Offense or Defense?

“If all you play is defense, you have to win 100% of the time – and you can’t.”

Herb Meyer

Author, Key Note and Vistage Speaker

Assistant to the Director of the CIA during the Reagan Administration.

I started my post on July 24th with the above quote.  That was the day before Herb spoke with our Upstate Vistage CEO’s.  I was not the only one of in group who equated the offense vs. defense comment to foreign policy.  Herb opened our minds with a blinding flash of the obvious: offense versus defense applies equally to the way we run our businesses.  His points:

1. Businesses, like sports teams and countries, need to know when it’s time to play defense, and when it’s time to play offense.  During the recession of 2009-2011, it was time for most (but not all) businesses to play defense. Now is the time for most (but not all) businesses to play offense.

2. Most companies do not consciously define what offense or defense mean in their business.  This means they don’t know what they are playing!

3. If you ask the average CEO if his company is playing offense or defense, he will almost always respond (almost without thinking – see 2) above) “we are playing offense.”  If you ask the average CEO’s team what they are playing, they will disproportionately respond (again almost without thinking) “we are playing defense.”

4. Top companies make a conscious definition of what defense looks like, what offense looks like, and when to play one or the other.

Has your company defined offense and defense for your business?  Which should you be playing right now?  Which one are you playing?  (Hint: ask more than yourself this question. Ask your people in a way that doesn’t predetermine the answer you get or want to get.)  What metrics are you tracking so you and your team know when to switch sides of the ball?

I leave you with another thought that occurred to me when Herb was discussing this with our group:  I have often heard sports commentators remark, “The defense is starting to look tired.”  I have never heard a commentator remark, “The offense is starting to look tired.”

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