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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.

  1. The selection and maintenance of the aim
  2. Concentration of force
  3. Cooperation
  4. Economy of effort
  5. Security
  6. Offensive action
  7. Surprise
  8. Flexibility
  9. Sustainment
  10. 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:

  1. Ensure it aligns with your values
  2. Communicate it simply and effectively to those involved
  3. Reinforce the aim at all levels
  4. Resist the urge to ad hoc stray from the aim
  5. Maintain open lines of communication with key stakeholders
  6. Test any changes against its impact on the overall aim
  7. 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:

  1. Having the funding to support a new project or capitalise on an opportunity
  2. Aligning staff, capital and messaging at a key point to achieve and outcome
  3. Defining areas that are irrelevant for expenditure
  4. Having a surge capability to reinforce success
  5. Knowing the strategy and communicating key locations and times for action
  6. Making decisions within the time to be effective
  7. 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.

COOPERATION

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:

  1. Admitting that you are not strong in an area
  2. Aligning with a team that is
  3. Leaving your ego at the door and being prepared to be led depending on the priority
  4. Acknowledging a greater purpose
  5. Sharing information freely and in a timely fashion
  6. Synchronising the efforts in space, time, and priority to create the best impact
  7. Putting the team needs first
  8. 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:

  1. Priority resourcing to finding new opportunities
  2. Supporting effort in retaining and consolidated current projects
  3. 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.

SECURITY

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:

  1. Securing your information, strategies and plans from your competitors
  2. Ensuring you have consolidated resources to mitigate uncertainties
  3. Future proof your employee relevance by developing them
  4. Maintain quick and deliberate decision-making cycles to stay ahead of the competition
  5. Securing financial viability by maintaining cashflow
  6. Diversifying to create redundancy to secure operational viability
  7. 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.

OFFENSIVE ACTION

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:

  1. Empower people who have a bias for action (as long the strategy supports it)
  2. Consolidate and make use of adequate resources
  3. Ensure the action is sustainable to the end
  4. Be linked to other key stakeholders to support
  5. Use an element of surprise
  6. Make effective use of available resources
  7. Be deliberate and decisive
  8. Be oriented towards the overarching aim or strategy
  9. 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.

SURPRISE

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:

  1. Be where you are not expected to be
  2. Appear vulnerable when you are in fact strong
  3. Appear strong when you are weak
  4. Approach markets from different methods
  5. Create strong allies who enable you to scale and disperse rapidly
  6. Know your environment in detail
  7. Understand the importance of timing
  8. Have a strategy and a plan
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

FLEXIBILITY

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:

  1. Identify and communicate the overall aim
  2. Understand your environment
  3. Build a redundancy or reserve of resources
  4. Empower decision making at the lowest level
  5. Simplify communication
  6. Provide realistic and relevant boundaries
  7. Create an environment of innovation
  8. 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.

SUSTAINMENT

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:

  1. Accurately plan the requirements of our missions
  2. Have a redundancy
  3. Identify the needs and requirements of our teams
  4. Be prepared to do more with less (should not be the ‘go to’ move)
  5. Be creative and use initiative
  6. Allocate resources to those areas with the greatest impact
  7. Prioritise resources (especially time and energy)
  8. 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:

  1. Trust
  2. Shared experience
  3. Open communication
  4. Success (short/long term) and performance
  5. Influential leadership (at all levels)
  6. A shared purpose and identity
  7. Commitment and conviction to succeed
  8. A genuine and authentic care for each other and the team
  9. Culture and a feeling of belonging
  10. 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.

SUMMARY

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.

I recently saw an amazing post by Ian Mathews which prompted me to write this article.

Before becoming a Management Consultant, I was an Infantry Army Officer within the Australian Army.

My early years within the Army were founded in an education into military strategy and tactics. Many veterans would have experienced this for themselves. I can say with absolute confidence, that the lessons I learnt during this time have significantly shaped the way I perceive the world, most notably those interactions between organisations in highly competitive markets. This is not to say that organisations cannot co-exist, cooperate, or operate with an abundance mindset, but it is to recognise the fact that the actions of one organisation can directly impact the operational effectiveness of another. And, if we agree that the interactions between organisations, coupled with unique approaches to market ultimately decide our own team’s fate, then I feel it is something worth learning about.

During my first four years in the Army, a number of fundamental lessons were taught regarding the different types of warfare and strategic approaches. These lessons were further investigated throughout my career and were regularly cross-referenced against our operational efforts at the time.

History has shown that the differences in strategic approach inevitably decide the outcomes of almost every major military and international effort. My observations accrued from working inside the commercial and corporate world as a relative outsider have shown me that there is a reluctance to change strategy or consider different approaches often at the long-term detriment of the organisation. Furthermore, there is often a lack of willingness to learn new more simplistic methods of operation or approach. Conversely, those organisations that are willing to consider different perspectives and approaches often leave their competitors in their wake as they seemingly glide their way to success. The most damning situation of all is the vast number of organisations that aren’t operating with any strategy at all…

For the companies that are doing well, the reason they seem to glide so effortlessly towards their goals is because they are able to answer one fundamental question:

“How can we best use our precious resources in order to achieve the strategic outcomes we seek?”

With this said, I want to take the opportunity to introduce a number of different military methodologies and in turn demonstrate their utility in a corporate and commercial context.

ATTRITION WARFARE

“Attrition warfare is a military strategy consisting of belligerent attempts to win a war by wearing down the enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and material. The war will usually be won by the side with greater resources (Military-SF, 2007). The word attrition comes from the Latin root ‘atterere’, meaning to rub against, similar to the “grinding down” of the opponent’s forces in attrition warfare (Merriam Webster Dictionary).”

World War 1 and many sections of World War 2 were prime examples of attrition warfare. During these campaigns, an enemy would simply try and saturate an enemy force by bringing as much force to bear on them as possible until their systems and team’s collapse. Attrition warfare unequivocally favours the larger force and requires less imagination and agility in order to conduct. The resource cost is immense but if conducted in the right context (with the right force offset) can result in decisive victory, whereby an opposing force can be completely incapacitated in one location and in one event. There is a catch though, when a decisive victory is not achieved it results in prolonged wars that can extend for years with organisation’s ‘digging in’ and are incredibly difficult to dislodge.

In the commercial and corporate context attrition takes the form of monopolised businesses that are so massive and occupy so much of the market, there is no practical way for smaller organisations to try and compete with them by using direct or overt methods. Examples would include (but are not limited to):

  • Certain types of paid advertising
  • Sponsorship of events
  • Undertaking certain types of legal action
  • Poaching high-end staff by way of salary incentives

Attrition as a practical commercial strategy is almost solely limited to those incredibly large organisations with huge resources on hand. The very same organisations that advertise during the Super Bowl as an example.

MANOEUVRE WARFARE

Manoeuvre Warfare refers to a strategy aimed at unbalancing, unhinging, or outmanoeuvring an enemy. It was developed in response to emerging middle-sized conventional armies that were adamant in avoiding the huge losses associated with attrition warfare. It pays particular attention to identifying and defining the root purpose of a campaign and finding different ways to achieve the same aim. It is commonly referred to as targeting an enemy’s ‘Centre of Gravity’, which is loosely defined as that ‘thing’ that gives them the will or the ability to fight.

 

History has seen different militaries use Manoeuvre Warfare in different ways. Some armies have made use of:

  •  Physical Dislocation. Geared at removing the key assets or logistics that enable them to operate.
  •  Temporal Dislocation. Being faster to move than the enemy, particularly in achieving important terrain, milestones, or assets ahead of time.
  •  Moral Dislocation. Attacking the enemy’s will to win, or fight. This often includes a significant effort to get into the minds of the key decision-makers and shape their decisions.

Each of these different methods may be run simultaneously, and all of them have emphasis placed on surprise and making faster decisions than their competitors.

In the commercial and corporate context, we see manoeuvre characteristics in those organisations that are adept in prioritisation and channelling their efforts towards those outcomes that will have a disproportionate impact in support of their strategy. These organisations know their strengths and weaknesses and magnify their results exponentially by focusing their precious resources towards 2 or 3 outcomes. Manoeuvre in this sense allows organisations to start capturing market share from bigger competitors, and the market share they capture will be more tailored towards where they can have the highest impact.

GUERRILLA WARFARE

“Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare in which small groups of combatants, such as paramilitary personnel, armed civilians, or irregulars, use military tactics including ambushes, sabotage, raids, petty warfare, hit-and-run tactics, and mobility, to fight a larger and less-mobile traditional military (Wiki).”

The concept of Guerrilla style tactics was heavily publicised in the works of Sun Tzu who suggested that a much smaller force could win against a much larger competitor if it made absolute use of all its available resources and was able to move faster before they could respond properly.

 

Guerrilla warfare is based on an idea that smaller teams can create significant issues for their enemies providing they stay under the ‘detection threshold’. They almost always have significantly sparse resources and they rely heavily on the use of supporters, partners, and sympathisers. Their support networks are often incredibly loyal and ideologically linked with their fighting purpose.

In the corporate or commercial context, it means that smaller more agile organisations can achieve huge proportionate impacts providing they are willing to remain agile, dynamic and are able to incentivise people behind their cause. It also means that smaller boutique agencies can provide highly tailored services to organisations who are not keen on paying premium prices.

In many ways, this has been one of the founding success features of The Eighth Mile Consulting as we endeavour to support areas of the market that are not detected by the larger players in the industry. This in turn with our support from partner organisations has meant that we can seize opportunities quickly, provide valuable services and maintain our loyal support network (providing we continue to give value regularly). With this as context our organisational values and ethos make sense:

  • Service – Client tailored service delivery
  • Initiative – Find a need, fill a need
  • Integrity – We do what we promise
  • Accountability – Actively seek responsibility

CONCLUSION

I have not even scratched the surface on the intricacies associated with each of these strategies or the myriad of other strategies available, but I am sure we can agree that there is a utility in their application within a corporate and commercial context.

Now it might seem counter-intuitive to suggest that these strategies do not always have to be adopted in an overtly aggressive manner against others. The more astute readers will recognise that in the corporate and commercial context that these strategies often speak more to how we operate our own teams and strategies and are less geared towards destroying your competitors. I firmly believe in the concept of an abundance mindset, but I also acknowledge that the actions of one organisation can have far-reaching implications on our own. So, this being said I would suggest that understanding of these strategies:

  • Helps us prioritise our efforts towards the effect we are seeking to achieve.
  • Reduces our scope of operations towards those things that will provide the most significant impact and effect.
  • Encourages us to recognise our strengths and weaknesses, and therefore assist us in finding our relevance.
  • Promote early adoption of detecting those routes that will provide the paths of least resistance.
  • Incentivise us to think outside the box instead of always reinventing the wheel.

‘The enemy’ in the corporate or commercial context might not be your competitors, but it might be your environment and its ever-changing conditions.

If we look at it from this angle, we open the door to huge opportunities to reinvent our brands, define our team’s purpose, and provide an enduring legacy.

For those interested in developing unique business strategies please feel free to reach out and discuss with me or my team. 

For other articles and daily posts please follow David Neal and  Jonathan Clark.

 

Samantha Pickering and Peter Keith from The Eighth Mile Consulting discuss the science behind resilience.

 

There is a difference between positive stress and toxic stress. Long exposure to stress can have significant impacts on our health, but there is good news, we are in control of how we perceive our world. Problem-solving and coping skills are examples of positive stress that we can exercise for our benefit.

There are five areas within our control that can influence our ability to be resilient, which we explain further in this short presentation:

  1. Social Connections
  2. Attitude
  3. Values
  4. Emotional Acceptance
  5. Sense of Humor 

In this video, we also decode the four main chemicals that affect our behaviours and moods. Looking further into how the language we choose to use directs our bodies as to how to respond to a situation. This helps provide an understanding as to how we can make simple changes to create a positive impact in our own lives. Peter Keith coaches on shifting the subconscious speech patterns that are limiting our own experience.

Building our own ability to be resilient is often a precursor to leading our teams through times of uncertainty and managing ambiguity with decisiveness and clarity. The Eight Mile Consulting has developed an online leadership course, specifically for those ambitious leaders seeking to develop themselves professionally, to become greater leaders for their team.

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.