Informed in Five: “Hardball”

Hardball – Five
Killer Strategies for Trouncing the Competition
by George Stalk, Jr, and
Rob Lachenauer
. Harvard Business Review, April 2004.

Themes

The most
successful companies of the moment – Toyota, Dell and Walmart – play
‘hardball’, meaning that they have a single minded focus on pursuing competitive
advantage and its benefits, such as leading market share, great margins, rapid
growth, and all the intangibles that go with being in command.

‘Softball’
players in contrast are in trouble – most airlines, the US auto industry, the
recording industry – because they have gone soft and the discourse is around
‘squishy issues’: leadership, corporate culture, customer care, knowledge
management, talent management, employee empowerment, and the like.

The
hardball manifesto is about focusing relentlessly on competitive advantage and
striving for ‘extreme’ competitive advantage, for example Walmart’s
exploitation of its core business of Logistics or Toyota’s production system.

Businesses
should avoid attacking competitors directly to avoid confrontation; an example
is the way Southwest Airlines avoided the airports used by much bigger rivals.

You should
exploit people’s will to win and avoid complacency, greediness, laziness,
indifference, bureaucracy, hierarchy and other sins, and foster a sense of urgency.

However,
businesses should stay within the law and ‘know the caution zone’.

Messages

The key
hardball strategies are:

● Devastate
you rivals’ profit sanctuaries

● Plagiarise
with pride – think Ryan Air and Southwest Airlines

● Deceive
the competition

Raise
competitors’ costs

www.hbr.org/

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