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Using military strategy in finance

An effective strategy for finance should be about more aiming and less shooting, says Emma Dutton, co-founder and managing director of Applied Influence Group.

Although strategy has been used in finance business models for many years, the models, tools and ideologies of strategies often vary from person to person, and between organisations. Strategy is extensively used in the military, where the vast and complex organisational structure creates a need for simplicity and efficiency.

This meets with centuries of trial and error, to create a universal and highly scalable model. This model has been extensively stress-tested in extreme environments and with the highest of stakes… people’s lives. Military strategy can help your decision making by tackling your organisations toughest business challenges.

Devising strategies can feel like a burden to a business as they take time and energy to create.?However, the efficiency, organisational durability and proactivity generated by having a strong sense of direction can lead to increased market share and profitability far outweighing the initial outlay of time and resources.

Strategy?creates the reviewable and repeatable plans to tackle your business challenges whereas experience and instinct may not. Non-strategic progress is largely unconscious and can be undeliberate and unprecise.

The basics of military strategy

Strategies are obviously such an important element for any business as they help you evolve and improve to become more efficient. Without a strategy, business success can depend on instinct, and sometimes, blind luck. A path for achieving your business objectives is not clearly defined and your business will be bound to hit roadblocks without the immediate solutions to help them recover.  But where do you start? What are the considerations?  There are three basic, overarching steps to constructing a strategy. These are:

  • Goal setting – Without an agreed and understood sense of direction, it’s possible to lose focus. It’s important to know that everyone is working towards a common set of goals for peace of mind and for the continued engagement of all involved. For example, the goal could be to drive growth in a new and unpenetrated market.
  • Strategy to reach the goals – Quite simply a set of questions that reveal everything which needs to be considered and what needs to be done in order to reach the goals.
  • Execution to make it all happen – Ensuring the actions are done in sequence and managing the overall process, which, if this is taking place in a complex organisational structure, will not be simple. Understanding how the process will be managed is critical success.

New opportunities and challenges are always ahead for financial businesses, in our ever-evolving world. These circumstances require strategies to help businesses cope with the unforeseen obstacles ahead. Without strategy, your business will be bound to hit roadblocks without the immediate solutions to help them recover.

Although both new opportunities and new strategies require financial resources, you are more likely to gain success in the industry with a stable strategy based on a shared set of skills and a universal language, like those developed in the military.

Military strategy is all about understanding and making best use of the time and resources you have. Military intelligence personnel are taught a simple way to devise and implement a strategy which can be used in any high-pressure situation. For example, the military approach to strategy has been used successfully under particularly high-pressure situations dealing with incredible short timescales, such as during a fire-fight with the enemy.

So, for a business, this sets an example that no matter how much time you have, you always have time to ‘strategize’ your actions. The benefit behind the simplicity of military intelligence strategies is that they can be applied to an array of different business challenges from various business models and sectors, including finance.

Getting started with military strategy

In the military there is a question we ask at the start, and throughout, every strategy we create. And that question is, ‘so what?’. Often, when planning a strategy, someone will give a fact pertaining to the situation, implying that this changes things. It may not always be apparent to everyone exactly how this changes the situation.

If you don’t quite express the importance and relevance of the information then members of your team are left confused and uninspired by your influence. To prevent this happening, try formatting your information differently by stating the factors, why they’re significant and how they’re relevant to the situation at hand.

For instance, when influencing a buying decision in an important new account, you may have identified?that the organisation?has poor internal communication between business functions, and information is rarely shared. Well, ‘so what’.

What does that mean for you and your strategy? It could be that you need to assume information won’t naturally cross-pollenate in the client in the way you expect, meaning you need to reach more stakeholders with the same sales message than originally thought and think carefully about the order in which you do that to navigate ‘politics’.

Then, each of the subsequent hypothesis should also be subject to the ‘So, what? Treatment. Asking ‘So, what’? ensures there is deduction, rather than just fact, and helps you think critically and with purpose.

Speak the same language – Sharing of information within the team is key to success in your financial business. Someone may have a vital piece of information which if shared could prevent disaster or enable success with a client. The individual perhaps didn’t share the information because they didn’t view it as important, they believe the information is widely understood or they don’t have the facility to share the information.

A great way to improve communication in the business is with a shared language around influence. This can be created by using specific tools for stakeholder mapping and profiling. If you spend time using profiling in your strategy then you will be able to reveal often-missed information about your client, which can therefore improve your engagement.

Identify your point-person – strategic relationships are an important part of setting up a strategy and ‘influence agents’ can be beneficial by sequencing interactions and navigating politics. This means having the necessary levels of emotional intelligence (self-awareness) as a leader to recognise that somebody else in your team may be better?at connecting with a client than yourself.

Profiling is helpful in this situation as if you have profiled your team members, yourself and the client, you can see who makes the best fit for success. Profiling can ensure that strong connections are made by matching a member of your team to a client based on their personality, attitude towards the topic or existing relationship with the client. Connections with clients and stakeholders are very important to your overall business strategy, so ensuring you have the right point-person for the job is critical.

Lastly, ‘make it flexible but timely’. This focuses on contingency planning for when the result of your plan is not what you hoped for or when the goal posts move. There is a military saying of ‘no plan survives first contact with the enemy’. This expresses the importance of implementing different parts of your strategy when things don’t go to plan. So, when assessing the control measures you impose on the execution of the strategy, allow time for review and adjustments. You should determine realistic and agreed time boundaries and decision points, with someone responsible for controlling that process.

To conclude, even if you have high-performers in your team, if they can’t tell you their step-by-step strategy on success then how can you be sure they can repeat such victories. All of these great business tools were developed on the battlefield and can be easily implemented in the boardroom for a better business model and a higher success rate in the industry. An effective strategy for business is all about more aiming and less shooting, providing a framework to ensure you hit the bullseye.

Emma Dutton MBE served as an Engineer Officer in the RAF before transitioning to the influence capability of Military Intelligence. Over five tours of Afghanistan, she was placed in leadership and governance roles, leading teams to collect life-saving information. After a realisation that she was using the same influence skill set and methodology in her interactions with politicians and military commanders as she was with the Taliban, Emma co-founded the Applied Influence Group. She was honoured with an MBE in 2015 for her service in Afghanistan.

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