You may not recognize these movie characters’ names. In “A Few Good Men”, Jack Nicholson (as the Colonel) uttered the famous phrase to Tom Cruise (the Lieutenant):
“You can’t handle the truth!”
You may have sided with one character or the other, depending on personal acting favorites, the roles they played or your view on the issue of internal discipline in the military.
Nevertheless, Colonel Jessup’s point was well taken and has relevance in the business world.
In an earlier executive role, I teamed up with our CEO to land the three biggest possible OEM partners in our product niche. It got us over a financial obstacle and helped us dominate against the large elephant in our industry.
As a result, our business model shifted. Our revenues from these accounts became larger than our direct sales, making our Product Management (which was part of my charter) and Software Development efforts (managed by a very skilled colleague) a partnership with these other companies.
One day, I got a call from an executive I’d worked with earlier in my career. He never made casual, keep-in-touch calls, so I was quite intrigued with what he would say. He quickly got to the point: “XYZ company (one of our OEMs) is committing resources to create a product that matches yours. They predict the extra margin in their sales will make it worth the up-front investment.”
That same afternoon, our product manager for that program walked into my office and closed the door. He said “I just got off my weekly call with XYZ’s implementation team regarding future feature requirements. They acted odd through the meeting. I think they’re planning their own product.”
This was significant, not only for the revenue we could lose, and the new competitor we would have, but how we would allocate precious internal resources for future development, and how much information we should share with XYZ’s employees.
I couldn’t compromise my source, but I went into our CEO’s office and told him that both our product manager and I had separate sources that gave us the confidence to suspect XYZ was moving forward with their own internal development.
He brought our CFO and Sales Director into his office. When he told them what may be happening, they both ran into an office to call a common contact they had inside XYZ. They returned to insist there was no truth to our story.
Our CEO preferred that XYZ not move ahead on their own. The two others on his staff were clueless on how to broach the subject directly, instead of lightly. None of the three wanted this to be true. They were panicked more about the loss of a major account than taking any number of possible steps to head off or prepare for this scenario. They “couldn’t handle the truth”.
For other reasons, I moved on to another corporate opportunity. The final scene of this real-life movie went as you might expect. Shortly after I left, the OEM publicly announced their newest product. There was no valid Plan B in place to make up for that loss.
There’s a saying that “hope is not a strategy”. Neither is living in denial. Business is getting past situations that aren’t ideal. Pretending they aren’t happening is useless. Success demands you handle the truth.