- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

We buy an elephant and then we train the elephant to behave like a gazelle

What would be wrong with buying gazelles in the first place? The answer I hear sometimes is, ‘Well, the market has plenty of elephants, elephants are strong, have experience, particularly the ones who belong to big herds of …elephants. Besides, we have always bought elephants; we know elephants, we have a whole Department of Procurement dedicated to Elephants’.

We hire people with excellent pedigrees in Big Corporate and we put them in charge of the start-up, which assets include six months funding in the bank, three guys and a telephone.

We create a new division with lots of VPs, lots of functions, lots of titles and we ask them to ‘think differently’.

We fill all the recruitment gaps in the five management teams of the five affiliates, following the same patterns and profiles, and then we get them together for a big off site to talk about ‘culture change’.

We hire ambitious, high adrenaline, no-prisoners-taken, over-achieving, individualistic, Darwinian sales people and then we ask them to work as a team.

There are always natural windows of opportunity in the decision making of the organization beyond which, any undoing will have a significant cost. And the monetary cost is not the most significant one. Training elephants to become gazelles (or gazelles to become elephants) does not sound like a good idea. But this is what we are doing all the time. If you have a window in front of you (the chance to rethink completely whether you need elephants, gazelles or no animals at all), make sure you don’t lose it!

Incidentally, I am not suggesting that ex-Big-Corporate people cannot run start-ups. I am suggesting that it takes a particular ex-Big-Corporate mind to do it and that they often underestimate the challenges of working in an almost zero-support environment. I am saying also that you can’t have it both ways: love entrepreneurship and hire Big Corporate expertise; love diversity and hire clones; love collaboration and teamwork, and choose individual contributions.


Dr Leandro Herrero is the CEO and Chief Organization Architect of The Chalfont Project [1], an international firm of organizational architects. He is the pioneer of Viral ChangeTM, a people Mobilizing Platform, a methodology that delivers large scale behavioural and cultural change in organizations, which creates lasting capacity for changeability.
Dr Herrero is also an Executive Fellow at the Centre for the Future of Organization, Drucker School of Management. An international speaker, Dr Herrero is available for virtual speaking engagements [2] on topics covered in his Daily Thoughts and his books [3], and can be reached at: The Chalfont Project [4].