Embattled Companies: the business of war in business

Business today is in a fight with many issues: labour issues; competition; disruption; external factors such as war, plagues; government interference; climate change and unexpected events. Of all these, probably your biggest battle lies with competitors who spend an awful lot of time figuring out how to beat you: outsell, outprice, and outplay you.

Yet the hard truth is no matter how much you re-strategise, re-engineer, and re-organise your structures, downsize or upskill, there’s no safe haven. The rules of the game are constantly changing, and very often you are only prepared for the last battle, not for the ominous build of dust on the horizon. Strategic thinkers need to move with agility and innovation before the danger materialises into full attack.

In this vein, business has much to learn from war. Both are about superseding the competition. Real time information and incisive decisions are needed to:

  • Ensure you are more quickly informed with the correct facts
  • Apply shrewd analysis to these facts as fast as possible
  • Convert strategic choices into effective action.

Competitive edge is everything

Companies fail because they become transfixed by bad habits. Mixed in with a sluggish company (or country) is very often an indecisive leader; a fear of offending; lack of imagination; and complete lack of understanding with regard to what the competitor may be thinking. Add internal friction to this mix, and you’re pretty much into failure.

Internal friction is a series of mini wars on its own: gossip, jealousy, lack of motivated team effort, boredom and simmering resentment, under-training, and workers who think their personal issues are bigger than the mission of the company.

If there’s no connection between company and people, purpose and greater good, goals and behaviour, work and motivation – then it would not be surprising that such a company would ultimately fail. If there’s no connection between strategy and operations, all that is created and marketed is confusion. It’s the general who doesn’t know or care about his troops; it’s the leader who cannot effectively share and motivate his vision. Sometimes you may even be teaching the troops to fight each other.

But disaster can hold the keys to change and survival. Competitors may show up company flaws quicker than self-examination. Companies compete and succeed on the ability to analyse and plan, and to convert informed choice into timely action. Using the competitor threat to motivate your business is a key strategy: gathering better information; establishing a decision-making framework; integrating the competitor’s moves to actually work against them; building stimulation through the ‘war games’ of business.

West Point, the military academy in the USA, perennially teaches one critical course: map reading – because information is at the heart of change, and maps are at the heart of information.

Modern business competition is fluid and fast-changing. Companies need to: constantly gather intelligence; analyse a wide set of considerations; go beyond myopic consideration of financial and physical assets and include the complexity of human assets and technology – adding these as crucial weapons in the map of knowledge. Companies without relevant maps – or companies that neglect to update their maps to keep them dynamic and accurate – are likely destined to stumble and fail.

Every business decision should be competitive – not about how smart you look, not about how much money you can save – but how you can trump your competitor. It’s a war, and you’re in it on a daily basis. This aspect should influence decisions to: establish a common purpose and common language, and a common framework for action. From there, converting informed choice into timely action becomes quicker, crisper and better integrated – because the enemy is always an unpredictable and moving force.

The business of war

After WWII, the US military commissioned a remarkable study. The question was why are men willing to die in war? Explanations were varied: patriotism – people would die for their country; men would fight and die to protect their wives and children, etc. But the answer that eventually emerged was that of small group commitment. In a group of people where each one is truly committed to the others, no one will be the first to run. So they all stand and fight together.

The same principle applies to companies. Managerial strength is tested in teamwork. Tough decisions have to be made in an environment of uncertainty and constant adjustment. Teamwork shows up weak links, and builds fortitude. And teamwork must remain dedicated to the whole rather than the individual. Companies that work to retain their top staff, focus on goals for the benefit of all, and are consistent about stirring and motivating innovative action, usually outlast and outplay the competition.

Foster Wealth: steering business, driving wealth

At Foster Wealth innovation, agility and in-depth market acumen are our daily fare. The volatility of markets, unexpected events and fluctuating values continually take us to new levels of interest and possibility. Constant re-assessment and evaluation are how we keep ahead of the curve – but our hard work, professionalism, attention to detail and personal attention are the hallmarks of our business and will never change.

Find out more about us at: www.fosterwealth.co.za