February 26, 2015

Using the mindset of a military leader to test your strategy

By Kaelin Hanks, Entira Associate

No other industry formulates and executes strategies with as much precision as the military. For centuries, military leaders have used the practice of war gaming to simulate real wartime scenarios and prepare their troops for battle. The exercise helps them think like their enemy—testing their strategic moves and anticipating counter attacks.

War gaming can also be a powerful tool for businesses as they prepare for their own battles—whether that’s a new product launch, a changing marketplace after a big merger, entering a new market space, or a brand roll out.

Business war gaming is a comprehensive brain exercise for groups, usually taking place over a couple of days, that stimulates thinking through role-playing and simulating real-world conditions. It’s a way to visualize and experience the implementation of your strategy without risk, so you can plan responses for unforeseen circumstances and gain insight into the likely reactions from your opponents.

War gaming is a helpful addition to your strategic planning as a way to draw in external perspectives—by putting yourself in your competitors’ shoes, it’s highly effective in getting your team through the impediment of internal beliefs, which may or may not be valid.

How It Can Help Agribusinesses

Think of the ag marketplace as a battle field—isn’t it better to know what you’re getting into before you take that first step? (So you don’t walk right into enemy fire or over a landmine.)

Business war gaming grew out of a need to simulate moves and counter moves in a commercial setting.

The ag industry has an intense competitive dynamic. Players are deeply affected by each other's actions. Market conditions are ever-changing, companies are merging, new technologies are being introduced, supply and demand changes—all of these forces mean competitive reactions to your strategies are very unpredictable.

Four ways war gaming could work for your business:

  1. Shoot holes in your strategy. It’s a reality check for your business strategy with zero risk, allowing you to adjust your plan as conditions command and potentially save you from the fallout and costs involved with a failed strategy. Your strategy looks solid on paper, but how will it play out in real life? War gaming is a way to test your strategy so you don’t head into battle without knowing what’s out there. You can evaluate your strategy to better understand and anticipate competitor moves and assess risk in a safe and dynamic environment.
  2. Glean competitive intelligence in a new way. In business, just like in war, your success relies immensely on what your competition does in response to whatever move you make. Whether you win or lose depends on what they do as much as it does on what you do. War gaming is a way to anticipate how your competition will respond to something you’re about to launch. It is an amazing tool for gathering competitive intelligence and using it to fine-tune your strategy before you head out into battle. It’s the same reason coaches spend hours watching games of their next opponent, and build scrimmages into practice. “We’ve written the playbook; now let’s see if the plays really work.”
  3. Learn new things about your business. You’ll be seeing your business in a light you probably haven’t seen in a while—from the outside. You know how things look inside your business, but how do your rivals see you? How does your business look from your competitors’ vantage point? What moves are they likely to make? Visualize what it’s like to be in your competitor’s shoes. See your business through their eyes. It’s amazing how your pre-held beliefs can shift when you look at the situation from someone else’s perspective.
  4. Engage your team in strategic planning in new and meaningful ways. Think of the level of engagement you gain among the participants as they help shape the winning strategy. War gaming is highly effective in building consensus on your strategy by collaborating on fine-tuning common strategic direction and fostering a spirit of teamwork and communication. It’s a way to get your team focused externally, which makes it easier to give up long-held internal beliefs. And, this is a great way to tap into the intuition and creativity of your team.

How It Works

The fundamentals of war gaming can naturally be applied to the way your business plans and executes strategies. When business teams do this well, they uncover new opportunities and challenges, so no matter what happens on the battlefield, they’re ready and equipped to handle it.

Moderated sessions involve role-playing scenarios with your team members, acting as competitors and internal and external stakeholders. If you launch X, how will company B respond? What tactics will they use to retaliate? Where are their strengths? Where do they have weaknesses? All of this will help identify potential weak spots in your strategy.

Entira has led clients in war gaming sessions on many of the topics listed above, and we’ve enjoyed helping those clients be as prepared as possible to meet and exceed their goals. Simulations like this are a viable way of gaining insights into the competitive landscape when there are too many unknowns to identify a straightforward, quantitative solution; there are too many dimensions of the problem to consider; or it is impossible to capture the interactions among all of these. If you’d like to talk about whether war gaming would be an effective exercise for your company, contact Entira at info@entira.net.