Offense vs. Defense in Business: How to spend more time on offense
By Josh Melick
In business we often use references to sports or even references to war: the idea of going to battle, winning, beating the opponent, etc. These references are often overused, but there are certainly parallels. One simple concept I like to think about is offense vs. defense. In many sports you have times where you play offense — trying to score a basket or goal — and then times when you play defense — protecting against a score or working to get back to offense. In many sports, the team on offense alternates, and the other team plays defense, with their goal being to as quickly as possible get back to their own offense. Offense is generally where you score points. Points is how you win. Read on for Josh Melick’s plan to play more offense than defense in your own business.
In business, it’s not always clear-cut as to when you are playing offense vs. defense. Business doesn’t have the same fixed structure of each player getting a turn. But the heuristic is valuable. As founders, in what areas of your business are you playing offense? Or only defense? Are they the right areas? Or worse, are you not even sure? Think broadly about the two — and try to find yourself playing more offense than defense.
We traditionally think of something like Sales and Marketing as offense, and maybe internal functions more as defense. HR seems like a defensive department: protect the company from employee matters, keep things working properly, make sure things are fair, eliminate harassment, defend against any claims raised, etc. However, that’s often far from the truth and not ideal. Those are important objectives but secondary to the broader, real goals of HR.
If your sales team is constantly in a feature-by-feature debate with customers against competitors — that sounds a lot more like defense than offense. Aim your sales materials and conversations toward your key advantages — that’s offense. Tell the story of why you matter. That’s offense. Use a storyline that moves the battle to your turf — see the greatest sales desk as an example.
The Legal department is an interesting one. Do they just defend your company? No one likes a lawsuit, right? But as CEO, when do you attack? The extreme (and negative example) is something like a patent troll: their playbook is lawsuits as an offensive tactic. Your lawyers and lawsuits are a tool. Don’t just think of them as a defensive measure. There are times to use this as offense. Barack Obama, in his new book, A Promised Land, recounts that he wasn’t sure if it was “playing dirty” to challenge the nominations of his competitors for not having enough signatures in his first Illinois Senate campaign — but the legal challenge worked for him.(See here on Wikipedia — 1.4 Nominating petition challenges)
And HR? HR can be one of your biggest offensive plays. How? Your employees are your team. Make them your biggest advocates. If your employees aren’t happy, your customers won’t be either. Recruiting is certainly an offensive activity. Find the best players. Your benefit programs also should be offense and not defense tactics. It’s no wonder the best companies also provide some of the best benefits.
Broadly speaking, if you aren’t actively building for offense, then you are probably playing more like defense. That might not be what you want. Play offense. Legal as offense. HR as offense. And of course Sales and Marketing as offense. Turn Customer Support into offense by going above and beyond for your customers. Create programs that make these all offensive scores and beat your opponents!