Friday, May 28, 2010

Five Factors Crucial to the Success of Your Business

During times of economic and organizational uncertainty companies need to focus on the things that matter most — the things that will ensure the viability of their business in the future.

Recently I was re-reading The Art of War by renowned Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu (pronounced son eat sue). In his book he identifies “five constant factors” a military leader must focus on during a battle. These five factors determine who will succeed and who will fail in war. “He who masters them wins,” says Sun Tzu. “He who does not is defeated.”

The five constant factors in war that determine either survival or ruin are: 1) moral influence, 2) weather, 3) terrain, 4) commander, and 5) doctrine.

I see business parallels to these five military factors. I’m convinced he who masters the five constant factors of business will win; he who does not will be defeated — regardless of the economy or any other conditions.

The first constant factor of business, or moral influence, is a spirit of mission. To survive economic turmoil a company needs the strength of vision and sense of purpose that ignites a fighting spirit within its employees and generates a firestorm of commitment from them. The company’s battle plan must rally the employees in a unified front designed to achieve the organization’s strategic objectives. Those businesses that constantly keep the company’s purpose in the forefront of the minds of the employees will have a strategic advantage.

Sun Tzu’s weather constant equates to outside forces that affect the enterprise. The surge of mergers and consolidations sweeping through every industry is an outside force. So too are the realities of global competition, the influence of environmentalism, terrorism, and other world conditions. Companies who constantly monitor the shifting changes in the world around them, and then adjust their strategies accordingly, will win.

The “terrain” is the marketplace. Just as a general must know the terrain, so too business leaders must consider the scene of action – the place, people, products, pro-motions, price, and other factors that determine success. Strategies and tactics must align these elements so all resources are targeted to achieve the defined objective.

The commander, of course, is the leader of the company, division, or department. The attitude, philosophy and skill level of the leader greatly influences the performance of the employees. Effective leadership principles are the same even during a crisis. Too many companies jettison healthy management practices and lose their sense of direction when under fire from competitive challengers. Managers who maintain their stability and stay the course during tough times will lead their company to success.

The final constant, “doctrine,” is comparable to the guiding principles, core competencies, or critical success factors that are vital to a company’s current and future growth. The company’s core values should never be abandoned in tough times. Rather, they should be the rallying standard that drives everyone’s behavior and performance. When defined accurately, and implemented effectively, a company’s core values are the spirit that moves the organization.

The key to success during business uncertainty is to refocus the “troops” on the five constant factors that ensure a victorious outcome.

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