Offensive action is applicable in all spheres of business: strategy, organizational change, continuous process improvement, sales and marketing, recruiting, public relations, crisis management, risk management, leadership development, succession, etc.

A common understanding of offense is that it’s all about attacking and taking an aggressive stance. This is true, but it’s much more than that. It’s a mindset that is centered on seizing and maintaining the initiative. If you’ve lost the initiative, or have given it up intentionally or unintentionally, whether you like it or not, you’re in a defensive posture. You must work to regain the initiative and get back on the offensive.

I’ve discussed this in great detail in my book, Brilliant Manoeuvres: How to Use Military Wisdom to Win Business Battles. Last month we looked at how you can assess your own offensive posture and that of your competitors. This month, I’d like to look at how you can build an offensive mindset within your team or organization.

Common Understanding. Everyone in the company must understand its overall vision, mission, and objectives, and must know where and how they fit into the strategy and plan. They also need to know the vital role they play in achieving or supporting that mission. With this, they are in a position to apply their own initiative and reasoning to resolve the inevitable problems and dilemmas that arise as a result of friction, uncertainty, error, and competitors’ actions. It is critical that every level in the company develops and implements its own mission, vision, objectives and plans and implement them with a view to achieving the intent of the higher level of which they form a part. The technique to achieve this is known as ‘mission analysis,’ and the result is ‘mission command,’ the approach that empowers individuals to take initiative in the service of the organization’s ultimate strategy.

Mission Command. In the military, empowerment and initiative are known as ‘mission command.’ In a nutshell, mission command is about telling people WHAT to achieve and letting them figure out HOW to achieve it in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Even better is when the whole team participates in developing the WHAT part. If managers and employees know something to be true or right, and it fits within the stated objectives and strategy, they should be encouraged to use their initiative to exploit the opportunity, defend against the threat, or correct the mistake. This empowers individuals throughout the company to pursue ideas using their creativity and teamwork without having to get permission all the time. They can also adjust to a changing competitive situation without having to withdraw, start the planning process over, and launch a new attack. This speeds up decision-making and makes use of the brains and motivation of everyone involved to get to the objective.

Prudent Risk-taking. Acceptance of risk is the corollary of initiative and empowerment. You can’t expect people to make quick decisions and act upon them with speed and agility if they fear reprisals or punishment when the inevitable mistakes are made or when problems of execution occur. In a culture where risk is recognized and accepted, decisions will tend to be quicker and more effective than in an organization where everyone is covering their behind.

Build on Strength. We all tend to focus on our weaknesses and devote way too many resources in trying to correct them. This is a mistake, because lasting success only comes from identifying and reinforcing strengths. Strategically, this requires the company leadership to identify its centre of gravity. This is its unique source of differentiation and competitive power. There are generic centres of gravity (also known as driving forces), such as product-focus, market-focus, distribution, and method of sales, which I’ve written about before. For example, Apple is relentless about its product focus. Everything is about the excellence and uniqueness of the product experience. On the other hand, Amazon is obsessive about distribution. This is the company’s unique source of strength and competitiveness. Operationally, companies must also identify their unique strengths and develop them into powerful competitive advantages. Finally, at the tactical and personal levels, every team, every leader, and every employee must know what they do best and seek to get better and better at it over time. Constant improvement is greatly aided by a disciplined approach to lessons learned and after-action review, strong morale, and transformational leadership.

© 2013 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

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