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In War and Business, Complacency Isn’t an Option

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I’ve said before that business and war have much in common. Entrenched companies keep doing what got them there, just as victors in war tend to fight subsequent battles with the same tried-and-true tactics.

However, it’s important to note that battle tactics, as well as business best practices, evolve and change. Upstarts often introduce something new that takes their opponents by surprise. You need to stay alert to survive, because what worked before may not continue be effective.

So what do businesses need to be doing to stay ahead—especially in today’s rapidly-moving competitive environment? Three major things come to mind, and both involve stepping out of the day-to-day and taking an outside perspective:

1. “Know your enemy”

This is probably the most quoted passage from the ancient Chinese treatise by Sun Tzu, The Art of War, and for good reason. Armies from all over the world have studied (and benefited) from the principle. Understanding your business competition is every bit as important and is an ongoing process that involves more than just knowing who they are. It means studying them relentlessly. Watch how they conduct business. Look for good habits, bad habits and opportunities to fill holes they overlook. Understand where they’re coming from. Watch how they interact with customers. Getting into your competition’s heads is just as important as getting into your customers’ heads.

Understanding your business competition is every bit as important and is an ongoing process that involves more than just knowing who they are. It means studying them relentlessly.

2. Make a concerted effort NOT to get mired in business as usual.

It can be tempting to keep doing things the same way you’ve always done them, especially when they’ve brought you success in the past. Start looking around more at what innovative companies are doing, and involve your employees in this process. Dedicate a certain amount of time to studying what’s going on outside your company on a regular basis. Look for innovations out there that you could take advantage of in terms of your:

  • Internal business systems
  • Hiring policies
  • Marketing and sales strategies
  • Customer care policies
  • Other processes that help you compete

3. Make a habit of conducting win-loss analysis.

Whether you won or lost a contract, always do a review of what worked and what didn’t. This takes a dispassionate eye and a willingness not to point fingers of blame. That can be a bit difficult, since everyone has a tendency to be defensive, but it’s absolutely necessary. Involve everyone who touched the project for input. Look for patterns, behavior issues—anything that contributed to the end result—and document and share your findings.

Brands need to acquire a willingness to embrace change, adopt a more inclusive and watchful mindset, and develop an open communication policy within the company.

For these tactics to be successful, brands need to acquire a willingness to embrace change, adopt a more inclusive and watchful mindset, and develop an open communication policy within the company. The war machine works best when everyone communicates and input is accepted from boots on the ground—and it makes businesses more flexible as well. Improving inter-company relationships and empowering employees to not only contribute input, but to act as ambassadors, improves your odds of not only staying in business, but thriving in business.

So take a step back and be willing to kick complacency to the curb. Make time to study what works and what doesn’t so you don’t get caught by surprise. And always look for ways to improve relationships, because the benefits of increased flexibility and responsiveness are absolutely critical on today’s business battlefield.

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