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Five business tips from the military

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Get the idea rightIn good years, as in peacetime, expansion and success can occur without being choosy about strategy. Some businesses are still waking up to this. As long as you define goals realistically and with foresight, it doesn’t matter how you get there. Communicate the goal clearlyIn the military, once the goal is set, it needs to be intelligible to everyone. The whole army, down to the lowliest foot soldier, needs to not only understand that "taking that hill" is important, but why. In this case, it might be to protect a village, which plays a part in ultimately winning the war.

It still amazes me that businesses can be more authoritarian than the military, with leaders refusing to loosen their grip on others’ roles. A band of entrepreneurs can have a great advantage over corporate opponents – being bound together by a common zeal to create a new product, service or even market creates an agility and dynamism that can be hard to develop in corporate teams. Get intelligent intelligenceKnowing things about competitors and knowing competitors themselves are two different things. It would be foolish to go into battle knowing nothing about whom one is fighting, and it is the same in business. Yet many entrepreneurs ignore market and competitor research. Getting people to role-play attacks on your business plan can be invaluable. Can the plan withstand competitor attacks such as price cuts, blanket promotion, slurs or even phony intellectual property legal actions? How? Thinking about this before it happens is pivotal for fast reaction times and the quality of the counteraction itself.

Lead people, don’t manage themNo entrepreneur will succeed unless he can lead people as his business grows. In battle, whether in the military or in the current business environment, leaders get the most from their team by providing three things. The first is to acknowledge fear, which is as normal today as in any war, and to manage that fear. The second is to keep morale high and prevent your team lying down during battle, else they won’t get up and their fighting spirit will evaporate. Lastly, a leader will ensure he brings his team back alive. In business, this means supporting your employees when they fall behind or need answers. Measure success not targetsIf a troop adhered to a target of ‘taking the base camp’ after it was deserted, they would miss the point that the enemy has clearly gone elsewhere. Targets exist to give black and white answers to whether a business is doing well. The current climate is not great for setting them, as macro-economic shocks can make them irrelevant in a morning. It can be scary challenging the relevance of targets, but ensuring they are reflections of your business goals is as important as meeting them.

In battle, the fast beat the slow, and the organised will always defeat superior numbers. Entrepreneurs today who realise the importance of setting aside time to the issues above will find themselves well prepared to fight larger competitors, and will emerge from the downturn well positioned for peacetime growth.

Chris Hart is UK partner of global business performance consultancy McKinney Rogers.

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