Is it possible to win battles yet lose the war? Absolutely. And, it happens more often than you’d think. History (and business) is littered with many such examples.
The most famous one in history is the classic example of Hannibal, who won a string of impressive victories from 218-201 BC for Carthage against Rome yet his side was beaten when he lost the final battle of the war. The Romans had the will and manpower to keep engaging Hannibal’s side in ever-more-deadly battles, while Hannibal had a difficult time replacing his troops and simply ran out of resources. A similar scenario played out during the United States Civil War, where President Abraham Lincoln knew that the South could not lose men and weapons at the same rate as the North, ultimately leading to a victory of attrition for the North.
A War of Attrition for Your Business
So, how is this unexpected dynamic relevant for your business? If you’re not lucky enough to run a top 1 percent company with a massive war chest of reserve capital you may be winning some battles, but fighting a losing war of attrition. The outcomes of these historical wars, and many others, may have been different if the loser realistically measured the will and the capabilities of their opponent, and changed their approach, rather than continuing to exert effort in winning tactical battles.
Rethink your strategy in a changing, connected and digital world. Are you always playing catch-up? Are you working through a long roadmap of things that need to be checked off in your digital transformation? At the same time, are you underfunded and having to constantly manage costs? Avoid prioritizing tasks without a full understanding of its specific impact on a clear final outcome.
Your customer’s expectations have changed. Your competitors may have been first to redefine the prevalent business model in our market. At the same time, you have the illusion of winning some tactical battles, but if you’re not focused you’re losing ground. You need to focus on investing in real change. In other words, you need to create room, from a human and capital resources perspective, to allow for digital transformation to take hold in your organization. Don’t let digital transformation become a war of competitive attrition. You may need to invest to change the game.
Small Wins Can Cloud Long-Term Strategy
Take your critical technology investments, for example. Your business can only be sustainable if you build sustainable technology platforms that can be leveraged over the long run. But, those are the ones that require time, headcount and capital investments. Don’t fall into the traps of short-term thinking. Letting every department build its own technology game plan drives some initial pockets of responsiveness, but it also creates silos that destroys enterprise-wide agility. At the same time, adopting the latest shiny-new-object technologies unlocks new capabilities, but also leads to the wild west of security and compliance nightmares.
The reality is that the pace of business is faster today than it has ever been, so agility in the face of change is critically important. But, agility needs to be funded and orchestrated. That might sound like an oxymoron to some, but orchestrating agility is exactly what I mean when I talk about the Sentient Enterprise model for transformation.
The fifth stage of the Sentient Enterprise maturity model talks about a state where the business can use technology to react to internal and external forces in near real-time. This fifth stage is built on the foundations of automation, AI and bots. My friend and colleague Mohan Sawhney, Professor at Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, and I began talking about this final stage back in 2014, when we conceived the Sentient Enterprise idea. We envisioned an end state, powered by automation and AI, where the business acts like a single organism taking self-governing actions as a reaction to internal and external events.
This fifth stage represents “winning the war” for companies going through a digital transformation, at least those that don’t get trapped in the excitement of simply winning battles.