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The Fox And The Grapes

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The Fox and the Grapes

David Noonan in his book “Aesop & the CEO derived powerful business insights from Aesop’s ancient fables. The next few series will be looking at these fables and the management imperatives.

As the fable goes:

A hungry fox strolled into a vineyard and saw a lush bunch of ripe grapes hanging from a vine. He jumped as high as he could, but the grapes were out of his reach. Even with a running start, he couldn’t grab the juicy payoff.

Eventually, the frustrated fox slinked away, muttering, “I’m sure the grapes are sour anyway.”

The moral: People learn to despise what they cannot get.

Management Perspective: The fox’s goal was in view but out of reach. He quickly became frustrated and demoralized. Organizations set goals annually that require employees to stretch and grow. But if the goals are unrealistic, then employees become frustrated and unmotivated.

I had worked in a financial institution where the budget for liability (deposit generation) increased annually by 100%. No matter what was achieved the previous year it was expected that the budget will increase by 100% regardless of what the economy was doing. In 2008 the crash in the Nigeria Stock exchange and the oil market took its toll on the Nigerian economy and subsequently financial institutions. Irrespective of this reality the institution still expected employees to double their liquidity target. Unrealistic targets that couldn’t be achieved refusal to review the budget strategy eventually led to the Central Bank intervening in the institution.

Organizations need to improve the way goals are set by soliciting inputs from employees through estimation of business prospects as well as factoring in the projected economic conditions of the country. Goals should be based on reality, fairness, and in most cases, attainable with effort.

In the book, David Noonan quotes from the book “Leading with the Heart”:

“Set attainable goals,” advises Duke University’s basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, in Leading with the Heart. Coach K says he never makes a goal for the team that requires a certain number of wins because it would limit the team’s potential.

“Suppose, for instance, that I say our goal for the coming year is to win twenty games and go to the NCAA tournament. If the team wins twenty games and makes it to the tournament, is that the end of it?” Coach K prefers to set goals that are attainable. For example, he told his 1991 team that they could be the best defensive team the school ever had.

“Notice I didn’t specifically mention winning or losing ball games,” explains Coach K, “However, if a team works at becoming the best defensive team possible, they will put themselves in a position to win every ball game. And I believe, over the course of the year, they’ll win more games than if a number, say twenty, was set for the goal.

In fact, Duke’s 1991 team did become the best defensive team in the university’s history. In addition, they made the NCAA tournament with 24-2 record and won the national championship.

Business Moral: Goals set too high either by organizations or individuals are invitations for making excuses.

Goals therefore should be SMART:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Achievable
  • R – Realistic/relevant
  • T – Time Bound


Noonan, David. Aesop & the CEO: Powerful Business Insights from Aesop’s Ancient Fables. Nelson Books

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