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It’s not about how many ships you have, but how you use them

Business is war. Sun Tzu’s perennial place on the business bestsellers’ list is no accident: the parallels between military tactics and competitive business strategy are numerous. Sun Tzu knew that the source of military strength lies in unity, rather than numbers: it’s not how many ships you have, but how you use them. A good naval officer knows how to navigate, control their formations, deceive their opponent, and keep an eye on the weather conditions at all times. A successful military strategy requires alignment between all those factors: anything overlooked and not prepared for, no matter how small, can be disastrous.

While the stakes are less high in the corporate world – bankruptcy being preferable to death – the game of competition, too, is governed by the rules of war. Companies, like armies, are effective through strategic maneuvering, rather than through their inherent superiority or brute force. Like the naval officer, a good CEO keeps their eyes on their adversaries, adapting with boldness and agility to changes in market conditions and the competitive landscape. Conversely, a misaligned company is as defenseless as a scattered navy. All too easily ambushed, and difficult to defend.

We see the five components of a company’s strategic maneuvering, from the very top down to the middle management layer, as follows:

  • Strategic direction
    This involves defining the company’s goals and objectives, based on industry trends, the competitive landscape, and the company’s capabilities. Which markets can be captured? What are our competitors doing, and how might we leverage our strengths to get ahead? Strategic direction is generally decided at the top level, among board executives, with the help of external consultants. But unless these considerations trickle through to the rest of the company, the company may find itself dead in the water.
  • Strategic alignment
    When the objectives are defined, they must be linked to concrete operations – a business roadmap is prepared, like a military operation plan. This is where management gets involved: projects, initiatives, and product roadmaps are determined; high level goals are broken down into measurable and achievable objectives.
  • Organizational alignment
    This means setting the structure of the ‘army’ – having the right staff with the right skillsets in the right places. Departments and project teams are formed. Management is tasked with ensuring they have access to the intelligence and resources they need to succeed.
  • Strategic execution
    The art of command: making sure that operations go as planned and monitoring the conditions of the competitive battlefield. This means distributing tasks among the team, keeping track of progress and KPIs, and sending back-up where it’s needed to hit targets on time. A company has a wide choice of tactics here; finding the right balance between agility and order for your organization’s sector, size, and culture is key.
  • Reporting and improving
    Management must monitor feedback on the progress and success of operations. This information should be transparent to the leadership, and acted upon in a process of continuous improvement. If a plan was unsuccessful or a deadline not reached, are there any faulty assumptions that should be revised? What can be changed in order to prevent mishaps in the future?

We founded Bizaline because too many organizations suffer from the disconnect between the leadership and the workfloor. A large number of studies and statistics are available concerning this issue, each one more depressing than the last. As it stands, the consensus seems to be that less than 1/3rd of companies are even moderately successful at executing their strategy. Most employees are not even aware of what the strategy is.

The reason for this depends on whom you ask. Employees in the lower segments of the organization may find their company’s vision incomprehensible or see leadership overly concerned with self-promotion, manipulation of political optics, and maximizing the next quarterly profits, all of which come at the cost of long-term viability. Managers find their departments to be living in different worlds, far removed from the center of command, communicating in their own languages and logics. The board will lament that no matter what strategy, framework, or structural shake-up they come up with, everyone seems to revert back to business as usual at the first opportunity. To us at Bizaline, it’s become clear that the most significant challenge facing organizations today is the absence of alignment, resulting in structural inefficiency. This is not just wasteful, but an existential threat.

In a series of five articles to be published over the next few weeks, we will show how Bizaline can help executives and managers create alignment. Each article will zoom in on one of the five principles of business administration mentioned above, giving practical examples of successes and failures. We will also demonstrate some of the capacities of our Bizaline App, developed specifically for the purpose of business alignment.

We hope you will find these posts insightful. Please check back soon for the first installment!

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Antoinette Wieman

Managing Partner

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