The Truth Can’t Hurt You

Young Honest Businessman is Tested with Lie Detector

This is the first in 12 short articles expanding on my recent post, Strategic Power: A Manifesto to Revolutionise Growth

A relatively little-known 1980s Elvis Costello song, I Want You, has these lines:

The truth can’t hurt you

It’s just like the dark –

It scares you witless

But in time you see things clear and stark

Costello was writing about a failing relationship, but the sentiment is equally true in business. Unless you are prepared to accept, face into and work through the truth of your situation you will never be able to accelerate growth.

Optimism is critical to business success, but unless it is balanced with a cold-eyed understanding of where your business is, and where it is heading, then it is simply hubris. Twenty years ago, when I worked for Boots the Chemists, for instance, the company lost over £100 million in a failed move into dentistry and wellbeing services despite, it being clear to everyone except the CEO that the trials weren’t connecting with customers.

The power of real insight is even greater when it is the power of shared insight. You shouldn’t just focus on what the truth is to you as an individual leader of your business, but should identify what the truth and real insights are to you as a leadership team. That means that openness, a willingness and ability to discuss uncomfortable issues, a desire to look for cause rather than blame on problem areas, as well as a talent to collectively look for and spot emerging new opportunities are all essential characteristics of great strategic teams.

Assuming that you have those qualities, here are the 10 questions that I set to answer when I’m working with my clients to understand their business and identify the critical insights:

  1. Where are you making money? And where are you losing money?
  2. Where are you growing? And where are you going backwards?
  3. Which of your markets have high potential, and which are less attractive?
  4. Where are you beating and where are you lagging your competitors?
  5. What do your customers – and non-customers – really think of you?
  6. What assets, skills and capabilities do you have that really differentiate you and drive your success?
  7. Where are you consistently demonstrating excellence in everything you do?
  8. What have you done recently that is truly innovative? And what do you have in the pipeline?
  9. What do your people really think of this business?
  10. Which of your current initiatives are working, and which are failing to meet their goals?

Collectively answering these questions sobering honesty and hard-headed analysis is the foundation of great growth strategies. After all, the truth can’t hurt you, but telling yourself little white lies can be deadly.

What steps are you going to take to create a clearer picture of the current performance and direction of your business? And how are you going to build alignment and commitment around the insights you generate?

© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

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