How Not to Lose the War Even as You Win the Battles

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If you look at the list of Fortune 100 companies of 50 years ago, you will see that most of them no longer exist. Why? Nearly all of them failed because they focused on winning their battles, but in the process they lost their wars. So how can you win your wars?

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in an occasional series of articles based on transcripts of podcasts by MIT instructor Jonathan Byrnes. His Profit Levers podcast covers topics related to managing profitable growth, occasionally discussing issues of interest to marketers. Those episodes are the ones MarketingProfs has been publishing as articles.

Episode 5: How to Win the Battle and Lose the War


One of the most common, but dangerous, mistakes managers make is to focus on tactical “wins.” When competitors make a tactical move, managers find it almost irresistible to immediately look for ways to respond. When the response creates positive results, they celebrate, and then seek new tactics for edging ahead a bit.

This stimulus-response pattern consumes manager after manager. The problem is that what is lost in the process is the opportunity to make strategic, game-changing leaps forward that leave competitors struggling to find solid ground to stand on.

Yet, these paradigmatic strategic changes are no more difficult to envision, and often they are actually easier to create than the more-of-the-same tactical skirmishes that consume most managers in their day-to-day activities. And this massively superior business opportunity simply escapes managers’ notice in the fog of tactical battles, and the celebration of tactical wins. In fact, this tactic-obsessed process tacitly defines what strategy is for all too many managers in all too many companies.

In short, these managers have become embedded in a vicious cycle: Winning the Battle but Losing the War.



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