Don’t Become Hitler. How to Win Your Business War

Sometimes when I speak to my clients I feel they really believe they are in a war which they must win. Being a pom, history lessons inevitably taught me about the Second World War and I found it fascinating. But over the last few weeks I have been watching a TV series about it and I learnt so much more. I cannot put into words my admiration and indebtedness for those who gave up so much in order for us to live the lives we now do.

But whilst watching it a thought ran through my mind. Is organising, running and fighting a war any different from being in business? And I came to the conclusion is may not be that much different.

There is no doubt that the German army was technically more advance, they had amazing organisation skills and their ability to organise logistics was simply amazing. There is no also doubt that Hitler in the 1930’s was an amazing leader and if a number of catastrophic decisions had not been made we may all be speaking German right now. So what went wrong and is there anything we can take away for our business?

  1. Don’t be too confident and over stretch yourself

Two years into the war, the German army was running rings around its enemies. Wherever they went they were triumphant. Then Hitler become too confident and invaded Russia without any due diligence or research and his forces were suddenly split into two.

In business, when things are going great we think we are invincible and jump straight in thinking we can do no wrong. Sometimes this is at the most critical part of the business cycle.  Sometimes we need to finish what we started before we go on the next course of action.

We sometimes need to take a step back and analyse where we are, what we need to do and if we are going to jump down a different road make sure we know what it means if it does not work out the way we think it will. Just because it has worked once, do not assume it will work again. Do your due diligence and research. Then jump with all weapons blazing.

  1. Listen to the people on the ground

The people on the ground know best. When I have an issue at ground level I always ask my team to give their opinions. Because they are doing the work the chances are they understand the problem a lot better than me. I may be the boss, but I really do not know how the software works to put a set of accounts together. But my team does. It’s easy for me to say do it this way, but in the end my team have to do it and my way may be inefficient or plain crap. And when I take their advice, they feel happy and involved.

Hitler had the habit of ignoring what the people on the ground were telling him and then issuing orders that did not make sense at ground level. This demoralised the team leaders and eventually many of them just ignored him or stopped giving him information and advice. So listen to your team or you may find they start deserting you.

  1. Don’t get sentimental

Hitler had sentimental links to land conquered. He would insist German troops remain in areas knowing it was futile. Near the end of the war when troops were needed in Berlin and reinforcements were required, Hitler refused to use troops from other conquered towns as he would lose these towns. Reality was holding on to these towns did not make sense if Berlin fell.

I see it often in business where the business owner gets so sentimental about their business that they are unwilling to cut off an arm to save the body.

Let’s be honest. If I were in hospital and a surgeon told me that I would have to lose my hand in order to save myself I would have to take that course of action, no matter how sentimental I am to my hand. It is no different in business.

Your business is there to provide you money so that you can live the life you want. If it is doing that then all is good. If one part of your business is not working despite everything you have done, then it may mean you have to chop it off. Being sentimental has the ability to bring the whole business down. Don’t let that happen to you.

  1. Delegate to your Managers

There is a reason why we have a hierarchy in place in our businesses. We are really unable to do everything ourselves. I am great as a business growth strategist and I know how to run my three businesses. But ask me to do this as well as accounts production, taxation advice, bookkeeping and marketing and very soon I will start killing people. That is why we delegate and start giving responsibilities to other people and our job is make sure they follow through.

And that means we have to trust our managers to do the right thing and judge them on the results based on their decisions and what they control. If we override them and then things don’t work out we can’t blame them. We just end up losing the war.

Give your managers the freedom to make decisions. Listen to what they say and resist the temptation to override them. If you do, you might end up like Hitler, who refused to listen to his generals, constantly overriding them and eventually losing the eastern and western front.

  1. Deal with your Competitors Wisely

Be careful who you take on. Some competitors have the might, skill and resources to take you on and put you out of business. Think about who you ask to enter into the boxing arena.

I have seen many small business try to take on larger, more established businesses without a real business model apart from price. Larger businesses might be able to rough it out, take you on and then wipe you off the map. If you are going to take on an established business or industry, make sure you have a plan, make sure what you are offering is different and make sure you have the willpower to follow it through.

When Japan attacked Pearl Habour, Germany quickly announced it was at war with the US, when the US had no interest in the war. The US had manpower, equipment and unlimited resources and when joined with the Allies became a formidable force. Germany eventually ran out of manpower and equipment.

Don’t think being in business means you are in a war and need to win on all fronts. But you can take lessons learnt and maybe, just maybe, you get to where you want to be.

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