Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal. – Henry Ford
I heard a story over thirty years ago and it still reverberates inside my mind, especially when I am engaged in a strategy execution consulting assignment. Here’s the story:
A young man who lived in poverty and the ghetto was determined to climb out of his negative situation and spent all his free time reading, studying and doing homework. His neighbourhood friends thought he was a bit odd and teased him endlessly.
One day he went to his grandfather in tears, telling him about his dreams to be somebody, to get out of the ghetto. He also told him about the teasing.
His grandfather told him the following true story. “When I was a young boy I went to the open air seafood market and in one stall I noticed a shallow bowl of live crabs. I was concerned that the crabs, who were very active, would climb out and the stall keeper would lose his profits. So I brought it to his attention that he needed to put a cover on the bowl. The stall keeper smiled and said, ‘Don’t worry, young man. You see, those are Blue crabs, as soon as one tries to climb out, the others grab on and pull him back down!’
And that’s the way it is in life, my son, as soon as one of us tries to climb out of the ghetto, the others pull him back down, because if one makes it out, there is no excuse for the others.”
An executive strategy retreat is a very interesting event, with much skepticism going in and when done well a great deal of optimism and enthusiasm on the final day when the strategy comes together. The logic is sound, the market studies robust and the strategy seems to fly off the page as if it were a team of wild horses ready to bolt across the horizon.
But, not too long after the workshop the reality of execution begins to sink in and some people become concerned, insecure and even frightened at all the work required to move the new strategy forward. And that’s when the “Blue” Crabs appear! One or two senior executives begin to “wonder out loud” about the veracity of the strategy and suddenly come up with numerous logical and well-reasoned arguments why we should go slow, or have a rethink, or make a few changes in the steep objectives in the original plans. Then more “blue crabs” grab hold and start pulling the strategy apart and dragging down those who have begun to execute and implement their respective action items.
All strategies are hard to implement! It’s up to the CEO to keep everyone’s eye on the prize and not on the obstacles. Difficult, yes; impossible, no. Not if the team works together, shares information and resources, and everything is transparent. Hidden problems are the hardest to solves, but those that are transparent tend to attract solutions!
Understand the “blue crabs” for what they represent, insecurity and fear. Then redouble your efforts and focus on execution, execution, execution.
Tight Lines . . .
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