Sun Tzu’s Advice to Strategy Makers


More than 2300 years ago, Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War, an amazing book on the principles of military strategy. Herebelow are some idea extracts:

  1. Adopt SOSTAC. He believed that it is essential first to carry out a complete analysis of the situation. The strengths and weaknesses of one’s position, the relationship between one’s goals and the goals of society at large, the intensity of one’s courage and determination, and the worthiness and integrity of one’s objective must all be carefully evaluated. Even then, it seems, SOSTAC (Situation Analysis, Objectives, Strategy, Tactics, Action, and Control) was emerging—situation analysis, objectives and strategy.
  2. Do your Homework. Those who triumph, compute at their headquarters, a great number of factors, prior to a challenge. Those who are defeated, compute at their headquarters, a small number of factors, prior to a challenge. Much computation brings triumph, little computation brings defeat. How much more so with no computation at all. By observing only this, I can see triumph or defeat.
  3. Develop some options. Therefore those who are not entirely aware of strategies that are disadvantageous, cannot be entirely aware of strategies that are advantageous.
  4. Know your Resources. You must be certain that your resources have been carefully evaluated before engaging in this challenge.
  5. Why senior management Support: before engaging in a challenge, a leader must be certain that the organization is prepared to support the expense of a confrontation.
  6. Do you hurt your market or environment? Brilliant leaders are always aware of the entire system, both inside and outside of their organizations. They know that to harm or destroy what is outside will hurt their own growth, while employing their rivals and incorporating their resources will enhance their strategy.
  7. Put everything in place before making a move. Sun Tzu believed that a true victory can be won only with a strategy of tactical positioning, so that the moment of triumph is effortless and destructive conflict is avoided even before considering a confrontation – for whatever purpose.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir - Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

The Lacking Commitment


Why do so many senior people appear hesitant and half-hearted? Why are the communications concerning change programs so anemic, especially when coming from those who have little difficulty in putting their points across in other contexts?

We have to get at the roots of ambivalence. The reasons for concern, quiet dissent, and reluctance to commit need to be probed:

  • Apparent support may only mean that those concerned are crawlers, bootlickers and toadies. There is often reluctance to accept the reality that all manner of loathsome and self-serving creatures inhabit the corridors of corporate bureaucracy. Their wiles, and the games they play, which are so transparent to outsiders, and destructive of external relationships built upon mutual trust and respect, go unnoticed or are ignored within.
  • Those who appear difficult may be the individuals with intellectual reservations. These could relate to the application of a program in a particular area, or to an initiative as a whole. The objectors could be the ones who have thought it through and uncovered missing elements. An implementation process needs to incorporate a means of listening to, and learning from, those who have valid objections.
  • Also, not all customers have the same preferences. What is added value for one person may be regarded as an expensive luxury by other.

Bland ‘motherhood’ statements suggest people have not thought through what needs to be done. People judge by what they see rather than on the basis of what is said. The informal messages, the examples and the symbols, can undercut formal communications.

Too often the changes of attitudes that are sought are not reflected in the language used by managers, the anecdotes and war stories that make up the mythology of a company, in symbols such as the allocation of parking spaces or use of exercise facilities, and in how a myriad of day-to-day matters are handled. Changing structures and processes may not be followed by attitudes where managers themselves, and particularly senior managers, refuse to act as role models.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir - Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Conflict Management


With the turn of economic wheel conflict has entered into our daily life as an indispensable impedimenta. Whether in domestic, professional or political living and breathing world we are dominated by lacking conflict management skills and hence dragging on with antipathy, bitter feelings and state of war. For creating a fraternal, congenial and harmonious environment we ought to master skills essential for dealing with conflict.

Conflict is a natural disagreement resulting from individuals or groups that differ in attitudes, beliefs, values or needs. It can also originate from past rivalries and personality differences.

The first step in managing conflict is to analyze the nature and type of conflict. To do this, you’ll find it helpful to ask questions.

Collaboration results from a high concern for your group’s own interests, matched with a high concern for the interests of other partners. The outcome is win/win. This strategy is generally used when concerns for others are important. This approach helps build commitment and reduce bad feelings. Some partners may take advantage of the others’ trust and openness. Generally regarded as the best approach for managing conflict, the objective of collaboration is to reach consensus.

Compromise strategy results from a high concern for your group’s own interests along with a moderate concern for the interests of other partners. The outcome is win some/lose some. This strategy is generally used to achieve temporary solutions, to avoid destructive power struggles or when time pressures exist.

Competition strategy results from a high concern for your group’s own interests with less concern for others. The outcome is win/lose. This strategy includes most attempts at bargaining. It is generally used when basic rights are at stake or to set a precedent. It can cause the conflict to escalate and losers may try to retaliate.

Accommodation results from a low concern for your group’s own interests combined with a high concern for the interests of other partners. The outcome is lose/win. This strategy is generally used when the issue is more important to others than to you. It is a goodwill gesture. It is also appropriate when you recognize that you are wrong. The drawbacks are that your own ideas and concerns don’t get attention. You may also lose credibility and future influence.

Avoidance results from a low concern for your group’s own interests coupled with a low concern for the interests of others. The outcome is lose/lose. This strategy is generally used when the issue is trivial or other issues are more pressing. It is also used when confrontation has a high potential for damage or more information is needed.

Several enemies often combine to create contention. The first enemy is the natural need to want to explain the side first. After all, we reason, if they understood our perspective, they would come to the same conclusions we did. The second enemy is ineffectiveness as listeners. Listening is much more than being quiet so we can have our turn. The third enemy is fear. Fear that we will not get our way. Fear of losing something we cherish. Fear we will be made to look foolish. The fourth enemy is the assumption that one of us has to lose if the other is going to win. Differences can only be solved competitively.

Two principles have contributed so much to the productive handling of disagreements that it is difficult to read about the subject in scholarly works without their mention. The first principle: Seek first to understand, then to be understood, was introduced by Steven Covey, in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If we encourage others to explain their side first, they will be more apt to listen to ours.

Roger Fisher and William Ury introduced the second communication principle in their seminal work, Getting to Yes. Simply stated, it is that people in disagreement focus on their positions when instead they should be focusing on their needs. By focusing on positions we tend to underscore our disagreements. When we concentrate on needs, we find we have more in common than what we had assumed. Ury and Fisher then went on to say that when we focus on needs we can attempt to satisfy the sum of both our needs and their needs.

The parties to any conflict can also explore a problem-solving approach inspired by an ancient Tibetan Buddhist teaching known as the four karmas. These four karmas follow a developmental sequence that begins with pacifying or calming the situation, enriching positive aspects by bringing in multiple perspectives, magnetizing larger perspectives or additional resources, and finally, if necessary, destroying old patterns and behaviors that no longer serve.

Traditionally the four karmas is a personal practice that allows one to become attuned to the natural energies in a situation, and to transform confusion and aggression into creativity, compassion, and intelligent action.

How can we solve our tough problems without resorting to force? How can we overcome the apartheid syndrome in our homes, workplaces, communities, countries, and even globally? How can we heal our world’s gaping wounds? To answer these questions is simple, but it is not easy. We have to bring together the people who are co-creating the current reality to co-create new realities. We have to shift from downloading and debating to reflective and generative dialogue. We have to choose an open way over a closed way.

It is good to talk about the past. A discussion of past behaviors is essential to analyze patterns of conflict and help conflicting parties to find constructive ways of handling future disagreements. Without understanding the past, it is hard to prepare for the future. At some point, however, the focus of discussion turns to that of future behaviors, rather than past injuries. The sooner the participants can focus on the future, the greater the chances of successful resolution.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir - Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Clear Vision and Strategy


Vision can inspire, but it can also result in disillusionment if it is incomplete or incapable of achievement. Like an idea, it may have little value outside of an organization with the capability to give it a tangible reality.

Many attempts to formulate and implement visions and missions have been naïve and in some cases destructive. A wide gulf has emerged between rhetoric and reality, and between aspiration and achievement. Instead of inspiration and motivation, there is disillusionment and distrust. The agreement of vision is often perceived as the ‘input’, rather than as an initial step on what may prove to be a long process of implementation.

Progress is made in providing distinctive purposes and offerings, and the longer term and sometimes hidden consequences of the short-term reactions of corporate boards to economic pressures. It emphasizes that changing attitudes and perspective generally takes longer than is first thought.

The lack of top management commitment and of communication skills are major barriers to change. To share a compelling vision requires new attitudes and approaches to communication.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir - Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact www.asifjmir.com

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