Militaries rehearse, actors rehearse, singers rehearse … so what if companies rehearsed? Would it improve the development and execution of strategic business planning and help mitigate corporate risk?
The following is written by guest blogger Lieutenant Colonel (ret’d) Fred Aubin. Fred is the CEO of Strategic Red Team Consulting (SRTC). SRTC is an Ottawa-based strategy firm and a partner of Boardroom Metrics Inc.
When I was a young officer, I once complained about how we wargamed to rehearse the execution of our battlefield plans until we were blue in the face. I remember my Commanding Officer giving me one of those jaundiced looks and he said, ”Lieutenant, which investment do you think is more prudent? Time and sweat here, or blood and tears on the battlefield?” I think the private sector equivalent would be “Time and sweat now in our corporate headquarters, or money and tears later in the marketplace?”
When I examine what transpires in the corporate sector for execution rehearsal, I really don’t see any formalized practice to ensure the success of highly complex strategic business plans involving wide spectrums of multidisciplinary teams and millions of dollars. Yet corporate and combat leaders share the same challenge when it comes to strategic plan execution – foreseeing challenges, planning for adversity, creating confidence and aligning ‘the troops.’
Corporate wargaming helps CEOs and business leaders answer the same questions that a Task Force Commander faces:
- How do I evaluate the various courses of action open to me?
- How do I know whether our business strategy is truly comprehensive, integrated, adaptive and networked?
- How do I test my business plans before execution?
- How is our strategic plan put under real stress in order to reduce risk in execution?
- Does executive leadership know how to deal with front-line feedback and intelligence?
- How do I leverage innovation and initiative amongst my subordinate leaders and team members?
- How do I ensure that my executive authorities, responsibilities and accountabilities are aligned with the actual decisions that need to be made?
Intelligence, strategy, planning, execution, etc. are HUMAN activities. As such, the testing of your plans, courses of action, or execution, should have human beings in the loop.
How did we do it in the military?
Quite simply, we wargamed every course of action before committing to a particular plan. Once a particular strategic plan was chosen, we rehearsed that plan again and again through wargaming with all subordinate leaders that made decisions or produced particular results. We made sure to constantly refine our procedures until our commanders were satisfied by the results and we were confident in our roles, structures, objectives and desired effects. By doing so, we were able to significantly mitigate risk, while at the same time, guaranteeing shared situational awareness amongst all key players.
That final rehearsal also became a moral and social contract between the commander and his subordinates. This contract outlined exactly what was expected of us and what support was required from him to his staff.
What is Corporate Wargaming?
Wargaming is a disciplined, real-time, action-reaction, role-playing methodology that simulates the actual execution of your plan in a realistic adversarial competitive environment. Corporate wargaming pits a Blue Team (the decision makers) against the Red Team players (competitors, market conditions, clients, etc.).
Where do these Red Team players come from?
Well, if nobody knows your business better than you, then the answer is obvious. If you think about it, you probably have most of the talent you require to challenge your strategic business plan and to test its comprehensiveness and integration.
Give these people a role to play in challenging the plan and assumptions behind it. By harnessing the competitive strengths of your own BLUE and RED teams, you WILL find gaps and areas requiring further refinement (as we always did in the military).
Also, by fostering a competitive environment with a disciplined role playing activity, you will generate the conditions for discovering cooperative innovative solutions to overcome the realistic challenges provided by your Red Team.
The depth, breadth and scale of these wargame exercises are dictated by your decision support requirements and your tastes for risk reduction.
Corporate, as well as military wargames, can span from hours to days and can encompass a handful of senior leaders or your complete leadership/managerial team.
Large corporations like Cadbury and Biogen have already discovered the competitive advantages of wargaming as an outstanding risk mitigation exercise, a fantastic confidence builder, an exercise of discovery for leadership, a mechanism of voice for your teams, and an instrument of real-time organizational learning for all.
So, if you’ve experienced those strategic business planning execution blues before, perhaps it’s time to take a page out of the military playbook. Get ready for the big day by taking time to rehearse with wargaming.
SRTC is a full-service, strategic-level business consultancy teamed by professionals from the most senior ranks of the Canadian Military who have moved on to the commercial sector.
What do you think about using wargaming as a business tool to mitigate corporate risk and improve your strategic plan? Please let us know in the comments section below.