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Commercial Warfare?

By Phil Jesson

Phil Jesson

Phil Jesson

Business is “up against it” at the moment and maybe it is time to re-visit how we, as a nation, dealt with hard and challenging times in years gone by. There is no point waiting for the recession to blow over – we need to fight our way out of it!

Did you know that “business” is built around pure military strategy? Hundreds of years ago, when business started to move from local crafts to large-scale production on a revolutionary scale, there were only two models for the business men and women of the day to study and copy. One was the Church and the other was the Army. Not surprisingly, the Army was the model that was copied and its four key strategies are still in evidence today:-


We have a lot to learn from the Military – for example, the ten principles of warfare shaped on the battlefield centuries ago still fit our business world today:-


  1. Clear objectives


  1. Maintenance of morale


  1. The need for offensive action


  1. Surprise


  1. Security



  1. Concentration of force


  1. Economy of effort


  1. Flexibility


  1. Co-operation with others


  1. Good admin and support


Good commercial “generals” also learn from their mistakes. Here are the ten reasons behind the hundred most famous military disasters. Again, you will see that our business world is affected by the same issues.

Think of your business and how it has operated in recent years. Give yourself marks out of ten for each of the ten points:


  1. Not learning from previous experiences


  1. Underestimating the enemy


  1. Overestimating own capabilities


  1. Indecisiveness


  1. Rejecting sound intelligence which conflicts with own preconceptions



  1. Poor reconnaissance


  1. Suppressing feedback from the soldiers at the front


  1. Attacking the enemy’s strongest point


  1. Finding scapegoats after defeat


  1. A belief in mystical forces like “fate” and “bad luck”


How many did you score?

So… is your sales team a formidable fighting force? Do you have all of your castles in the right places, are you dominating the high ground, do you have well-trained people led by effective leaders, do you have the resources to equip your people with good quality weapons and ammunition i.e. tools to bring the business in?

Next time you put your military hat on please check to make sure that your guns are pointing outside the organisation, not inside. Attack your competitors, not each other. Remove “friendly fire” – there is nothing friendly about it at all. In the military world, 20% of all casualties in the last 300 years have been caused by “friendly fire”. What damage is currently being done by inter-departmental warfare and tribalism within your business?

It is very rare to find a team that deliberately goes out of its way to make another team’s life a misery. However, teams often cause each other a huge amount of grief by not understanding the 3P’s – each other’s problems, pressures and priorities. “Priority one” for one team is inevitably priority seventeen for another team!

Here is an idea you may like to implement to remove friendly fire – Internal Audits – managers from two departments sit down with each other over coffee and go through the following questions:-

  1. Where is my team meeting your expectations?
  1. Where are we exceeding your expectations?
  1. Where are we falling short of your expectations?
  1. What have been the high points in recent months?
  1. What have been the low points?
  1. Who, in my team, deserves a “mention in dispatches”?
  1. Who could have done more?
  1. How do you feel about my performance?
  1. What unresolved issues are there?
  1. What does my team need to understand about your team’s future priorities?
  1. How can we help you in the future?
  1. Is there anything else I need to know?


“The quality of service we give the customer is influenced by the quality of service we give each other!”

(Rosabeth Moss Kanter)


Now it’s time to look at leadership. Look after your sales troopers and they will look after you. Inspirational leadership and welfare is key to survival. Here is a great story from the Commanding Officer of a US Marine Corps unit.


I will always remember my first posting – I was paired with a very experienced Sergeant, Ian Smith, who had well over twenty years experience. My learning process began on the first day of our partnership. My overly ambitious plan to issue gas masks and have the Marines clean their weapons in the same afternoon caused many men to miss their dinner.

Morale suffered and the next day Sergeant Smith gave me his assessment of what had gone wrong. “Sir, your plan failed because you did not consult the experienced leaders in this unit – we have conducted these drills countless times before and know what to do.” 

During our time together he also taught me a lot about the importance of developing others – he could always find time to share with others his views on the principles and values of the unit.

He knew a lot about “welfare”. Whenever a Marine faced a personal emergency Sergeant Smith focused his attention on it until it was resolved – he would often visit the Marine in the evening or phone from home. If the men were transferred to another unit he would always put in three-four follow up actions to ensure that their welfare needs were being met.

My leadership approach today was fashioned and shaped by his genuine care and support for them, and me, then!”

Col. J. A. Santamaria 


Some final thoughts on (commercial) warfare come courtesy of a certain Mr. Napoleon, CEO of a formidable fighting force. These thoughts and principles still apply to sales teams today!

  • “March dispersed – fight concentrated!”
  • “An army of stags led by a lion is more formidable than an army of lions led by a stag!”
  • “It is not speeches at the moment of battle that render soldiers brave – the veteran scarcely listens to them and the new recruit forgets them at the first shot.  If speeches by leaders are useful at all it is during the campaign – meeting soldiers on the ground, doing away with unfavourable rumours and keeping alive a proper spirit in the camp.”
  • “An army’s effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience and morale… and morale is worth more than all the other factors combined!”
  • “I won most of the battles I fought… because I only fought battles I mostly thought I could win!”


Phil Jesson recently stepped down after a successful stint as the Academy’s Operations Director. He co-chairs Academy Group 42 and Directors Forum 9 with Joanna Jesson and is very active in helping businesses to grow and thrive.

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