Is Your Business an Elephant?
Organizations are like elephants, Charles Handy said. Big or small, they are happiest plodding down the known, comfortable road.
Four signs that your organization may be an elephant:
1. The organization is selling to the same demographic as always, in spite of plans to diversify. You’re also sourcing from the same suppliers. New suppliers are often the people who expose your people to different demographics. If you’re working with the same suppliers every time you place an order, your elephant prefers comfort to growth.
2. Your plans to embrace CRM technology are strong in theory but weak in practice. Most companies have plans to develop a deep understanding of their customers, but elephants are weak when following-up on these plans. Elephants draw back from the change involved in truly understanding your actual and potential internal and external customers. You can feel that the organization is not a prancing gazelle.
3. The organization is doing little to engage new markets. States like Florida are pouring taxpayer money into business support services – custom training grants, and full-service help with exports. Even tiny companies are exporting. Businesses are exporting services as well as products. Training is available and risk is managed: Ex-Im Bank insures 95% of foreign payments for $-peanuts. By ignoring these opportunities, your elephant leaves resources on the table for competitors.
4. The best test of being an elephant is that your beast shakes off anyone who speaks up too much, or has too many bright ideas. Elephants don’t do well with differentness, or those who speak truth to power, even carefully and gently. They prefer people who don’t challenge corporate culture at all.
Charles Handy recommended two solutions for ‘business elephantitis’. Both involve fleas. Fleas are resilient, creative people who work with elephants to help them change in an agreed way. (CPS is a flea company.)
1. A very big elephant can have a permanent team of fleas living on the elephant. However, this requires a very strong and powerful executive (or executive team) who can protect the fleas. Remember – elephants shake off fleas.
2. Any elephant can invite a flea aboard to achieve a defined result. The flea is tasked with biting the elephant to grow, at a rate that works for the elephant. Maybe the elephant wants to see further ahead, or to see how to market more new products and services to new customers. Sometimes the objective is to retain innovative, talented and diverse people. The elephant almost always wants to be more profitable. And sometimes it just needs a good run.