Business is War

Business is War?

It may be outdated to think that business is war, but nonetheless, there are still principles of combat that are helpful for organizations and especially business leaders.
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A hundred years ago, it was common to think that business is war:

But he [G.F. Swift] was an autocrat in the days when business was much like war. No one gave quarter or asked it. That was the attitude which later brought business into bad repute.

Claude Hopkins, My Life in Advertising pg. 59

In some ways, war and business still share some close associations. This might be because the corporate world uses words that are military in origin. For example, “company” originally referred to a body of soldiers, and “campaign” once described the operations of an army in the field. Of course, referring to other businesses as competitors only strengthens the link.

Today, however, the connection between war and business seems ominous and unwelcome. And maybe it should be. But there’s a strong case that business can and should apply some principles of war in their operations. Take the principle of a “decisive point.” A decisive point is a position that is winnable AND matters. It’s often the case that a single battle can turn the tide of a war, such as the battle of Saratoga during the Revolutionary War.

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Why focus on decisive points?

Taking a decisive point gives you a marked advantage in business as it sets you up as an industry leader or thought leader. One of the most important jobs for people in the C-Suite is to map out the best path to success for their company. Strategy and vision are paramount to a business’ health.

In the book, The E-Myth, Michael E. Gerber breaks business operations into three key roles; the entrepreneur, the manager, and the technician. The entrepreneur is responsible for creativity, strategy, and energy; the manager is the one who turns the vision into reality; and the technician is the individualist who crafts the product or service. Understanding what constitutes a decisive point is vital for the entrepreneur who supplies the “why” in the company. People want goals that are worthwhile and that are actually achievable.

One reason why you should adopt the principle of decisive point is because few leaders possess the genius intuition that reveals the best path to follow. In other words, leaders need principles to form their vision and guide their strategy. Decisive points are one such principle that provides direction.  

How to find decisive points

How do you find decisive points? Again, a decisive point must have two things. First, relative importance compared to other points. Second, the possibility of taking that point. If it doesn’t move the business forward, then it’s not decisive. If it is important but not possible to take, then it’s not decisive.

Let’s say the marketing department has been tasked with positioning a company in the industrial refrigerators business as the go-to source for industry best practices. In this case, creating an ad that will play during the Superbowl may not be winnable, and it probably wouldn’t matter even if it were possible. For one thing, that’s not where the target audience is; for another, a 30 second ad is not likely to sway the target audience to become loyal fans.

A better strategy might be to focus on driving traffic to their website with relevant content and digital advertising. By providing informative, useful, and entertaining content that the target audience is searching for, the company can begin to position itself as a leader.  

Using objectives to win decisive points

Once the entrepreneur engraves the vision into the company’s DNA, then it’s up to the managers to see it manifest in real time. To do this, objectives must be defined. There are many different management styles when it comes to delivering goals and tracking progress, but there’s universal consensus that everyone is responsible for meeting their objectives.

Here’s a little scenario that reveals some key principles of management.

Suppose an entry-level salesman at a mid-sized communications technology company is given the task of obtaining 150 new customers in Dallas, TX. He is working at an aisle booth at a mall all alone because his teammates called in sick. While he’s in this position his phone suddenly pings, and he sees he has an email.

Now, so far this is a pretty realistic situation, but let’s make it more interesting. The email is from the CEO. As he reads the email meant for one of the regional vice presidents, he finds the assigned objective of “Enter the Dallas market and disrupt AT&T.” This is too much for him. He’s struggling to capture the attention of mallgoers, let alone sell to them. To him the goal is unrealistic, and he might even think about quitting.

The worker is only able to see the objectives of the very top and the resources at the very bottom. He doesn’t get to see the intermediate objectives between the directors, managers, and workers. Nonetheless, he has his objective.

The question is, what will he do with it? And what can the manager do to help? Here are three ideas:  

#1 Communicate the vision from the beginning

Strong communication is the antidote to confusion and disappointment. Had the lonely mall worker understood the big picture from the get-go, he may be equipped with greater motivation. Managers are also responsible for managing morale, without which nothing might get done. This often means convincing employees’ jobs are worthwhile.  

#2 Give technicians the resources they need

Notice I didn’t say give them the resources they want. There is a distinction which managers must be wise to consider. By providing technicians with the proper tools, it proves their work is valuable.  

#3 Let technicians decide how they do their work

Peter Drucker is one of the most influential thinkers in the area of management. One of his foundational theories states that while employees need high goals, they also must decide how the work should be done. John Doerr, author of Measure What Matters, puts it this way: “People who choose their destination will own a deeper awareness of what it takes to get there” (Measure What Matters, pg. 88).

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By finding the decisive point, leaders can pave the way in a clear direction, sharpen alignment across departments, and deepen energy reserves, all of which is necessary for winning a war—or sales quota.  

The Trade Group is a full-service trade show and event marketing company. We will work with you to create an exhibit or an event that brings in leads and helps you achieve your business goals. Contact us here or give us a call at 972-734-8585. 

Cameron Wilkinson is a writer and editor in Dallas, TX. His writing for the events industry pairs with his interests in sales and marketing. He also holds a B.A. in English Literature form the University of North Texas.  

Photo credit: Pexels

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