The new war of Retail

I was a lieutenant in the SADF – and I can honestly say that I learned more there about people and management during that time than the 4 year MBA. That is probably no surprise as we have the US Defence Force to thank (or blame) not only for the Internet but also for Strategic Management. 

The US Military shaped the systematic development of the management discipline more than any other organisation – hence the proliferation of terms such as mission, strategy, targeting and tactics.

If you are familiar with Organisational Behaviour, you will know that the (type of) language you use shapes your mindset which shapes your behaviour.

Because businesses/managers think like thy do, talk like they do, they consequently produce battle plans (strategies) that reflect their language and thinking. Your competitor is the enemy and you have to ‘win’ market share as if it is a ‘territory’ to be conquered.

All of this had its time and place in a different era.

This was an era when battles were symmetrical: two opposing forces face off on a defined battlefield, with roughly similar formations, similar firepower, similar manpower and generally accepted principles of warfare. You dig your trenches and I will dig mine.

You can see where I am going with this.

Things have changed: Now is a time where strikes are made from thousands of kilometres away. It is an era of chemicals, of unmanned drones. It is an era of cyber attacks. It is a war where foreign correspondents fight for the minds of the viewers alongside the soldiers who are fighting for that same audience’s heart.

It is a world of war where small mistakes are magnified and where the soldiers question the commanders and traitors hide behind the guise of transparency.

This war is no longer symmetrical and this war has different rules. The battle fields extend into space where there are no boundaries and where there are no universal laws or Geneva Conventions.

Business and retail is no different.

The fight is no longer restricted to a defined battle field. The enemy is elusive – and very often within. The rules of engagement are fluid. We may want to turn to convention or traditional authority to make the conflict fairer, but we know that in truth they cannot control this new conflict.

If we arrive at the battlefield dressed in our traditional uniforms with our traditional weapons, we will become what the movies have popularised: collateral damage. Somewhere out there an unmanned drone has just been launched from 10,000 miles away and it has your name on it.

As explained in this post, it is no use to blame the government, the landlord, the employees, the customers, the internet or even the suppliers. There is a new war to be fought and the objectives are different and the methods are different.


** I could go on – but look forward to YOUR take on some changes in the comments section below.

I break down the imperatives into six distinct steps.

1.     Recognise and accept that we are fighting a war with new rules.

2.     Figure out how to win this new war.

3.     Accept responsibility for our successes and failures

4.     Embrace change; take risks… and DO STUFF DIFFERENTLY

[Stop the endless visioning, ‘missioning’ and strategising – and especially stop the SITREPS+.]

5.     Become good at the new skills of war

6.     Re-build your business system to be one of constant adaptation so that you don’t find yourself in this position again…


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+ SITREP – Army lingo for Situation Report

Read all about it: The Pendulum

The first step

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