Compromise strategies can represent the worst of all worlds. When there are many forces urging compromise, will you be able to make a bold choice?
We have just had a recent example of a terrible compromise strategy. President Trump is sending 4,000 more troops into Afghanistan to add to the 8,400 US troops already there.
Why did he make this choice – especially when he has been a vocal advocate of a full withdrawal for many years? There are several possible explanations, all of them common in business strategic decisions too:
Sunk Cost Fallacy . “Our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made”. This is very common in business too – we have invested too much, we can’t close this down!
Optimism Bias. “Since my inauguration, we have achieved record-breaking success”. Top Leaders have to be optimistic about the long term, but never at the expense of losing touch with the reality today. The Soviets and the US both had over 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, and still lost. What will 8,000 or 12,000 achieve? 4,000 more troops may kill a few more afghans, but will not stop the relentless slide into Taliban control. Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Politics. Any bold choice will upset people who have an interest in the opposite strategy. A strategy that upsets no-one is probably PR (or BS!), making no hard decisions about resource allocation. Many people in the leadership of the US Military genuinely believe in the military solution, their beliefs reinforced by the lost funding, power and influence on exiting Afghanistan. And currently, Trump’s generals are at maximum influence with the rest of Trump’s team in ruins.
Contrast this with the strategic clarity of the first Gulf War. Destroy Saddam Hussein’s offensive capability and liberate Kuwait. And the military executed on this clarity with a classic left hook across the desert to cut off the Iraqi army with minimum casualties. With a clear strategy, you can trust your troops to execute.
The Bottom Line
A compromise strategy appears to be prudent and balanced, can appear to hedge risk, it buys peace with different stakeholders. You may be unable to make a clear decision because of genuine uncertainties, instead of just an unwillingness to recognise reality.
In reality it represents the worst of all worlds – scarce resources of talent and money are wasted by being sprinkled broadly in insufficient quantities to create breakthroughs.
Frequently it is a choice made by a weak leader, lacking the courage to do the right thing, instead kicking the can down the road.
Where is your business are you executing a compromise strategy?