Everyone who owns or manages a business is a strategist by default and wants to win the war with his or her direct competitors and at the other’s expense. Your direct competitors are no different. Every day they are looking for better ways to capture market share and gain a competitive advantage over your business. With all of the warfare in the realm of commerce occurring daily, it is easy to lose sight of why you do what you do. Many times, people’s focus is so much on the moment that all of the moments end up running together, and they lose sight of their original goal. They end up fighting over markets that are not strategically expedient for their company to thrive. There has to be a reason beyond the money to engage in business warfare. Capturing market share for the sake of capturing market share is not a good strategy or reason for growing your business. The Quality Paradigm provides the fundamental reason for creating your business strategy: to leave everyone and everything in a better condition than how you first encountered them, whenever possible. However, this is not a strategy – it is a guiding principle for execution. Finding a way to add value to the lives and experiences of your customers will genuinely delight them and keep them coming back for your services.
Exactly how do you do this for your customers? How you go about leaving your customers delighted with your company and in a better condition after doing business with you is very important. This is the stuff of strategy. It is central to your overall success and to crystallizing your strategy and, by extension, your tactical approach.
Here are three rules about going to war that you need to know before you firm up your strategy.
Rule Number 1: Never fight a war you cannot win.
The law of successful operations is to avoid the enemy’s strength and strike weakness.
– Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Let me be clear when I say that I do not include in this rule those battles in life that regard issues of principle and moral goodness. We should fight regardless of our chances of success in these wars. It is always right to defend the weak and to stand firm upon the principles that constitute our moral character and way of life. Not to fight on behalf of these principles would be an act of cowardice and induce a condition worse than any loss one might suffer. It is better to die for the chance to live free than to do nothing and exist as a slave.
Some wars are necessary. Business and life require that you engage your enemies or your competitors with honor, courage, and commitment to your personal interests and to that of your company. War may require you make a preemptive strike in order to take advantage of situations that can give you the high ground. Other times war may require you to make a defensive stand against an enemy or a competitor who is intent on taking a position of advantage over you. Either way, you must be judicious in deciding whether a battle or a war is necessary and worth the resources required to win. After all, you should never fight a war that you do not intend or have the capacity to win. The highest and best victory is the one that does not require a war but still yields the same benefits of winning. Only fight when you are certain you can come out victorious.
All business is warfare, and if no way to gain any sort of advantage is apparent, it is better to avoid a losing campaign and live to fight another day. Unfortunately, some companies have products or services that they fund and continue to offer even though these products or services have no competitive advantage. They are commodities and readily available often at a higher quality and grade. Many times, these products and services are sacred cows that eat up profit and provide little value to your customers or your business. While it may be uncomfortable, let me encourage you to pull out the machete and make burgers. Yes, doing so may piss some people off within your company, but the benefit to your company and your bottom line will more than make up for the people you have upset, and your customers will thank you for their better experience.
Rule Number 2: Never fight a war by which you have nothing to gain from winning. Even if you win, you still lose.
We all know people who fight just for the sake fighting. Often these people do not know why they are fighting or over what they are fighting. They simply want to win for winning’s sake. The manipulation of people like this is easy because they have a lack of self-control and an insecure disposition. These people want to be right even if it means losing the people and things they value most in life. Being right becomes the focus rather than executing the strategy for achieving their goals. Do not allow yourself to become involved in a situation where you feel insecure enough to argue for the sake of argument and expose everything you have worked hard to gain for the joy of winning a battle. If there is nothing to gain, walk away and let the other person be right, even if they are dead wrong. Who cares if they are wrong or right? If what you are trying to achieve will not be affected, turn your back and walk away.
If your company engages a competitor over a segment of the marketplace that is of little or no consequence to your overall strategy, let them have it. Do not waste resources capturing a position that has no value. If the benefit does not outweigh the associated costs, do not commit the resources to win the battle. Doing so may get a victory in the win column but net you a loss in the war.
Rule Number 3: Never fight a war in which you have an unclear definition of what it means to win.
If you are unclear about what it means to win, you will only have the opportunity to lose. You must be clear about the outcomes of the war before you commit resources to the fight.
Defining what it means to win is the product of a well-planned strategy. Strategic planning begins with determining in specific terms what it is you are trying to accomplish in a specific frame of time. If you cannot explain what the word win looks like for your business or your life, then your strategy is too ambiguous and requires more focus. For me, win means providing my clients with high-value quality management training and products and as a result leaving them in a better condition than how I first encountered them. It is simple actually. I provide quality management tools that leave my clients in a better position than before we did business together. If I can do that at a profitable rate, I win. If not, I lose. If my client is dissatisfied with his or her experience, I lose that battle. If my products fail to improve his or her condition or position, I lose. However, I make sure I do not engage in business transactions where I do not completely believe at the outset that I can leave a client in a better condition than how I found him or her. Some businesses do not need my services or cannot afford them. That is fine by me. The world economy is very big. Many companies within my target market desire and can afford my expertise. Perhaps yours is one of them.
If you are not clear about the very fundamental idea behind what a win looks like, you will not know when you have won. The reason the world keeps score is that the wins count. If you do not know a win when you see one and your competition does, all you have is the opportunity to lose. Your ignorance is going to cause you to under-produce, and you are going to cheat yourself. This is why you must be very clear about what a win looks like.
Life rewards action. There is no doubt about that. The type of action life rewards positively are those that have been properly organized and well thought out. The longer you take in preparation before launching out the fewer losses you will experience in battle. Corporate warfare is a serious subject. People’s jobs and livelihoods are at stake. The investment of your investors and the personal capital you have invested is all at risk. “Winging it” is not an option. You need a strategy. First, you need to identify what strategy is and how it differs from tactics. Strategy is your plan of attack. Tactics are the actions required to execute that plan. Never confuse strategy with tactics.
The warfare we engage in each day has the potential to seduce us into taking our eyes off why we are engaged in battle to the point that the battle becomes the end in itself. This is an error in situational awareness. You must always be conscious of why the engagement of your present actions matter to the larger picture and greater context of your business or your life. Failure in this area will result in questions regarding disillusionment and wondering why you do what you do each day. This negative and toxic state will sabotage your efforts to succeed.
In order to become a master strategist you must study how military leaders conceive and organize plans for the battlefield and learn the art of warfare. Business is warfare. Life is warfare. Everyday battles between competitors for market advantage rage and if you are unprepared to meet that battle head on, you will become the marketplace’s next causality. Obeying the three basic rules for warfare presented above will go a long way of keeping your dreams of success in the marketplace alive
© 2010 Christopher P. Gergen All rights reserved.