Elephantine Truths


By John Barrington

An article in today’s press made me think about the truth required in identifying the real issues confronting an organisation.  The Argenti System of Strategic Planning calls these issues ‘strategic elephants’: those issues an organisation absolutely must get right if it is to prosper over the long-run.  Finding them is akin to going on an elephant hunt.

The article (p40 The West Australian) is from Mexico City, headlined as ‘Elephant relocation tale needs rescue’ and dubbed ‘the stuff of a major film studio animation’.  The myth was that these nine pachyderms were babies, orphaned after their parents were poached and they had been miraculously rescued.  They were now free to roam around a wild game park in Mexico.  The truth was that the elephants were relocated as a result of a commercial sale (not ‘rescued’), they weren’t free and they weren’t babies.  Nor were their mothers poached.

What looked like a marketer’s dream story went wrong when the truth was exposed.

While this story might have caused the game park’s communications people some angst, the stakes are much higher when boards and executive teams fail to be honest about the true strategic issues confronting an organisation.  The prosperity of the game park probably wasn’t compromised by the truth coming out.  But if you are a director or an executive in an organisation defining the strategic issues to be addressed, you better be honest lest your strategies be ill-directed.

We have seen many instances where the truth cannot be uttered for fear that employees might become overly concerned or, worse still, the leaders are concerned that it might reflect badly on their personal reputations.  Successful strategy development requires forthright and frank consideration of the real problems, or opportunities, that are to be addressed.  Shying away from reality risks never dealing with the issues.

One prominent director of several high-growth companies and non-profits said to us that there wasn’t a board he sat on that wasn’t confronting major issues.  But in each case they had been honest in identifying the root causes and so could design strategies that went to the heart of the matter, rather than spearing off in multiple directions that would likely fail to deliver the desired outcomes.

We call this honest strategy: being honest about the true purpose of the organisation; honest about the issues to be addressed; and, honest about how the strategies will actually deliver on the organisational purpose.

For more information, please feel free to email me at john.barrington@barrington.com.au.

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