test when he is forced to change both personally and professionally in order to pull himself out of this mess.

According to Clemmer, this mess is the result of an all-too common situation: managers who refuse to address a problem for fear of being exposed to criticism or blame. This creates a culture of fear and reprisal and encourages employees to cover up major issues because the idea of talking about these problems might make them look bad – or worse, get fired. They either sweep these issues under the rug or ignore them entirely.

Clemmer weaves his metaphor throughout the story in a clever way. We’ve all heard the cliché “there’s an elephant in the room” — Clemmer take a distinctly Canadian approach: he calls it a moose on the table. The moose are the obvious problems that no one wants to stand up to, for fear of going toe-to-toe with an enormous beast and losing.

When managers refuse to deal with the root cause of these problems, what they are in fact doing, is shirking responsibility and allowing problems to compound. These ‘moose’ become so pervasive that they paralyze the entire organization. But when leaders are willing to ask the tough questions and face realities, they can make the right changes so that the company can move forward.

Moose on the Table is a fun and entertaining read. Not only does it provide a story to which many of us can relate, but it also highlights some of the most common mistakes managers make, and offers simple ways for managers to open up communication and improve the culture of their workplace. And who doesn’t want to read a book about hunting down the moose that are slowing you down, in order to make your company better…eh?