I recently posted a number of content pieces that explained ‘The Principles Of War’, a set of broad and overarching guidelines that acted as a filtering system for the operational and strategic efforts we conducted within the Military. In response to these posts many asked me to collate the information in a central source so that they might apply more reasonably to their businesses and teams.
There is no point in providing a set of principles, guidelines or considerations unless we build a context behind them that establishes relevance. This is my shot at doing that for the Principles of War in a corporate context.
The Principles of War are a set of guiding principles that act as considerations for military planning and strategy. It has become apparent that there is some utility in using them in the corporate environment. In this article, we look at the analysis and interpretation of the principles with that concept in mind.
Simply put, the principles exist to help frame ‘how’ to think and not ‘what’ to think. This means that we are free to explore whatever is needed to solve the problem. However, we must be careful to balance our priorities and resources to enable the best possible outcome.
These are the principles in order but not in importance. Each plan or initiative will see a different prioritisation of each of these principles in order to achieve a different effects or outcome.
- The selection and maintenance of the aim
- Concentration of force
- Economy of effort
- Offensive action
- Maintenance of morale
The situation will see each principle being utilised differently and should be weighted depending on the circumstances, what needs to be achieved and the priorities set out by the planner. As an example, when developing a concept for client focused service (aim) we may need to bring in another organisation to cover an identified need (cooperation) which we could only build ourselves at a much higher cost (economy of effort). This joint venture may necessitate an exchange of restricted information (security) to ensure the team is established, trust is built, and we can be demonstrating our ability to adjust to our client’s needs (flexibility/aim).
For this scenario, the client focused service has primacy. It may look something like this.
Note – ‘the doctrine’ comments are excerpts from Land Warfare Doctrine 1 – The Fundamentals of Land Power 2014 – The Principles of War
THE SELECTION AND MAINTENANCE OF THE AIM
The doctrine – Once the aim has been decided, all effort must continually be directed towards its attainment so long as this is possible, and every plan or action must be tested by its bearing on the aim.
“ Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future ” – Walt Disney
In broad terms, it means to keep the object/ end in mind at every level of the operation. The creation of the aim (end state/ outcome) takes time, energy, and some serious thought. This is true for military and corporate action.
When selecting and maintaining the aim:
- Ensure it aligns with your values
- Communicate it simply and effectively to those involved
- Reinforce the aim at all levels
- Resist the urge to ad hoc stray from the aim
- Maintain open lines of communication with key stakeholders
- Test any changes against its impact on the overall aim
- Bring subject matter experts in for objectivity
Know where you are heading before you start. It allows you and your team to align to a common outcome and make decisions as well as maintain momentum in your absence. From CEO to a jobseeker, selecting and maintaining your aim provides the purpose to make sound decisions.
CONCENTRATION OF FORCE
The doctrine – Concentration of force is the ability to apply decisive military force at the right place, at the right time and in such a way as to achieve a decisive result.
“ The talent of the strategist is to identify the decisive point and to concentrate everything on it, removing forces from secondary fronts and ignoring lesser objectives. ” – Carl von Clausewitz
To be successful we need to be able to concentrate our capabilities, at the appropriate time and place, to achieve success. This means knowing what we have, what it can do and where it is going to have the most impact. Then doing it. This principle is about be deliberate and even more so, decisive.
In a corporate context this would mean:
- Having the funding to support a new project or capitalise on an opportunity
- Aligning staff, capital and messaging at a key point to achieve and outcome
- Defining areas that are irrelevant for expenditure
- Having a surge capability to reinforce success
- Knowing the strategy and communicating key locations and times for action
- Making decisions within the time to be effective
- Building alignment, momentum and energy to decisive points in the plan
We cannot spend everything on anything. Prioritise those actions that will have the highest impact and align to the strategy. Then build up the required resources, staff and capital to seize an opportunity. This is a deliberate and defined process.
The doctrine – Cooperation within joint combined arms interagency teams, allies and coalition partners is vital for success. Only in this way can the resources and energies of each be harnessed so as to achieve success.
” It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed. ” – Charles Darwin
Vital to success is the ability to bring together multiple agencies to achieve an overall effect. What this means in a practical sense is to build teams that cover each other’s gaps. We cannot know or be great at everything, so we join forces with others to create something better than our own individual capability.
What cooperation looks like:
- Admitting that you are not strong in an area
- Aligning with a team that is
- Leaving your ego at the door and being prepared to be led depending on the priority
- Acknowledging a greater purpose
- Sharing information freely and in a timely fashion
- Synchronising the efforts in space, time, and priority to create the best impact
- Putting the team needs first
- Protecting each other and representing them in areas where they don’t represent themselves
Combining efforts takes a great deal of trust, authenticity, and respect. It may be for a short period or an enduring strategic partnership. The vulnerabilities of your joined team must be protected at all costs.
ECONOMY OF EFFORT
The doctrine – Economy of effort is the prudent allocation and application of resources to achieve the desired results.
“ The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency. ” – Bill Gates
Economy of effort. This principle deals with ‘playing smart’ and making the full use of available resources. It is in this space that we create a balance in priorities and what we can realistically achieve and sustain. Appropriate allocation must be nested with the strategy as they are finite. Priority allocation must go to the main effort that and supporting efforts will be created to enable it.
In a corporate setting this might look like:
- Priority resourcing to finding new opportunities
- Supporting effort in retaining and consolidated current projects
- Reserve resources segregated for identified contingencies
A changing environment requires adaptability and if the main effort/ supporting efforts evolve then the priority of resourcing will change. At all times maintaining your economy of effort must be nested with the other principles like sustainment. Appropriate allocation of effort can mean the difference between success and failure.
The doctrine – Security is concerned with measures taken by a command to protect itself from espionage, sabotage, subversion, observation, or surprise. It is of basic concern during any campaign or operation. Security is required to operate effectively with minimal interference from the enemy.
“ Protection and security are only valuable if they do not cramp life excessively. ” – Carl Jung
To be able to continue to operate and/ or obtain opportunities we must first ensure that our own capabilities are as secure as required by the strategy. Now in times of need, sacrificing security for speed may be that strategy but it must be a planned, deliberate, and precise decision. Offensive strategies can also be a method of security as we stay mobile, maintain momentum and aren’t targetable.
In a corporate context, this could mean:
- Securing your information, strategies and plans from your competitors
- Ensuring you have consolidated resources to mitigate uncertainties
- Future proof your employee relevance by developing them
- Maintain quick and deliberate decision-making cycles to stay ahead of the competition
- Securing financial viability by maintaining cashflow
- Diversifying to create redundancy to secure operational viability
- Mitigating priority risks to reduce critical events
Security of our businesses in physical, financial, strategic, operational and resource-based decisions is important to enable us to operate effectively with minimal disturbance. This principle allows us to analyse risk and mitigate it before crisis occurs.
The doctrine – Military forces take offensive action to gain and retain the initiative. This has often taken the form of building momentum and fueling it to snowball the opposition. In most circumstances, such action is essential to the achievement of victory.
“ A little deed done very well is better than a mighty plan kept on paper, undone. Wishes don’t change the world; it’s actions that do this business! ” – Israelmore Ayivor
We need an offensive action (read, a bias for action in this case) to either regain or maintain initiative, or in a corporate context; maintain your competitive advantage, be first to market, launch on a project or create and seize opportunities. This action must be deliberate and decisive and must be driven towards achieving the established aim.
To effectively implement offensive actions, we should:
- Empower people who have a bias for action (as long the strategy supports it)
- Consolidate and make use of adequate resources
- Ensure the action is sustainable to the end
- Be linked to other key stakeholders to support
- Use an element of surprise
- Make effective use of available resources
- Be deliberate and decisive
- Be oriented towards the overarching aim or strategy
- Be balanced with security of our own capabilities
In a military context this may necessitate combat however, it can also be the use of information actions and achieving influence as well. Overall, it is important to understand the importance of having a bias for action as it creates momentum, speed in decision making and advantage over your competitors. This bias will ultimately allow you to create opportunities not just be reactive to them.
The doctrine – Surprise can produce results out of all proportion to the effort expended and is closely related to security.
“ In conflict, straightforward actions generally lead to engagement, surprising actions generally lead to victory ” – Sun Tzu
In a military term this might require deception or simply being able to disperse and concentrate rapidly, concealing your activity, appearing weak when you are strong etc. The idea is to be where you are unexpected or where you are expected at a time when you are not, in forces that weren’t planned for. In a corporate context, this may mean the release of a new strategy, software, market entry, product release in a time and manner that is not expected so that your competitors can’t mimic or get the inside track.
To achieve successful surprise:
- Be where you are not expected to be
- Appear vulnerable when you are in fact strong
- Appear strong when you are weak
- Approach markets from different methods
- Create strong allies who enable you to scale and disperse rapidly
- Know your environment in detail
- Understand the importance of timing
- Have a strategy and a plan
- Show the minimum amount of activity in an area people are expecting so that they don’t know what your actual aim is. It is called a feint.
- Be adaptable and ready to respond to your changing environment
This list is ultimately endless but, in a nutshell, utilising surprise not only keeps you and your team excited about new plans, it also enables you to capitalise on opportunities before others know you are even looking at them.
The doctrine – Flexibility is the capacity to adapt plans to take account of unforeseen circumstances to ensure success in the face of friction, unexpected resistance, or setbacks, or to capitalise on unexpected opportunities.
“ It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change. ” – Charles Darwin
This is your ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment (your AQ). I would also include your resilience to setbacks, ability to deal with friction, chaos and complexity and to make decisions in uncertainty. The aim of flexibility is to maintain dynamic decision making across multiple lines of operation and still be synchronised.
To build flexibility:
- Identify and communicate the overall aim
- Understand your environment
- Build a redundancy or reserve of resources
- Empower decision making at the lowest level
- Simplify communication
- Provide realistic and relevant boundaries
- Create an environment of innovation
- Absorb risk, friction and anxiety for your team
Giving your team and organisation the confidence and capability to accept risk and seize opportunities is a deliberate process. As leaders we have a responsibility to create the environment and set the conditions for success. Build and train your teams to be able to understand intent and feel confident to take risks knowing that you have their backs. Ultimately, gaps and opportunities will be found by them. If they feel confident and capable, you will be able to pivot early and often.
The doctrine – Sustainment refers to the support arrangements necessary to implement strategies and operational plans.
“ You won’t find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics ” – General Dwight. D. Eisenhower
The new executive with the grand ideas will often forget about the sustainability of a project or strategy. Logistics and sustainability don’t just happen and can underpin an entire campaign.
Deliberate planning of time and resources for both offensive and defensive strategies should be a priority if you want an enduring impact. The sustainability or logistical elements of are also those things that are easily targetable by a competitor who can bring more support to the game.
To be sustainable we must:
- Accurately plan the requirements of our missions
- Have a redundancy
- Identify the needs and requirements of our teams
- Be prepared to do more with less (should not be the ‘go to’ move)
- Be creative and use initiative
- Allocate resources to those areas with the greatest impact
- Prioritise resources (especially time and energy)
- Have a strategy and a plan
Sustainability of our initiatives is the life blood of enduring impact. In change management, fatigue and obstruction are the result. In projects, loss of capability occurs or a failure to meet scope.
Be clinical and decisive in your application of resources.
MAINTENANCE OF MORALE
The doctrine – Morale is an essential element of combat power. High morale engenders courage, energy, cohesion, endurance, steadfastness, determination and a bold, offensive spirit.
“ An army’s effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience, and morale, and morale is worth more than any of the other factors combined. ” – Napoleon Bonaparte
For those that know and understand the power of good morale, it is understood that this can be the power that turns the tide and make the unachievable…achievable.
Teams with high morale based on being highly trained, determined people with a shared value set, cohesion and trust will outperform even the best ‘qualified’ teams (on paper) with low morale. This is the secret force multiplier that changes the game.
Morale is built on:
- Shared experience
- Open communication
- Success (short/long term) and performance
- Influential leadership (at all levels)
- A shared purpose and identity
- Commitment and conviction to succeed
- A genuine and authentic care for each other and the team
- Culture and a feeling of belonging
- A willingness to put the team above yourself
If you have worked in a team with high morale, you will understand the power and addictive nature of it. You feel indestructible and associate the impossible as the possible. However, it takes work and commitment to being a part of something bigger than yourself.
The principles of war have been developed over the years as a set of factors and considerations for successful planning and implementation of strategy.
Depending on the environment, the adversary, experience, available time and any other amount of identifiable conditions will determine what weight is applied to each principle. We cannot achieve every principle perfectly every time. Sometimes we may have to sacrifice one to achieve another as a priority of circumstance. That means that careful consideration and analysis must be applied to each strategy and plan. The consideration itself will lead to a better plan than had it not been done at all.
Ultimately, having a set of principles that can help aid in planning and decision making helps you to create better outcomes. The principles of war are one such set.