Critical thinking

Similarities between Business Strategy and Military Strategy

Teaching Notes from an MBA and Post Grad Business Strategy Class Session. Amazingly, there are numerous similarities between Business Strategy and Military Strategy.

By studying both, we can see the similarities of why certain things lead to success while others lead to failure; and why neglecting fundamentals lead to struggles and failing business strategies.

In these notes and this article, we are only briefly mentioning the highlights and some of the key points of this subject.  Active group discussions of each point can lead to significant strategy improvements and business growth.

Applying the knowledge and insights obtained in this article can assist you to advance on strategy and some positive changes that can lead to greater business development.

A common phrase is, ‘Military theory is only as good as its execution. Business studies indicate that most business strategies that fail are due to lack of full execution and follow-through, and Not due to a bad strategy.

Top military leaders and business leaders both continually study strategy, history of strategy, competition technology, capabilities & abilities, changes and advancements, and adapting such to current situations.

Studying well-known military leaders, leaders of many types, and well-known business leaders throughout history and current, show this as being very true. 

A lack of such effort strongly indicates poor leadership abilities and failure. The military strategy includes intuition based on extensive experience.  Without experience, one cannot have good intuition.

Military lacking good intuition, lack of experience, and lack of extensive study of strategy, often fail and lose.  History is full of actual examples of such.

Those with good experience, good knowledge, and good intuition have the most impressive successes, wins, and most successful strategies.

The same applies to business leaders.

Most good military leaders have extensive experience in the field and as a leader.  

The same applies to good business leaders.

The military saying of ‘Never so few led by so many’ is similar to the business saying of being ‘Top Heavy’ with too much management and the saying ‘Too many chiefs and not enough Indians’.

Military often comment about not attacking head-to-head with the frontal attack because it is often too costly.  This can be a  key strategy.

This is the same as in business with high costs of such in a marketing campaign and possible pricing wars driving down profits and possibly stimulating numerous other negative things.

Instead, attack weak areas of competitors and on the sides or flank.  This is far more effective with little casualties and less cost, normally.

The same applies to business.

‘Leap Frogging’ strategy is often used by both military leaders and business leaders.  This is the targeting of your advancing efforts on competitions’ weak geographic areas and markets. This is to avoid the costly frontal assaults where your competition is very strong and where your losses and costs can outweigh any small advancement that you may be able to gain, and you may not have enough support to do so anyway. Important to analyze enemies and competition on their strengths, advantages, and weaknesses compared to one’s own; then develop a strategy to win.

It is important to improve one’s own weaknesses and continually review and analyze such.

This is similar to the business concept of using SWOT Analysis; Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.

SWOT Analysis is fundamental to utilize when developing and implementing strategies.

The military saying Do not give up ground earned because it is too costly to get it back. This is similar to business with the importance to keep customers and market share and how costly and lengthy-time it is to get back if lost to competition.

The military is always seeking out higher technology to utilize and to keep a significant advantage. The history of famous military leaders shows this. The same is true for businesses in their products, services, technologies, capabilities, and operations.

Good leaders in both military and business, actively seek out ideas and ways to solve problems and improve.

MBWA, ‘Managing by Walking Around’ is commonly used by good leaders to seek out ideas, suggestions, uncover problems and issues, gain insights, and understand situations more fully.

Seek out new opportunities and exploit the opportunities quickly and fully to take advantage of them.

These efforts are part of all successful strategies.

Environments, situations, and markets, always change and you must be prepared for it and change with it.

Good leaders have the courage to change direction when needed if presented with new information.  Effective leaders are always on the lookout for such and ready to modify strategies.

Military stresses the importance of continual training of staff and troops to increase skills. When responding or going into action, all is fast, effective, and natural.

Extensive and continual training before engaging is critical.

The same applies to business but business often fails at this due to short-sided budget restraints for such.  A lack of progressive continual training of all staff, management, and employees contributes to many business struggles and failures.

Progressive continual frequent training is part of the better successful businesses’ strategy to assure growth.

There is a need to motivate others for peak performance.

Recognition programs and effective incentive programs are important.

It is important to always keep staff morale high.

Military believes that deception to enemies and competitors is a key part of the strategy and history does support this.

Making the enemy believe one thing causing other areas to be weakened and possibly not defended is a key.

This strategy can apply to business.

Military ‘unity of command’ means good communications, understanding, and agreement by all; effective coordinating and all units support each other in the efforts and strategy.

This applies to business.  

Effective communications along with internal departments supporting each other are important but so many businesses fail at these fundamentals causing many costly problems. 

Military ‘command and control’ mean that officers given responsibilities are given the authority to act and make decisions and are supported.

This certainly applies to business but often, many businesses fail at this which then contributes to struggles and failures and business strategies failing.

When staff and management are given responsibilities then they need the authority to make decisions needed to successfully carry them out.

Good communications with alliances and coordinating strategies are critical.

You must identify possible strategic alliances to progress.

Strategic alliances are critical for the military.

This applies to businesses and businesses often fail at this.

Often there are good potential alliances available to help a business to grow but no attention is given to identifying such possible alliances and developing them.

Military Intel or Intelligence of enemy and situations is the same with business utilizing ‘competitive analysis and market analysis.

Analyze yourself over the competition and outmaneuver them.

Know your competition in detail and outmaneuver them.

This needs to be incorporated into business strategies.

The importance of achievable goals and objectives with detailed tactics to accomplish them are the same with military and business.

Progress is made with offense and not defense, is the same for both business and military.

A leader, who makes no mistakes and takes no risks, probably does not accomplish very much.

It is the same for business leaders.  

They need to be willing to face failures on the way to bigger success.

Business leaders need to stay close to all business factors and situations and be ready to modify strategies to be effective and assure business growth.

Good leaders are caring, considerate, courteous, and have a good clear vision of the future.

This is the same for both military and in the business world.

It is important to analyze core competencies, improve them; then utilize them to progress and advance.

It is critical to developing competencies to go forward.

This is critical for both military and business strategies.

Goals and objectives must be clear, simple, communicated, understood by all, put into the strategy; and then applied to achieve success.

Being flexible, seeking out, and applying ‘outside the box thinking, are all critical for success.

It is important to analyze and seek out what competencies may have been developed but never used; and then utilize fully.

This is often referred to as ‘managing your knowledge’.

This is important to both military and business, obviously and incorporated into business strategies.

In striving to be the best, you must continually develop competencies.

Both military and business refer to this as ‘Be the Best of the Best.

Multiple little improvements can add up to larger improvements.  

Seek out small improvements continually.

Timing has value and is important for success.  Timing is critical for both military strategy and business strategy.

Business strategies need timelines in detail.

In business, this is especially important for product development and entering markets and especially for new emerging markets,

Keep everything simple and clear but with forwarding movement and with timelines.

Plans and strategies need to be flexible with contingencies for possible unexpected things. Be prepared for all situations and have plans ready.  In business, this is called ‘Risk Management.

Always be open to the possibility that you are wrong and be willing to change and adjust as needed.

Be prepared to seize opportunities and be aggressive at it.

Be prepared to be aggressive to support new ideas and new initiatives.

Moving quickly on insights and new ideas will make you unstoppable. 

These things need to be incorporated into business strategies as needed and in a timely manner.

Failure can occur due to unwillingness to invest and prepare.

When analyzing and investigating, keep questioning, are you asking all of the right questions from all of the right individuals?

A key to strategy in winning is to continually be developing advantages over the competition and apply.

The ability to focus on key targets and objectives is important.

Managing perception is critical.

Valuing people’s knowledge and intelligence is critical; seek out to utilize.

History is full of stories about how this leads to success.

Always protect your own knowledge and intelligence.

A team approach is best but does not allow indecisiveness due to ‘analysis to paralysis’ trying to analyze too much information delaying progressing forward in a timely manner.

The principle of continual offense is effective.  

It produces forward motion, increases confidence, motivates, and energizes.  

It fatigues competition and de-motivates them.

It establishes a reputation of aggressive progress and is an important force to be aware of.

It establishes a reputation that is beneficial.

Seek out ideas and feedback from all staff, employees, potential customers, and customers.

With many successful businesses, customer feedback and seeking new ideas from them account for the majority of new products, competencies, technologies, and services developed.

Always analyze customer complaints and issues to use for improvement.

These things apply to both business and the military.

After reading this article that are notes from teaching an MBA and Post Grad level class session in Business Strategy, you should understand the similarities with strategy in the military and in business.

This information shows you strategy and tactics, on how to grow your business more effectively and win more business.

This article can be best utilized by reviewing in detail with your staff and management, to discuss how you can utilize to help improve your organization, help grow your business and develop more effective business strategies.

Written by Michael Marshall.

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Michael Marshall

Michael Marshall

Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Michael Marshall has over 40 years of business experience to senior leadership levels and advisory/consulting in many markets and industries, national and global, with responsibilities in sales management, marketing, and business development along with a Ph.D. in business, MBA, and degrees in psychology and social human behavior before teaching internationally at university level (China, Korea, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, United States) and US Embassy. He has over 58 professional business certifications to keep him highly competent. Michael continually seeks out knowledge with additional education, training, research, and experience, to keep on the leading edge of business effectiveness and business development. He has over 48 international publications on many business and business development subjects.

Michael Marshall is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn.