Tackle Your Elephants and Retain Your Unicorns

November 21, 2019

Book Review by Andy Ghillyer

If these are truly turbulent times of constant and extensive technological advancement, why do businesses insist on sticking with so many traditional procedures? In the case of hiring potential changemakers, for example, we leverage the internet to cast a wide net for candidates but then filter them using the same old categories––degrees, years of industry experience, career growth, and some evidence that they actually read the job posting.

In her new book Elephants Before Unicorns: Emotionally Intelligent HR Strategies to Save Your Company, author Caroline Stokes, argues that finding the perfect fit for your changemaker (the mythical unicorn) requires a different approach that involves breaking down organizational barriers (elephants) and embracing emotional intelligence as a key factor in the recruitment and onboarding processes.

Finding Your Elephants

To underscore the human in your human resources, you must first identify all of the obstacles that are currently de-humanizing your recruitment and onboarding processes. The author assigns half the book to these issues, and most of them will seem very familiar:

  • Poor succession planning means you hire too fast and typically settle for Mr. or Mrs. Right Now, rather than taking the time to identify the right fit for your culture.
  • If you use recruiters, they are typically poorly informed about your organization and approach the opportunity as order fulfillment, rather than delivering a compelling presentation of your brand. As a result, your best candidates can be scared away by the impersonal nature of the interaction.
  • When the odds work in your favor and you find a potential unicorn, your generic onboarding process leaves new hires to fend for themselves and presumably absorb organizational values by osmosis.

Becoming People Leaders

Beginning with a primer on Emotional Intelligence (EQ), Stokes makes the simple but important point that every leader is a people leader––even if you only have one direct report. On that basis, the identification and removal of your elephants will require interpersonal solutions that, ironically, could lead you into another herd of familiar elephants:

  • You don’t engage with your teams as much as you would like because you’re too busy.
  • Your team members ask for opportunities for skills development, but you never know where to start.
  • You typically don’t have time to involve the team in the interview process for potential new members, and when those new hires don’t live up to what their resumes promised (fake unicorns), no one seems surprised.

Stokes summarizes the five components of EQ––self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal, decision-making, and stress management––into one simple two-word phrase that captures the secret to removing all these elephants: Institutional Caring. Once you embrace the idea that you’re hiring individuals rather than resource units, the path becomes clear. It doesn’t necessarily make the task any simpler––individuality can be a mixed blessing––but if you focus on investing the time to find the right candidate and then nurture that new hire as he or she joins and then actively engages with your culture, your chances of keeping them around will increase exponentially.

Elephants Before Unicorns offers a definitively human-centric approach to recruitment. If you are willing to re-examine your company through an EQ lens, you may just find your unicorn.


Andy Ghillyer

Andy Ghillyer is a Contributing Writer at Soundview. He lives in Tampa, FL where he specializes in writing for the B2B and academic markets while raising a growing menagerie of cats and dogs. His other reviews are here.


Soundview subscribers get in-depth summaries of the key concepts in best-selling business books (like Elephants Before Unicorns) delivered to them every week! Take your career to new heights by staying up-to-date with the trends and ideas affecting business leaders around the globe. Download a free sample now.