Fight Like a Marine

Corporate Combined Arms: Putting the Competition in a Dilemma

How do we crush the competition while continuously growing the team and getting better at what we do?

For almost two and a half centuries, the United States Marine Corps has relentlessly perfected effective approaches to defeating our nation’s enemies in battle. Their success rate remains arguably one of the best, and that’s more than just opinion or coincidence—it is intentional, calculated and refined. Facing a Marine unit of any size in battle usually results in more than just a problem for the enemy because Marines are particularly adept at placing their opponents in no-win situations.

The use of combined arms is a tactic in which Marines use multiple and varied approaches (e.g., weapons systems, maneuvering, supporting fires) in such a way that any action the enemy takes to avoid one threat makes him more vulnerable to another. He is now in a dilemma—a no-win situation. He is forced to do something that will guarantee his failure.  The effect is both immediate in single-strike victories and cumulative in the longer term. The tactic can overwhelm and demoralize the enemy by slowing them down and creating confusion.

The basic theory of combined arms transfers easily to a sports team, but what about in business? How do we leverage these lessons and apply the principles of combined arms in the corporate world to “create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which the enemy [the competition] cannot cope?” Success requires leaders to be flexible, to deal with the fog of war, and to rapidly adjust their plan as required while staying true to the overall strategy.

A client of ours successfully competed for—and won—millions in funding for the development of innovative products by applying these very principles.

  • They developed clear intent from the chief executive and articulated that vision to the next level of leaders.
  • These measures established clear targets that focused the rest of the organization as they developed multiple courses of action and alternatives to the execution of the funding if granted.
  • The teams worked hand-in-hand with executive leadership to shoot holes in the alternatives, to resolve them, and to determine how best to communicate all viable alternatives for consideration.
  • The client also invested in outside support for determining the best solutions to offer for use of the funding.

Their competitors, on the other hand, waited too long and determined that they did not need to make an outside investment. By the time they realized what our client was doing, they were unable to provide options for use of the funding that remotely rivaled the well-planned and disciplined alternatives provided by our client. For each consideration proposed by a competitor that appealed to the awarding agency, our client was able to adjust and to provide alternatives, as well as demonstrate their capability to execute them. Receiving this funding was neither coincidence nor luck for our client, but the direct result of flexibility, sound knowledge of strategy, an understanding of resources capability, and the requisite leadership to execute change in a highly dynamic environment.

Corporate combined arms is about having eggs in more than one basket when it comes to clients. Think “art of the possible,” and provide clients with multiple options from which to choose, compared to the competition. Think ahead, strategize and provide alternatives to close the deal. These actions will force the competition out of their comfort zone and make them waste resources reacting to flexible approaches, keeping them behind the power curve in a constantly changing business environment. 

Best Practices for Implementation

To apply corporate combined arms within your organization, develop the following:

  • Clear Intent. First, develop a clear purpose and intent for any initiative and articulate to planners and executors.
  • Mindset. Get your team to focus on solutions. Fixate on how to accomplish the initiatives instead of why they won’t work.
  • Multiple Solutions. Develop, wargame, assess and resolve multiple courses of action, and be proficient at addressing all of them.
  • Flexibility. Educate yourselves on the information and environment in which the team intends to engage.  Understand the alternatives. Be prepared to switch midstream to an alternative.
  • Investment. Make the appropriate investments in time, effort and support required to develop solutions and win.

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